August 17, 2010 in Region

WSU president says he’s making difficult decisions

By Yesenia Amaro Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Washington State University President Elson S. Floyd said he is having to make difficult decisions in the face of the state’s prolonged fiscal crisis.

“The last two weeks have been extremely difficult … I wish I could tell you that we were at the end of this fiscal crisis,” but we are not, he told hundreds of university employees at the Compton Union Building Senior Ballroom. “ … I’m making the best decision I possibly can in an incredibly difficult environment.”

Washington state’s tax collection came in $125 million below the expected amount over the last two months. The state also is projecting a $3 billion budget deficit for its 2011-13 biennium. Late last week state agencies, including WSU, were asked to prepare for budget cuts of between 4 percent and 7 percent.

Floyd’s comments came during a public forum Monday where he addressed an administrative reorganization – expected to bring immediate savings of anywhere between $700,000 and $900,000 – announced internally late Friday afternoon.

The announcement was made on purpose for two reasons, so it would not get attention from the media, and because this is the week before classes begin, Floyd said.

“I did not want the media to capture this,” he said.

The administrative reorganization will eliminate three of the nine vice president positions. However, Floyd said no one will lose their job.

The average annual salary for the six remaining vice presidents is $250,000, WSU Spokesman Darin Watkins said.

Watkins said the savings will come in the form of pay cuts from those individuals who will no longer be vice presidents as well as the elimination of the vacant vice president for development position and the cancellation of the search to fill it.

Positions of vice president for university relations and the vice president for student affairs, equity and diversity also will be eliminated.

The Office of Enrollment Management and the Division of Student Affairs, Equity and Diversity will be combined into the Office of Student Affairs, Equity and Diversity, and Enrollment Management. The Student Recreation Center, Housing and Dinning Services, and the Compton Union Building will be added to this unit, which will be led by the current Vice President for Enrollment Management John Fraire.

University relations structure model, which includes the offices of alumni Relations, Events and Outreach, Marketing and Creative Services, Internal and External Communications, and University Publishing, will be combined with the Office of University Development to create the Office of University Advancement. In addition, the WSU Visitor Center will be transferred into the new unit from the Office of Business and Finance.

This new unit will be led by John Gardner, who currently serves as the vice president for economic development and global engagement. Gardner’s new title will be vice president for university advancement and external affairs.

The independent status of the WSU Alumni Association, the WSU Foundation, and the WSU Research Foundation will be preserved under this change. These units will be aligned by Gardner.

“The steps that we have taken so far, were designed to create efficiencies,” Floyd said.

As part of the change, the director of government relations will be eliminated and reorganized. A new position of associate vice president for external affairs and chief legislative officer will be created to oversee state and federal legislative affairs as one unit. Colleen Kerr has been hired for this position, and her annual salary is unknown.

Floyd said the reorganization will bring additional synergies.

“We can either view this as an opportunity or disaster,” Floyd said. “I choose to view it as an opportunity.”

Floyd said officials are looking into all services because of the continued budget cuts. But he said a top priority is preserving jobs.

“I probably have the most difficult job of all university presidents in the country,” he said, adding that were WSU is located geographically, makes it more difficult for people to make a transition after loosing their job.

The university is working through a $13.5 million reduction in state funding, which comes on top of a $54 million reduction it absorbed last spring. WSU also was required to return $10.5 million of its 2007-2009 biennial appropriation.

WSU professor Cathy Claussen asked Floyd if he expects to make more academic budget cuts.

Floyd said he couldn’t say cuts would end, but university officials are going to make the best decisions possible.

WSU invited the university community to think of ideas that would help further the agenda of the institution in the current economic situation.

“Think with us,” he said. “ … Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.”

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