Dear Western Faculty & Staff,
As we reach the halfway point of the academic year, I’d like to pause and reflect on the year so far and the work ahead of us.
Uzma and I recently traveled overseas to visit family for the first time since the start of the COVID pandemic. While it was refreshing to see people and cultures beyond our borders, I was also struck by issues of political instability and extremism. While we face many pressing issues closer to home, I am grateful that we live in a democracy—flawed as it may be—where we have considerable freedom to share our voices and perspectives.
I like to think that I’m a pragmatic optimist and I try not to look at the world through rose-colored glasses too often. Admittedly, there are days when it’s hard to focus on the opportunities in life when confronted with daily headlines of continuing inequality, political polarization, social distrust, climate change and other ills affecting our country and beyond. The COVID pandemic laid bare, and amplified, pervasive and persistent structural racism and inequity in our society’s institutions, from healthcare to housing, employment to education. This permanent cloud of negativity has a powerful effect on how we see our country, our communities, and how we engage with one another.
But what motivates and inspires me every day is that our profession is a noble calling; the work we do is central to human development, economic and social progress, and the type of society we want to create for the future. If we won’t undertake this important work and be role models for others, then who will?
Coming back after the pandemic, I want to thank you for quickly and successfully pivoting in the other direction and helping to resurrect the in-person learning environment that is needed to nurture our largest first-year class in university history. Our enrollment management and marketing teams did a commendable job when many of our peer institutions are still struggling to return to pre-pandemic enrollments, and our academic faculty and support services staff are doing an incredible job in providing students the education that brought them to Western.
This winter we tenured and/or promoted 60 faculty; their tenure and promotion dossiers underscore the high-quality teaching, research, scholarship, and community engagement that is a hallmark of Western’s excellent brand and reputation. It is the work of our faculty, for example, that led to Western being named one of 12 institutions globally by the U.S. Department of Energy for their first-ever Zero Energy Design Designation.
We are pleased to welcome Dr. Jacqueline Hughes, our first Chief Diversity Officer, to campus. She has hit the ground running and has been engaged in a listening tour that will better inform strategies for advancing our ADEI work and providing more intentional coordination and collaborations across the University.
WWU also signed onto the Okanagan Charter, an excellent framework for integrating and advancing our collective health and wellness and ADEI work. The Okanagan Charter will help us focus and engage the campus community in matters of health and wellness, including mental health and food and housing insecurity for students.
And I must boast about our Western women’s soccer team who won the NCAA II Division National Championship in December 2022, continuing the tradition of excellence that last year saw ten WWU teams win the GNAC, with women’s basketball and volleyball, in addition to women’s soccer, appearing in national post-season tournaments. Also, our student athletes achieved a 92% Academic Success Rate, the fifth time in the last six years that our students have exceeded the 90% performance benchmark.
Thanks to the work of leadership in the Department of Geology and the College of Science and Engineering, with our Advancement Team, we received the second largest gift in University history, a $5 million gift for a named Chair position in honor of Geology’s Dr. Ned Brown and for supporting its graduate program.
We have also been engaged in several projects and process improvements important to our community. This includes instituting a university-wide operating budget committee to provide oversight to the strategic budgeting process, implementing multifactor-authentication to improve IT security, and completing a comprehensive review of the PSO job classification and salary review structure to better align them with market and peers. These are complex works-in-progress, and I thank our administrative teams who have dedicated many extra hours to these critical improvements.
Finally, the design-build processes for the House of Healing longhouse and Kaiser-Borsari Hall are on target, and we expect to break ground for both of those projects this spring, with expected completion by fall 2024.
Even as we continue to make progress, much work remains to advance our commitment to inclusive student success and to create a culture with a greater sense of belonging and inclusivity. Compounding this imperative are short-term budget constraints caused by enrollment drops in our first-year classes during the two pandemic years that will have a ripple effect on the University’s budget outlook over the next few years. This means we need to manage resources more effectively, with a focus on aligning expenses with revenues and institutional priorities. We will be sharing additional information about this issue in the coming weeks.
While we proactively and creatively address these challenges together, we will also continue to position Western for long-term success. During the balance of this academic year, among other activities, we will focus on:
Advancing in the current legislative session institutional operating priorities for compensation increases, expansion of Western’s programs on the Peninsulas, new graduate programs and student retention strategies, as well as capital construction priorities for a new Student Development and Success Center and deferred maintenance, classroom renovations, IT improvements, and other critical ongoing needs;
Recruiting a strong incoming class for Fall 2023, while completing a longer-term enrollment management plan that positions Western for success in an increasingly competitive local and national higher education landscape;
Enhancing first-year student advising and other retention activities;
Defining the next set of strategies for advancing our ADEI work and expanding our commitment to the Okanagan Charter, and;
Ensuring transparency and understanding of our budget and other operational matters.
Suffice to say, we have work to do!
Lest you have forgotten, I would like to remind you that you all—faculty and staff—did an incredible job in sustaining the WWU community and delivering on our mission during 2+ years of a global pandemic when there was no real precedent for handling such a situation, and for that I am extremely grateful.
I believe that the commitment, energy and focus that brought us together to successfully navigate the pandemic are also central to our collective work of advancing our aspirational goals and to adapting to changing external realities that allow us to deliver on our commitments outlined above, and others, in an authentic way.
Thank you for being partners in this journey.