The health sciences in the Drive to 25, the Grand Challenges, incentivizing research, the role of students, gender diversity


Q: I was wondering how significant the health sciences campus will be—the Colleges of Pharmacy, Nursing, and Medicine—in your reaching our top 25 goal by 2030?

Kirk Schulz: All right, I’ll give my answer and let Dan give his answer as well. I give the answer first ’cause I’m the president.


KS: It’s absolutely critical because if you look, you can say, ‘We are all working really hard, a lot of people are very successful. Why, just because you put this on a piece of paper does that mean that all of a sudden we’re going to see this big difference in what we are doing?’

There are a couple things: One is starting a college of medicine and bringing on a whole bunch of new colleagues that can work together and do the creative research. And schools of medicine largely are very research oriented, so I think that’s one thing.

Second is, we haven’t always necessarily been as strategic with Pacific Northwest National Lab as we could have been. And in the other first key action, we are actually signing agreements about jointly advising doctoral students on a formalized basis, and using the fact that we have a billion dollar laboratory contiguous to one of our campuses as a kind of game changer. I think we’ve got a couple things that we’re starting or are underway that are going to make a huge difference two or four years out. We can’t do it, in my opinion, without the three programs here being really successful and continuing to grow.

I took all the good at stuff.

Dan Bernardo: You did take all the good stuff. I guess all I would add would be that, first of all, to achieve this, it’s all campuses—everybody has to be in. Probably one of our greatest challenges is just our sheer size relative to those we are trying to leapfrog. In our system-wide model, all campuses have to contribute. The two areas that I think we’re going to really be dependent upon on for significant growth are health sciences and engineering. If you do any comparison across these peers and start looking at them, those are where we have growth potential and where we might not compare as favorably. Vet med, ag, all those things that we’re traditionally good in, we’ve got to maintain our place, we have to continue to grow. We are in diminishing marginal returns there—excuse my economics.


Q: So you mentioned health science research. Are you focusing on Spokane, specifically?

DB: Well, yeah, I think the health science research obviously includes all areas, including the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Vet Med, and Spokane, for sure. We have health science research in Vancouver. I guess I’m kind of using that in an inclusive manner, but I do think that this campus here will need to contribute mightily in pharmacy, nursing, medicine, as well as the allied disciplines. I think we are unique and have unique capabilities with the interdisciplinary opportunities here.

It’s no secret that we made a move to bring a group in from the University of Washington which has made a significant contribution already to the matrix of this campus. We need to continue to find and build groups that are working in areas such as population health and allied disciplines around the health sciences, as well as build our disciplinary strengths. So yeah, I was talking about here, and probably part of the natural follow up is how are we going to do that with the facilities we have. We have to build more facilities.

Q: Here’s a related question. What’s the future of the Grand Challenges? Is it something that is going to be ongoing and only focused on those funded challenges?

DB: The future of the Grand Challenges is they are really considered to be at least a 10-year commitment of WSU to those particular areas, and they’re very broad. So I think the future of the Grand Challenges is we have to figure out what we, in any of those Grand Challenges, are really going to be committed to and resource. We did it with this 2.5 percent program or half of the 5 percent program. We’re going to have to continue to figure out how to invest in those particular areas within the Grand Challenges.

Somebody asked the other day about how does business find its way into the Grand Challenges. Well, I would argue that business is in every one of those challenges, but it also doesn’t preclude us from trying to be the very best we can be in, let’s say finance, and then the disciplinary area of finance. But it is an attempt, and it’s amazing what money does. Most people will tell you—deans, chancellors, vice presidents of research, provost—that they’ve never seen more inter-college collaboration than when we issued that RFP. And there are a lot of other great ideas that didn’t get funded, but the goal was to stimulate cooperation and new ideas and new research areas that are truly interdisciplinary. Dollars have a way of doing that.

One of the other opportunities I think we have that we’re just going to have to work at is One Health and One Health-related concepts. I know John Roll and others have talked about those. As we’re starting up a medical school, I think the real opportunity for us is to develop collaborations with pharmacy, these other types of things. Sometimes, if we look down the road, it meant more difficulty than other traditional places ’cause the program has been together for so long. We’ve got a chance here to do some optimization and cool research stuff that may be more collaborative in nature because we’re starting from scratch as opposed to trying to beat through walls that might have been erected 50 years ago. So it’s kind of incumbent upon us, too, to figure out creative ways to do that. How can we combine research in the different areas that puts us in a unique place in the country to compete for funds?

KS: I don’t have a lot of great specific examples, but one is One Health. The veterinary medicine, human medicine, in particular. When I’ve talked to our folks at Kansas State and some folks I knew at veterinary medicine, they’d say ‘To be honest, Kirk, nobody does it really well.’ Everybody sort of talks about having it, but if you dive down a little bit, you find out it’ll be a couple faculty collaborating and then they brand it. This person I’ve talked to said you’ve got a chance coming in at Washington State, building a medical school from the ground up to probably be really preeminent in some of these things if you plan it and think about it as you grow it. And that’s the kind of thing that you all as faculty and researchers will have great ideas and say here’s where we ought to be doing. To me, it’s my job to help find resources to make that happen.

Q: You, as the president, mentioned the hustle factor of getting grants, right? And the provost mentioned a research portfolio that you have to have to be in the top 25 position. Do you have a central plan or concept for incentivizing research productivity? In other words, for example, I was at the University of Pittsburgh for four years and a large, healthy component of one’s salary was incentive components for those that were very productive and successful in things you were funding. Do you see that as something you want to implement going forward from a central level across Pullman, across Vancouver, across Spokane, etc?

KS: I’m going to let you start.


DB: I’m an economist, so I believe in incentives and in particular, financial ones. I wouldn’t take that off the table at all. We’re going to have to compete with those type of folks and, to that aim, we need to establish those incentives—incentives at all levels of the institution. We have to incent colleagues, incent departments, and incent individuals. And we have to not only incent research but we have to incent particular behavior around, for example, our undergraduate mission.

If you really look at the Drive the 25, honestly, we are a lot closer to a top 25 research university in terms of the research metrics than we are in terms of having a top 25 undergraduate program. So the Drive to 25 is not to be a top 25 in research. It’s to be a top 25 public research university, which is our class of university, and with that comes the comprehensive mission of research, teaching, and engagement. Not just research. And I think that’s really important. And it’s really important for us to be honest with ourselves where we are, particularly in undergraduate and graduate education. And if we’re honest and up front, we’re not where we need to be. If you ran in a horse race, the research horse is out ahead.

KS: So, I think it would be excellent for us to develop some programs like you suggested and that other places have done successfully. I think there’s no reason we have to reinvent the wheel. Pittsburgh, Penn State, we can all probably think of others that have done this and have done it well. I think, one, we don’t pay our faculty as well as we need to, and one of the ways to help adjust that is to put some of these types of things in place.

What generally derails them at a lot of institutions is the units that don’t generate much in terms of external funding will go, ’Well there’s a fairness issue,’ and some of those kinds of things. I think, given the programs here—nursing, pharmacy, and human medicine—this might be the kind of thing that this campus pilots, as opposed to sort of saying, ‘Hey we’re going to try and do it across the whole system at one time.’ So I would love to hear suggestions on what they did, how it works. Oklahoma State went to a thirteenth month that people could receive for certain particular things and kind of worked out ways to do that legally.

It can’t always be returned overhead coming back. You’ve got to do some other creative funding things. And by creative I don’t mean under the table. You’ve just got to make sure we got other funds, so that we can make sure all that works. But that could be one of the cool things about being part of Washington State. We could incentivize that.

I just will say that, there’ll be some faculty that will think that’s the greatest idea. We could go to some other departments where they’ll say it’s a terrible idea because it just says, if you get money you’re awesome, if I don’t get money and do spectacular work, somehow there’s nothing in there for me. So that’s our issue to deal with, but I’d love to hear some solid proposals on this. And we’re going to need some units that are willing to try it.

The other thing that we’ve got to be careful of is, it becomes an incentive, and it becomes a bonus, a supplement, and after three years all of a sudden that doesn’t feel very bonus/supplemental anymore, it’s kind of you know, ‘I’m used to kind of seeing this come in,’ and then if something dries up a little bit, you can have somebody come in and go, ‘I know this is a bonus, but hey, my kid’s in college and I kind of need that money and now it’s not there.’ You have to be really clear how that’s going to work and how it’s going to focus and all that. That’s all doable. Those are the kinds of things we need to think about as we put it in place. Great question. Thank you.

Q: I have to ask about the students. What can we do to help this Drive to 25 and help our tremendous faculty accomplish these goals? Obviously I don’t have a lot of money to give, given that I’m in thousands of dollars of crippling debt. What can the students do to build the culture so we can accomplish this by 2030?

KS: Well, to me, a lot of this is there being a oneness about the goal and objective. That it’s not just the administration, it’s not just the faculty, it’s not just the staff, but it needs to be students feeling a part of it and wanting to make this happen. The creative energies that we can unleash in a really good way, I think, are important.

So one thing is, we want our students to feel involved and engaged in our future, not just paying for four or five years or whatever. That’s transactional. To me, I want them to get a great educational experience. I want, three presidents from now, for somebody to sit down talking to somebody else about making a huge gift to the university, and they say, ‘When I was a student there,’ and I don’t care what field, ‘I was part of putting together the idea of elevating Washington State. It’s been great to see my alma mater do so well. I want to be there to help.’ So we want that engagement. The second is, we always have to have conversations with our students about what can make their experience here better. If I ask the students one thing about the Drive to 25, if you can wave the magic wand and make one thing different at Washington State, what would it be?

And I think we’ll be surprised at the answers. I think we always think it’s going to be finances. I think sometimes we find out there’ll be a bunch of other things, that our students will say, ‘Hey, this could make it a better experience.’ If we could only just accomplish even those two things, in my mind, with our students involved and engaged, I think that makes a big difference. They can go to some faceless place somewhere else where it’s all sort of transactional in nature. I think they should get a great experience here that they feel is an experience, not just a diploma. That’s the difference I think we can do. Dan, do you have anything you want to add?

Q: I’m a graduate student—a Ph.D. student—and I wanted to see how graduate students fit in and how we can create a successful experience for graduate students. And how we’re going to increase the diversity in our faculty.

KS: Do you want me to start or do you want to start?

DB: I’ll start with the graduate student one.


DB: Graduate students are an important component of the Drive to 25. Actually, from a metric standpoint, the number of doctoral students is one of our weak points if you look at us versus AAU-type institutions. So obviously, we need to figure out ways to increase our graduate enrollment. To do that, I think we have to try to make ourselves unique relative to other institutions. A lot of people, the first thing they’re going to say, ‘Well there’s no jobs for Ph.D. students anyway.’

I don’t think that that’s true. I think that’s sort of antiquated thinking. We need to work with our Ph.D. students to make them competitive for the positions they want. The GPSA, your graduate student association, is doing a great job of leading the way, really, in terms of what kind of training do we want to put in place for our Ph.D. students, principally, to prepare them for industry jobs. So we need to be known for not only putting out great pharmacy Ph.D.’s or PharmD’s, but the Ph.D.’s—the ones who are competitive for industry jobs and prepare them uniquely for those jobs. And if they want to go into higher ed, we need to prepare them for that as well with unique teacher training, unique training that makes them more competitive out there, because we have great students, and I think we can really differentiate our—I don’t want to call you a product—but differentiate our students in the realm of like product differentiation.

KS: So the second question was, we talk about having increased diversity in our faculty, how to go about doing that? So let me share a couple of anecdotes and then get to where I think we need to have it. The first is, we need a campus-wide conversation about how to do this and how to be effective. There are other folks that have been involved and engaged with this for 30 years at Washington State and every other state university, and most places have not been terribly successful. Relying on the old way of doing it has just not really gotten the gains that we need it to. So I think that’s one thing.

When I was at a previous institution, the president decided at that time—this was about 10 years ago—that they needed to diversify the faculty and looked out and talked to search committees and deans. They said we can’t diversify the faculty, our candidate pools aren’t solid, whatever… the litany of normal reasons.

They came and put a pool of dollars in place and said, ‘If you can find an underrepresented minority candidate, we’ll give you a second faculty position in a search.’ They were overwhelmed in three months with all these great candidates of color.

And what that told me was, people weren’t searching in a really deliberative way until all of a sudden it was incentivized and then they found all kinds of reasons to go out and try and find people. So what that tells me is some of it is we’re going to have to think of some other solutions, that maybe we’ve got to incentivize it in a way so that we get search committees saying we want a diverse set of candidates, we want great candidates, we’re going to go out and dig until we find them, and not simply put an ad out and see what comes back.

The other part of this is, I want people saying, ‘Hey Kirk, I heard about this at this institution, this has really worked well.’ We need to do that. We’re not going be able to snap our fingers. As a matter of fact, it can be depressing how slow it might be but we’re never going to make any substantive changes if we don’t put it out there and say our numbers are not good, they haven’t been good for a long time, we’re not going to go back into all the reasons for that, but what do we need to do to make them better, how do we have that campus conversation, how do we celebrate success? And then we get our faculty of color coming in, how do we support them to make sure that the communities are awesome, that they have great mentoring, all the stuff that we should do with all of our faculty.

But it’s got to be not just recruiting, it’s also retention. So we can do it. This is a diverse state but we’re going to have to be mindful and come up with some new and different ways. I love to hear things that any of the folks out there might say, ‘hey this worked, this won’t work, here’s some challenges we’re going to have.’ You’ve got to at least get the cards out on the table and start talking about it before it’s going to get better.

Q: Just to piggyback off of that, not only for diversity and people color, for our research faculty, is there any drive to have more sex diversity in the people that we’re hiring for those positions?

KS: So this is one of the challenges, right? If we look in the current strategic plan, we’ve got lots of different metrics that we’re measuring: faculty, staff, student diversity, gender, lots of different things like that. If we can do a couple of things, one is we can have six metrics—and I’m not making fun of this, don’t take it that way—but we can take five or six of those metrics and just say, ‘okay, now these are going to be university-wide,’ and I’m concerned that what will happen is that we’ll only make incremental changes.

If we elevate one of those, then there’ll be several groups that’ll say “Well, what about us?’ It’s important that this happen. It may be that after three or four years we say, ‘Hey, we made great progress,’ it’s still important. But we’ve got some other imbalances that we need to work on. To me, when we talk about diversity, it means gender, it means race, sexual orientation, all of those types of things to be part of a diverse faculty. But we’ve got to raise the dialogue, and it can’t be after a protest. It can’t be somebody starts getting upset, says ‘Well, how come you haven’t done anything?’ and then we rush out, throw something together. To me, I want this to be a longer-term initiative that actually has a chance for long-term sustainability and success.

DB: I would add that we have made some measurable progress. I presume you’re talking about gender diversity or sexual orientation, or both? Either way. But gender diversity, we have made some progress in the last couple of years. We’re starting to move that needle on it as a result of investing. We had the Advance grant from NSF. We continue to finance that internally. We’ve actually expanded that and that’s a “Women in STEM” grant. But we’ve actually expanded that to include faculty of color. Again, trying to put some resources there. The other thing that’s helped a great deal, and deans know this, even though it’s not in policy anywhere, we all know that the unwritten policies are sometimes even more effective.

Deans know, for example, if they want to do a two-for-one, they want to hire a second faculty member off a search, they have no prayer if they’re coming to me with two white males. But they also know that if it represents an underrepresented minority, or a woman in a STEM field or an underrepresented field, that we may bite—that we will likely give approval for that. The same holds true with our spousal accommodation policy, which we doubled the funding on, and we’re already out of funding. So, we need to finance that some more. But that is a policy that we really try to use to drive exactly what you’re alluding to.

So there’s some things that we’ve done that have been reasonably successful, and really advanced the number of women in STEM at WSU. We don’t have our work complete, but we are seeing measurable progress, and I look forward to seeing the final sort of faculty census numbers. We haven’t received those yet for this past year, but I’m encouraged. I have the totals for every college in terms of who they’re hiring. Just sort of anecdotally, I can see the last two years, us making some progress. So, thanks, it’s a variety of diversity elements.

KS: Well, we appreciate everybody being here. There was an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and I’m sure everybody here reads it every week, about Montana State and President Cruzado there, about a very intense program they put in place to diversify their STEM faculty. If you think it’s difficult to recruit people to Eastern Washington, we’re talking about Bozeman, Montana, different political environment, and they made huge strides. And it’s interesting to see the things that they did to make that happen.

So, anyway, thank you all for being here. We appreciate this school, and this college has much to be proud of. And I look forward to seeing us continue do great things together.

Go Cougs. Thank you.