I welcome you to our 100 Community Conversations initiative at Western Washington University. I thank you for your interest in Western and in public higher education and for taking time to share your thoughts and ideas about the role we need to play in our society in the future.
This is a watershed moment in the history of public higher education in Washington. For the first time, the state is the minority partner in providing funds to support a Western education, dropping from 60% support of the operating budget to 43%. Most immediately because of this changed fiscal environment but, also, because of a number of other important societal changes (demographic, technological, economic), higher education is in a period of major transformation.
Western, already premier in the Pacific Northwest, has the goal of being the very best university of our type in the nation. How do we get there amidst transformational pressures: we intend to become a national leader in effectively responding to these changing circumstances.
To do so, we need your guidance.
We remain a proudly and ever more committed "publicly purposed" university. But, what public purposes should drive us. My answer is very simple: let's ask well-informed and caring publics - those who are leaders in their communities, in their professions, in their lives. Since last fall, members of our top leadership team have sat down in a range of settings from boardrooms to living rooms with community and civic leaders, alumni, parents, business people and elected officials across the state to talk about Western as a "publicly purposed" university.
What does it mean to become a publicly purposed university? The answer is unclear. But, the very ambiguity is, itself, an advantage. Whatever we are to become, it is your vision and your doing that will help take us there. Among many questions you may wish to ponder - all is fair game - I ask you to consider the following three questions, reflect on them and bring your ideas forward. You will have the opportunity to engage in a lively conversation around your ideas and insights on how Western can best serve the citizens of our state. For those of you that want more background information, I've attached a longer white paper with my preliminary thoughts.
- What characterizes the nationally leading "publicly-purposed" university of tomorrow?
- How can a continuously-emerging entrepreneurial spirit move the publicly-purposed university into ever greater community partnerships?
- How will the transformed public institution of the future not only reflect societal changes, but actually lead the community forward?
We are asking for your help. I believe you will find the conversations personally stimulating. This I do know: having listened, we must also hear. And, deliver. We are committed to doing so. And, herein may be the greatest transformation in emerging public higher education: that public purposes are defined by you and not by us.
Thank you again for your interest and participation, and I look forward to reporting back to you this spring.