Mel Netzhammer can take comfort in the fact that no one expects him to match his predecessor when it comes to longevity. To do that would require the 52-year-old Netzhammer to still be working as Washington State University Vancouver’s chancellor when he’s 92. (The late Hal Dengerink worked in the WSU system for 40 years, 22 as WSUV chancellor).But a worthy goal for Netzhammer is to match the quality of service that is seen in the legacy of his legendary predecessor. It appears WSUV’s new leader is off to a good start in that direction. WSUV professor Gay Selby, who led the search committee that chose Netzhammer over three other finalists, said he “seemed very authentic and approachable” during the interviews. Those were two of Hal Dengerink’s manifold attributes, and they are two appropriate building blocks for Netzhammer at the Salmon Creek campus.
The Columbian welcomes WSUV’s new chancellor to a wonderful place to live and a great place to work. At this university, Netzhammer will find education and fiscal challenges similar to what he’s faced before, and his expertise in those areas should serve him well here.
On the education level, WSUV is flexing its relatively new wings as an institution specializing in careers of tomorrow. As a provost at Keene State College in New Hampshire, Netzhammer worked in areas that determined teaching techniques and the use of classroom spaces. At the statewide level here, Washington is implementing new standards for proficiency testing, and Netzhammer has served in that area as a liaison on K-12 districts’ launch of Common Core standards.
On the fiscal level, while Netzhammer was at Keene, state funding for the college was cut almost in half in one year. At WSUV, he’ll find a university that has seen a similar decline in state funding over four years. He’ll also move into a higher education system where tuition has soared by double-digit percentages for four consecutive years. Since WSUV opened almost a quarter of a century ago, the state’s contribution to the cost of tuition has plummeted from 80 percent to 40 percent.
But those stern tests are accompanied by myriad advantages that brighten WSUV’s future. Southwest Washington has built a huge support network for WSUV, substantial enough to inspire the university to launch the public phase of a $1 billion fundraising campaign. As reported in an op-ed by two WSUV leaders last year, the university is raising $20 million of that campaign locally, and the top priority of the campaign will be student scholarships. Already, in just the past two years, more than $650,000 in additional financial aid has been generated.
Netzhammer will be part of a network that extends far beyond the campus, including multiple cooperative programs with area businesses, particularly in high-tech fields, and numerous partnerships between WSUV and area school districts.
Last year, Dengerink wrote an op-ed for The Columbian less than three months before he passed away. He wrote in support of the Columbia River Crossing, where he led a 39-member task force through a process that would include 800 public meetings and countless hours of deliberations. In classic Dengerink style, he wrote, “it’s time to stop admiring the problem and get on with the solution.”
That’s the legacy of leadership that is left for Mel Netzhammer. We wish him well in his new role at a university that is among the best in the nation in growth, innovation and community support.