Tuesday, September 27, 2022
Sept. 27, 2022

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In Our View: Elson Floyd’s Cougar Pride

Late WSU president leaves a legacy few can match

The Columbian
Published:

It was a tough Father’s Day weekend for Washington State University and its thousands of alumni and supporters around the state and the world. On Saturday, the Cougars lost their father figure, WSU President Elson S. Floyd.

Floyd was the 10th president in the university’s 125-year history, and one of its best. His eight years at the helm of the state’s second-largest university were marked with steady progress, despite one of the worst and longest economic recessions in state history.

Of course, WSU is Southwest Washington’s university. Long the home of extension programs and a former agricultural research center, Clark County has since 1989 been served with a branch campus offering bachelor’s and advanced degrees to an ever-growing cadre of students. Floyd didn’t found WSU Vancouver, and he didn’t build it — much of the credit there must go to Hal Dengerink, the longtime leader of the campus who died in 2011. But Floyd deserves credit for seeing the importance of the branch campuses (besides Vancouver, there are Tri-Cities and Spokane) and looking to continue their growth and reach even as the state reduced support for higher education.

Floyd was a friendly man, a hugger, loved and respected by students, faculty and alumni. He leaves a legacy of many accomplishments. Just this year, he convinced the Legislature to allow WSU to establish a medical school in Spokane, which will be the state’s second. The University of Washington had resisted the effort, but Floyd and supporters of the WSU proposal built the case that Washington, particularly Eastern Washington, will be better served by having a full program in Spokane.

That was just the latest of many accomplishments for the Cougars under Floyd’s tenure:

• The university’s enrollment grew to a record 28,868 last fall, including 3,264 students at WSU Vancouver. The student body became more diverse, which has always been a challenge for a school headquartered in a rural farming community that’s not even visible from the highway.

• The university completed 30 new major construction projects. A new international wine research center recently opened at WSU Tri-Cities; WSU Vancouver now has 13 buildings. In Pullman, the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health opened its doors.

• Annual research expenditures grew by 57.5 percent since 2007, reaching $335.9 million in 2015. As one of the state’s two research universities, this is a key role for WSU. Much of the research directly benefits Washington’s economy and translates to jobs in agriculture and manufacturing.

• Finally, the university added $1 billion to its endowment with a multiyear fundraising campaign.

No wonder the accolades for Floyd came quickly upon the news of his death.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said, “He led WSU with incredible energy, passion, and a deep and personal commitment to our students and communities.”

“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,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell.

The university announced Monday that it will soon begin a national search for Floyd’s successor. The search committee will have a big job to seek someone who will be able to accomplish so much, in so little time, and under such trying circumstances as Elson S. Floyd.

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