WSU names new Vancouver chancellor

He's currently a provost at college in New Hampshire



The second-in-command of a New England liberal-arts college will head up Washington State University Vancouver starting in July.

Mel Netzhammer, the current provost of Keene State College in New Hampshire, will become chancellor of WSUV, the university announced Monday. Netzhammer will have the job formerly held by Hal Dengerink, who died Sept. 14 after a two-year battle with brain cancer.

Dengerink was the only chancellor the Vancouver campus ever knew. He started the branch campus in 1989 in a space borrowed from Clark College. Lynn Valenter, vice chancellor of finance and operations, has served as interim chancellor since Dengerink retired last summer.

The man who is about to take on the top position was one of four who interviewed for the job in February.

The 52-year-old said convincing him to take the job was “a quick sell.” He was instantly impressed by the campus’ ties to businesses and school districts in Clark County, he said.

“It’s been very important for me in my career how a university connects to its community,” Netzhammer said.

Netzhammer felt warmly welcomed by faculty and administrators on campus during his interviews.

“I thought, ‘These are people I’d like to work with,’ ” he said.

The feeling was mutual. A 17-member search committee, which was mostly made up of faculty but also included representatives of other WSU campuses and Clark College President Bob Knight, unanimously recommended that WSU President Elson Floyd appoint Netzhammer, said Gay Selby, a professor who headed the committee.

“He connected on a personal level with members,” Selby said. “He seemed very authentic and approachable.”

That’s in addition to his qualifications. Netzhammer holds a doctoral degree in communications from the University of Utah. After getting his Ph.D., Netzhammer became an assistant professor at Buffalo (N.Y.) State College in 1987. By the time he left that college in 2006, Netzhammer was the dean of arts and humanities.

Next, he took on the provost’s position at Keene State College. The college, about 90 miles northwest of Boston, is part of the public university system of New Hampshire.

His provost duties there include being the chief academic officer, which means Netzhammer is involved in decisions concerning teaching techniques and classroom spaces, among other things. He also served as the liaison on K-12 districts’ adoption of Common Core standards. That new set of national testing standards also will be fully in use in Washington starting in the 2014-15 school year.

Netzhammer worked with school districts to make sure their curricula properly prepared students for college.

His current job also has provided him with experience in college finances that will come in handy at his new position in Vancouver. The WSU system has seen the money it gets from the state cut in half over the last five years, Floyd, its president, has said.

In New Hampshire, the cuts were as deep, but came a lot faster. Instead of losing state money over several years, Keene State College saw its state money reduced by almost half just last year, Netzhammer said.

“For every dollar we spend (as a college), we get about a nickel from the state,” he said.

He understands the need to advocate on behalf of higher education with legislators, he said. But he was encouraged by the support WSU enjoys in Vancouver’s business community, he said.

Netzhammer will receive $300,000 per year in salary, according to his contract. Chancellors on the Tri-Cities and Spokane WSU campuses receive about $221,000 per year, which is what Dengerink was paid at the end of his tenure, according to the state’s Office of Financial Management.

Chancellors haven’t gotten a raise since 2008, said Valenter, the interim chancellor. But after seeing the caliber of applicants for the Vancouver job, the university felt it had to increase the salary for this position, she said.

The position was not advertised with a dollar figure, but the university offered $300,000 after meeting the candidates because that seemed to be the going market rate for this competitive search, Valenter said.

Netzhammer said he considered a few other positions nationwide, but that he had been very selective.

He’s moving to Vancouver with his partner of 25 years, Lee Faver, a counseling psychologist. The two enjoy outdoor activities, particularly hiking and biking. They are looking forward to exploring both Vancouver and its surrounding landscape, Netzhammer said.

Aside from budget struggles, Netzhammer said he sees the main challenge of his new job as letting WSUV grow in an organized fashion.

“But I’m not coming in with preconceived notions,” he said. “I just want to get to know the campus and Vancouver.”

Jacques Von Lunen: 360-735-4515;;