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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Vice President Steve Swan announces retirement from Western

Western Vice President Steve Swan retires after eight years in office. // Photo courtesy of Matthew Anderson
Western Vice President Steve Swan retires after eight years in office. // Photo courtesy of Matthew Anderson

Vice President for University Relations and Community Development Steve Swan announced his plan to retire on Dec. 31, 2016.

Swan’s announcement arrived on March 16, and comes during a period of transition for Western as the university’s search for President Bruce Shepard’s successor has been a campus focus this academic year.

On Wednesday, March 30, Western’s Board of Trustees announced its unanimous selection of whom they prefer to be the university’s next president: Oregon State University’s Sabah Randhawa, the school’s current provost and executive vice president.

As for appointing a new vice president, that process will begin once Western’s president search is 100 percent completed, Swan said. Swan will not be involved in the process of electing his successor.

“It’s up to the new president to decide who is going to be in the vice president position in the future and how the new president goes about doing that, I’m not sure,” Swan said. “I’m assuming it would be through a search process.”

Swan has served Western for eight years, after moving from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2008.

Swan said his decision to announce his retirement was made in consideration of Shepard’s retirement scheduled for June 30.

“The time was right for Western with the presidential change and the time was also right for me,” Swan said. “There are other things I want to be able to do while I’m still young enough and healthy enough to be able to do them.”

Swan said he hopes to become more involved in the nonprofit community of Whatcom County following his retirement in December.

Swan has been responsible for special projects assigned by the president during his time at Western; he has worked closely with the university’s Western Crossing Development on Bellingham’s waterfront. Since 2002, Western has been committed to an expansion of the main campus to the waterfront.

In June 2013, Western’s Board of Trustees approved a Memorandum of Understanding, authorizing Shepard to transfer ownership of 24-acres of Western’s property, located at the intersection of Hannegan Road and East Bakerview Road, to the Western Crossing Development. The Development is a nonprofit corporation jointly created by Western and the Port of Bellingham.

Western Crossing Development will put the property up for sale, with proceeds being used to purchase property in the Bellingham Waterfront District. The Western Crossing Development has yet to update the city on the progress of the plans made in June 2013.

Despite cuts in state funding between 2009 and 2012, Western has continued to plan for a facility and programming at the waterfront that will further enhance its ability to serve as a model for institutional effectiveness, innovation, diversity and sustainability.

Swan’s department, the University Relations and Community Development, works to maintain effective relationships and communication with the legislative and executive branches of state and federal government and work with Western’s neighboring communities, businesses and entities.

“University Relations and Community Development is the name of our division,” Swan said. “Included in there is government relations, both at the state level and the federal level, so that includes all of our lobbying in Olympia and Washington D.C.”

To Swan, the accomplishments made during his years as vice president of University Relations and Community Development were not accomplishments he himself made, but accomplishments made at the institutional level.

“I’m blessed and fortunate to be apart of many interesting things that involve a lot of people,” Swan said. “I’m not sure there’s anything that I would single out that I have anything to do with.”

Swan said his time spent working with students has had a great influence in shaping his positive experience at Western.

“I greatly enjoy the opportunity to work with students and they do an exceptional job of representing Western,”  Swan said. “Western has exceptional students and it is great fun and rewarding to be able to work with students within our various divisions and within the various initiatives that we do.”

Swan said the vice president and president tackle issues from a collaborative approach, with projects often involving multiple participants. Still, Shepard had a lot of praise for Swan in his ability to foster an effective environment for the university to thrive.

“So much of what we now celebrate traces directly to Steve’s quietly effective and always highly principled leadership,” Shepard said in an email. “Steve is one of those people who multiplies the effectiveness of all with whom he serves, most assuredly me included. I am thankful that Steve plans to serve through those critically important beginning months of the next president’s transition to Western.”

Director of Communications Paul Cocke works alongside Swan and said that Swan always works with the best interests of Western in mind.

“It is an honor to work with such a dedicated and effective professional as Steve Swan,” Cocke said in an email. “He has worked tirelessly and with great integrity to represent the best interests of Western Washington University.”

Western’s new vice president can expect to work with exceptionally talented people who do their jobs exceptionally well, Swan said.

“I would encourage the next vice president to enable them to do their jobs as best they can because that will end up making them look good,” Swan said.

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