A performance review of Washington State University President Kirk Schulz released Friday by the university is packed with praise but acknowledged there are some key challenges on the horizon for both the president and the university system as a whole
According to the report, a consultant interviewed stakeholders from the WSU system including regents, professors, administrators and alumni. The feedback on Schulz’s performance was overwhelmingly positive, the report said, claiming the WSU community “clearly regards him as a person of substance, and has confidence in his judgment.”
WSU Board of Regents policy requires a comprehensive assessment of the university president every three to four years. The assessment was conducted by the Association of Governing Boards and Colleges. The full report can be found at this shortened web URL: bit.ly/2MwDhtZ.
“People said that President Schulz leads with grace and integrity, and values all individuals, whoever they are,” the report continued. “The feeling that emerges about the President as a person is a remarkably admiring one that encourages colleagues and other stakeholders to buy into and support his leadership.
Many described Schulz’s leadership style as both accessible and transparent, saying he is thoughtful and considerate of input from the communities he leads. In particular it applauded his leadership in establishing the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine in Spokane and in “righting the fiscal ship.”
The report said when Schulz joined WSU in 2016, he found the school had been spending more than it was generating in revenues for a number of years, resulting in a roughly $30 million deficit in 2017.
“Without recriminations or finger‐pointing, he rolled up his sleeves and went to work to bring the budget back into balance,” the report said. “He dug deep into the numbers, communicated the nature and extent of the problem clearly and without sugarcoating, set out a multi‐year plan to return to solvency, and made the necessary cuts.“
Schulz was also praised for shepherding WSU from its existence as a single university to a five-campus system with locations all over the state and an additional Global Campus. The report noted, however, that there is yet more progress to be made on this front, saying as WSU “morphs from a single institution into a system, it is fair to say that it is in the process of figuring out what that equilibrium should be and how to get there.”
The report said questions remain regarding issues like how power will be distributed among university leadership and extension officers, how to establish a more efficient and effective budgeting process for the system as a whole and eliminating redundant positions across campuses, among others.
The report also lists WSU’s “Drive to 25” goal to become a top-25 research university in the country by the year 2030 among the challenges facing the school, calling the push a “signature element” of Schulz’s tenure.
Some modest progress has been made on this front, however, as budgetary realities from years of deficit spending sank in, the report said this goal “has come to be seen as more of an aspirational ambition than a fixed endpoint.”
While interviews were conducted before the scope and scale of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic could be fully appreciated, the report noted, “in the post‐Covid‐19 environment, resources to fund the Drive to 25 will be even more scarce.”
With these and other challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, the report ended with a call for continued collaboration between university leaders as WSU navigates unprecedented times and indicated Schulz is still the right man for the job.
“Undoubtedly, decisions that have to be made to address these challenges will please some constituencies and anger others,” it concluded. “Some Board members will like some of those decisions more than others. Yet if the Board and the President can stay on the same page, I think a great story can be written there.”
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.