Briefly flirting with self-annihilation, Spokane’s Joint Center for Higher Education attempted Wednesday to put a bright face on an uncertain future.
The center, which oversees programs and real estate at the Riverpoint Higher Education Park and Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute, is hoping that a visit next week by a state board will not unearth strong differences about the center’s purpose.
“If we keep on this path, paralysis will set in,” banker Heidi Stanley told the 14-person Joint Center board of directors during a three-hour debate.
On orders from Gov. Gary Locke, members of the Higher Education Coordinating Board will visit Cheney and Spokane in a fact-finding mission.
Their charge is to recommend the best way for public institutions - including the Joint Center - to serve thousands of students in Spokane County and the Inland Northwest. Recommendations are due by Feb. 15.
Among the considerations is a proposal from Sen. Jim West, R-Spokane, to merge Washington State University and Eastern Washington University.
A merger might eliminate the need for the Joint Center, which was created more than a decade ago to resolve “turf wars” between WSU, Eastern and others vying for students in Spokane. Development of the 48-acre Riverpoint, which provides Spokane classroom and office space for students and faculty of WSU and Eastern, has been one of the Joint Center’s most visible achievements.
Retreating to a conference room at the top of the prodigious SIRTI complex, the Joint Center board faced a question that has plagued people outside the building for years - just what does the center do?
Executive director Terry Novak responded that the center develops real estate, manages property and ensures that new academic degrees do not duplicate existing programs.
But board member Gerald Leahy noted that none of the schools have requested approval for new programs in the future, and WSU and Eastern will fill existing buildings on the Riverpoint campus by 2001. That would leave the center with little work to do.
“We constantly get asked, ‘How many students do you have?”’ Novak said. “We don’t have any.”
Roberta Greene, a Spokane city councilwoman, and Tom Simpson, whom Locke appointed to the board last month, suggested the board should rethink its purpose, or possibly disband.
“Should we even exist?” said Simpson, managing director of Spokane Capital Management Corp.
No one answered.
The presidents of Eastern, WSU, Gonzaga University, Whitworth College and the Community Colleges of Spokane sit on the Joint Center board. They agreed that the board has helped them sidestep turf battles, but it also has limited power.
For instance, introduction of doctoral programs and development of research facilities are prohibited by HEC Board rules governing branch campuses, members said. That has kept the Joint Center from addressing demands by industry to provide graduate education and scientific research in Spokane.
Making a rare appearance, WSU President Samuel Smith suggested the Joint Center had outlived its usefulness as the controlling agent over higher education in Spokane.
But Eastern President Marshall Drummond said the center needed greater authority, not less, to function efficiently.
David Clack, president of Clack & Co., offered another proposal.
“Whether you have the Joint Center board or not, there has to be someone in the community to take ownership of the vision for higher education and the economy,” he said. “We shouldn’t limit that to just the people in this room. You can’t eliminate the University of Washington.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT Members of the Higher Education Coordinating Board will visit Cheney and Spokane in a fact-finding mission. Recommendations are due by Feb. 15.