Rarely in my university career have I seen the alignment of ambitions and direction of an entire institution. Built-in freedom of the faculty and the too frequent revolving door of department chairs, deans, chancellors, and presidents usually prevent the creation of any real strategy such as you might see in the private sector. While alignment isn’t everything, it is a start, and I am encouraged by what I see at WSU.
First, we have a president who is on his eighth year. Having gone through the recession and unprecedented budget cuts early in his administration, he and other administrators were able to shape the university like few others. Since, the growth of students, faculty, programs, and facilities has all been by design. In walking across campus this fall after a three-year absence, I was amazed at the physical structure itself and how it spoke of WSU’s maturity as a major public research university. President Floyd has set a direction and pace that should have influence beyond his tenure.
Second, I’ve always considered the most strategically important components of the public research university those that are associated with 1) setting priorities in pursuit of public support from the state and federal government, 2) the discipline required to honestly assess research strengths and investment, and 3) the openness and earnestness required to truly partner with the private sector for the mutual benefit that comes from economic development. All three of these corners of WSU are currently in strategic planning mode, nearly in synchrony from a timing perspective, and actually working collaboratively.
For the first time in over a decade, we are conducting focus groups, feedback sessions, and interviews regarding our reputation across a spectrum of Washington citizens. We have set aside four months with faculty leaders and deans in taking a candid look at our intellectual strengths, and weaknesses. Further, our strengths are being organized to address the most urgent problems of our time in the form of grand challenges. Lastly, we are studying the impact of WSU and influence it has left on graduates, ideas, and the economy from local to global.
Alignment of strategies does not guarantee success. We must have the courage to carry out the plan, and be willing to adapt as times change. But as WSU hits a time of reflection during its 125th birthday and the completion of the billion-dollar campaign, it is encouraging to see a vision being built for the future. The special kind of public research university that is Washington’s land grant university looks to be as relevant and exciting for tomorrow as it was for yesterday.