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News / Clark County News

Washington State University President Elson Floyd dies at 59

The Columbian
Published: June 20, 2015, 12:00am

PULLMAN — Elson Floyd, president of Washington State University, has died at 59 of complications from colon cancer.

Floyd had been president since 2007 and went on medical leave earlier this month. He died Saturday morning at Pullman Regional Hospital, said a school spokeswoman, Kathy Barnard.

Floyd’s influence across Washington state in both the political and higher education arenas went beyond even the expectations of loyal fans and alumni of the university in rural eastern Washington.

Referring to Washington State’s athletic mascot, Gov. Jay Inslee said Elson “turned Washington State into Cougar State, dramatically expanding the scope of the university on both sides of the mountains.”

Inslee also expressed thanks for the way Floyd had advised him during his time as governor, starting with his role as co-chair of Inslee’s transition team.

Floyd’s most recent accomplishment in the statehouse was convincing the Legislature to establish a second medical school in Washington state after years of dominance in medical education around the region by the University of Washington.

WSU Board of Regents Chair Ryan Durkan listed the future medical school among Floyd’s successes. Durkan also noted the university’s record-breaking $1 billion capital campaign, its largest enrollment in 125 years and Floyd’s successful effort to double the number of students from minority groups.

The university completed 30 major construction projects during Floyd’s tenure, including building a new wine science center and the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health.

“Higher education has lost a giant, and the world has lost one of its kindest human beings,” Durkan said in the statement, which also announced his passing after Floyd’s illness took a more serious turn.

Floyd, a native of North Carolina, was the 10th president of the school.

Floyd was one of the highest-paid public-college presidents in the country, even though he voluntarily reduced his own salary by $100,000 a year during the recession and its aftermath. He described that pay cut as leading by example, at a time when faculty salaries were frozen, programs were being cut and tuition was growing by double-digit percentages.

In 2014, his contract was extended by seven years after he told the board of regents he had a lot of work he wanted to accomplish at WSU and intended to stay until he retired.

His university biography lists previous posts as president of the four-campus University of Missouri System and president of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. He began his career at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he had done his undergraduate and post-graduate work.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Michigan, praised Floyd’s work at Western Michigan, saying Floyd’s “great work at Western Michigan University propelled him into the ranks of top college presidents in the United States.”

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington called him “truly one of a kind. He led WSU with incredible energy, passion, and a deep and personal commitment to our students and communities.”

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington cited his enthusiasm for a range of initiatives, from biofuels to medical education.

“All Washingtonians should say a prayer of thanks and gratitude for the leadership of Elson Floyd. His skill and perseverance led change at WSU that will last forever,” Cantwell said.

Details of a memorial service are pending, the school said.

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