Talking Points: Elson Floyd


Elson FloydSince becoming president of Washington State University in 2007, Elson Floyd has shaken things up, cutting low-priority programs while focusing on strategy at the four-campus, 25,000-student university, bringing it into alignment with Washington state's changing educational and economic needs.

Early Years: I'm the oldest of four boys in my family. I grew up in North Carolina where my mother worked in a factory and my father was a brick mason. They never went to high school. I had no idea what a college was when I was growing up, so it's pretty remarkable that I'm a university president.

Leadership: I believe very strongly in leadership by example-in working very hard at what we do-and I work hard to inculcate those values at our institution every day. When we faced the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, all of us had to make many sacrifices. I'm not a wealthy person, but I voluntarily reduced my salary by $100,000. I've asked my faculty to teach additional sections and to engage in more research because we have to do more with less. I'm also teaching a course this fall on top of a very complicated schedule. It's about leadership by example.

Cutbacks: WSU was attempting to be all things to all people and we can't survive in that mode. We have five or six strategic priorities. We're going to make investments in those areas and gradually move away from areas in which we are not as strong. We no longer have programs in forestry, community and rural sociology, theater and dance, and German.

Strategic Partnerships: We will focus on bioenergy and sustainability at WSU Tri-Cities in partnership with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. In Spokane, which has a vibrant community of hospitals, our contribution will be in the health sciences in collaboration with the University of Washington. [At Pullman] we're best in class with agriculture. And we have a new global animal health program that is focused on eradicating zoonotic diseases, which are transmitted from animals to humans. In Vancouver, we focus on technology and engineering.

Economics: We need to be keenly focused on economic growth, economic vitality and bringing research to market. One of the first things I did [at WSU] was to hire John Gardner to focus on economic development. At the time, there were only a handful of chief economic development officers. Now you see over 200 of them [nationwide]. We've always had basic research and we'll continue to have that. But we'll also do applied research, taking what comes from basic research and applying it to current industry needs. A third area is translational research, applying research in one area to another environment. A last category is contract research in which you contract with the government or private industry with a specific deliverable and a time definite to deliver that. Those activities will fuel local economies. And if we do that right, it will fuel the state economy and the national economy. It's the formula for the future.

Expanding Capacity: UW and WSU provide 35 percent of [the state's] undergraduates and 92 percent of the doctorates. We won't have resources to build new campuses. We will have to use electronic technology and other delivery mechanisms to add capacity. We will build more partnerships with community colleges to make sure appropriate degrees are provided. More faculty members from four-year institutions will also teach at community colleges either in person or through electronic media. We are investing mightily in continuing education programs. We're wiring classrooms with webcams so we can offer more web-based instruction. 


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