The Rev. Robert Spitzer’s retirement as president of Gonzaga University over the summer turns out to have been the beginning of a trend.
Whitworth University President Bill Robinson and Community Colleges of Spokane Chancellor Gary Livingston now have both announced they will step down at the end of the academic year.
The departures of such significant higher education leaders pose separate challenges for the respective schools, which now have to attract worthy successors. But the concurrent vacancies also pose a critical challenge from the community’s point of view.
Gonzaga, Whitworth and CCS all are vital partners in the business and education consortium that is giving rise to the emerging University District at the east end of downtown Spokane. Moreover, Robinson, Spitzer and Livingston are the three higher education leaders who have been in place since the University District concept began taking shape six years ago.
During that time, a bold vision has come into focus, emphasizing health care and education and even including a four-year medical school. The potential for research and development and spinoff business development in a knowledge-based economy has become a dominant theme for this community’s future, and the University District is the place where this activity is to be centered.
It is imperative that the collaboration continue as smoothly as possible.
As Brian Pitcher, chancellor of Washington State University Spokane, notes, the University District concept has brought together all the local higher education institutions – to include Eastern Washington University and WSU – in what he calls an “innovation zone.”
Pitcher says the concept has matured and gained momentum, and the presidents have been the key to solidifying the partnership.
Robinson has led Whitworth for 17 years, Spitzer has been at GU’s helm for 11 and Livingston at CCS’ for seven. Their experience adds up to a collective perspective that will be hard to replace.
But it must be. As the boards of trustees conduct their searches for the successors who will best serve the needs of their respective schools, a significant part of the evaluation should be based on an ongoing commitment to the University District and the promise it holds for the community as well as the universities and colleges involved.