“Undocumented students are a critical part of not just our universities, but of our communities."
Q: What was the first thing you noticed about Western during your first quarter?
A: “I’ll tell you the one thing that really stood out for me was pride on campus. Everyone I ran into or I met was so proud of the campus. From the faculty, the staff, the people who maintain our beautiful campus and the students. Everyone was so proud to be at Western.”
Q: What was something that stood out to you about Western students during your first quarter?
A: “The thing that really stood out to me besides pride was their passion for civic engagement, [there is] a lot more than I have seen at other institutions. Whether it is sustainability, social justice, immigrant issues, there is a lot more here to question than I have seen at other institutions. So really that passion is wonderful.”
Q: What was a most memorable moment of fall quarter for you?
A: “That is a difficult one. Maybe I should have a photographic memory here. Certainly [there are a] number of things that stand out in terms of talking with students, but by and far the most important moment was graduation. That’s the reason for our existence, the reason we are here [is] to make sure you all are successful. Just seeing students’ expressions of excitement, relaxation, maybe some apprehension about the future. Nevertheless, being at graduation and seeing the students and their families and friends is wonderful.”
Q: What would you say are some of Western’s strengths?
A: “If I had to pick one thing, it is the focus on students. That really stood out during the interview process that still is validated and stands out for me. [The] focus on students and their success.”
Q: How has your experience been so far collaborating with the Associated Students?
A: “Really good. I really enjoy working with the AS Board, with Stephanie [Cheng, AS President] and her team. One of the things I am really appreciative of [when] collaborating with the AS is the student forums that we started last year. I think it was great we had a fire chat with students to just see what’s on their mind. I met with Stephanie yesterday and [it is something] we plan to continue for the rest of the academic year. I really appreciated my interactions with the AS Board, and not just one-to-one but also their participation with the Board of Trustees, as well as a number of other projects like the design of the Multicultural Center and so on. [They are] a good team and I have appreciated working with them.”
Q: What was one project with the AS that stuck out to you?
A: “I think it’s the opportunity to directly connect with students.”
Q: What are some of the differences that stand out to you between Oregon State and Western?
A: “I think the biggest difference is the mission and scope of the universities and the impact it has particularly on students. Oregon State University is a Research 1 university and it is a land grant, so it’s like Washington State University. It has a statewide mission. I think those are really powerful and rich parts of the mission, but it also in some way dilutes the focus on students because you are trying to balance the student needs with research. I think what stands out more for me at Western is not that research and creative activity isn’t important, but the student piece is really the center of the university, in a way that everything revolves around it. Again, all universities have a mission, but how it is executed and the effectiveness in which it is executed [is significant]. So that piece is really the significant difference here at Western compared to Oregon State University.”
Q: How have you handled the transition from the role of provost to president? Could you talk about some the differences between the two positions?
A: “I have to remind myself every day ‘I am not a provost so don’t interfere with what others are doing.’ I think the biggest change for me from the provost to president is that as a president, it is a lot more of an external-oriented job. [I am] working to try and manage the operations of the university, and it’s not to say that understanding the university, understanding the faculty, staff and students is not important, it is critical. But a lot of time is spent with legislators, making the case for Western, with alumni and with supporters of the university making a case for fundraising and for financial support for the university. To me that is a big shift in the role of the two functions as a provost versus a president.”
“As a provost, one of the key responsibilities I had was the execution of the strategic plan of the university and the allocation of resources and so on. I think as a president I see my role more in terms of putting in place a process and certainly making sure we have an aspirational vision and trying to sell the vision externally. In terms of the execution and how the resources line up, to me, that is more of the role of my leadership team.”
Q: Based on what you’ve seen so far, have you felt the need to add anything to your strategic plan?
A:“What I have articulated in some way is more of a statement of values. Certainly there are things that are strategically important, like student success in terms of excellence [and] building global diversity on campus, which encompasses both our domestic diversity as well as internationalization. We have started a process in terms of articulating what exactly our strategic goals [are] for the next seven years. In the short term, there are three things that are important, and I don’t know whether they were added to my list or not, but certainly something that I have learned over the past term and something we are trying to address. One of them is capacity issues, capacity in courses, capacity in majors. You are students, you know at times it is so hard to get into courses. You need to stay on track, so we are putting in some effort for this year to increase sections in certain bottleneck courses, and next year to hire full-time faculty to increase capacity. I’ve learned over the last term there are some gaps when we talk about an inclusive environment. For example, support for different student groups, LGBTQ students or gender issues and how [to] handle it. I am trying to focus on those gaps. I think these are all elements that are part of a long-term strategic plan. I’m not sure if I added [to my strategic plan], but certainly my learning has expanded what we need to address in the short term as we think about the long term.”
Q: One of your mission statements is to build upon Western’s strengths to address critical needs in Washington state. What do you think are the state’s critical needs?
A: “I am still learning about the state of Washington. I am learning that Seattle, and [especially] the Olympia to Vancouver B.C corridor is so critical to the growth of the state. As you all know, there is a lot of economical development activities that are going on, not just related to one particular industry. Certainly there is high-tech but also the medical and health community. Education is a critical component where the university plays a critical role. So as I think about it, high-tech, education and healthcare are at least the three things that immediately come to mind in terms of where we are well-positioned to contribute to the growing needs of the state.”
Q: One issue you’ve mentioned is diversity at Western. Do you think this is solely a problem in the student body or within the faculty as well?
A: “I think diversity is more inclusive in a sense that it’s not just a student body. I think it is an institutional imperative, it is an institutional need and an institutional issue. We can talk about a few dimensions of diversity, we can talk about a more diverse student body, but I think the same is true for a more diverse faculty, a more diverse administrative group on campus. When you talk about an inclusive inequitable climate on campus it certainly applies to students [but] it also encompasses faculty and staff. We need to look at the community as a whole if you are going to advance those issues. If you’re talking about education, I think it is equally important for faculty. In fact I would argue that without a faculty who is well-versed and knows how to deal with the difficult issues, the students will really struggle. It’s an issue that really encompasses the entire campus and our community. We are part of a community as a university, whether it is Bellingham, Washington or the United States.”
Q: How do you plan to address this problem in your time here?
A: “Certainly, I have some ideas. As I said earlier, one of the key imperatives is that we need to increase diversity of students and faculty on campus. We need to make sure the students we have on campus are successful at a much higher rate than they are. There is always the next level of excellence and I think we need to shoot for that. We also need to make sure everyone has the same level of opportunity for success. How we get from here to there is something that needs to involve the university community. Certainly [this means] ideas from the students, but the faculty really needs to be at the center of that conversation. I may have certain ideas, but for it to work, everyone needs to be in power otherwise it is a top-down thing. You can force it for a certain point in time but it’s not sustainable.”
Q: In November you expressed your commitment to Western’s undocumented students. What would you say to a Washington resident who believes their tax dollars shouldn’t be used to fund the education of an undocumented student?
A: “Undocumented students are a critical part of not just our universities, but of our communities. They significantly contribute to the state long-term. If we invest in the education of undocumented students, many of whom were born here or came here at a very early stage in their lives, we are ultimately going to contribute to Washington's economic and social growth. What I would tell them is ‘We need to look at them as investments in the future of Washington.’”
Q: Any final thoughts about your first quarter at Western or Western students and faculty?
A: “After spending a quarter here I have not for a minute had second doubts about the decision I made to come here.”