100 Community Conversations

About the Publicly-Purposed University in Washington

An initiative of Western Washington University


Objective: Western Washington University is interested in hearing from the people of Washington their ideas about transforming public higher education in our state. We want to continually improve how we meet the needs in our community by creating closer ties and meaningful partnerships. Our intention is to create opportunities for dialog among key leaders in business and industry, education, the arts, the sciences and our non-profit organizations to better understand how our community views the role of the public university for Washington.

We intend to hold 100 community conversations during the fall and winter 2009-2010, initiated by friends of Western, and involving people from all walks of life. President Bruce Shepard, along with Western’s administrative and academic leadership team, the faculty, staff and students will work together with Trustees, Foundation and Alumni Board leadership and other WWU advocates, to coordinate these conversations and report our findings back to stakeholders.

Why is this important to do now? Our world is changing. Steeply declining state revenues and the subsequent inability of the state to sustain a significant funding level for higher education give us pause to consider our future. The global economy, climate change, increasing diversity of our cultures, technological innovation and advances are transforming the world around us. Western, like all higher ed institutions, will have to transform itself to meet the needs of the state and the communities of people who make up the “public” in public education.

How will it work? Western’s chief advocates on the boards of Trustees, the Foundation, the Alumni Association, college councils, etc., are stepping forward to host groups of their colleagues and associates to meet with WWU President Bruce Shepard. They, along with the staff team, are also approaching limited community organizations for an opportunity to conduct a dialog around this topic. We anticipate a range of activities from small dinner parties to meeting with the members of organizations like the Lions Club or the board of the Pacific Science Center. Many of the community conversations will be led by Western’s vice presidents and deans, in addition to those led by the president.

How will thoughts and opinions be recorded? This is an inclusive university initiative, and so students and faculty will participate by helping listen and record community opinions. All comments will remain confidential and will be summarized in a report back to the community by Bruce Shepard in early spring 2010.

What difference will it make?Our commitment to you is to act on what we hear. We will report back to you. And, over the years, you will be able to chart how your thinking, your creativity, your caring have helped move Western from being the premier public university of our type in the Pacific Northwest to being “best of class” period.

How will this initiative be funded? This initiative is being sponsored through the generosity of Jack and Jo Ann Bowman of Bellingham, Washington.

Conversation Starters

What is a “publicly-purposed” university? Public support for higher education in Washington is declining at a rapid rate. In fact, this year the State has become the minority shareholder, with funds dropping from 70% 10 years ago, to 60% last year, to 42% (and still dropping) for this academic year. We cannot define a public university solely from the source of its funding, but rather by where we put our efforts: our mission. Now is our opportunity to define for ourselves, and for our community, what a publicly-purposed university can be.

How can a continuously-emerging entrepreneurial spirit move the publicly-purposed university into ever greater community partnerships? Public-private partnerships have evolved on college campuses at different rates and speed. While universities must do a better job of making these programs better known, we have just scratched the surface of what is possible. It is a critical time in our society to value the benefits of higher education opportunities, and to bring the spirit and energy of civic-minded students and faculty into the community and address needs on all levels.

How will the transformed public institution of the future not only reflect societal changes, but actually lead the community forward? Universities are now not about teaching, but rather about learning, which necessarily changes the traditional roles of the professor and the student. New delivery methods allow college courses to be available wherever the student lives or works or travels. The basic fact remains that we do not teach history or math or science; people teach people and it can happen anywhere. We want to become the model for integrated learning throughout our community.


Page Updated 11.27.2013