New WSU President Kirk Schulz is wasting no time trying to steer the university in a new direction.
He’s only just officially taken over the leadership role at Washington State University and already has pledged to change the school’s spending habits, which he said are “simply not sustainable.”
His frankness is refreshing.
Schulz’s instinct to look at the books first thing and determine the fiscal health of the university he now must lead shows he has his priorities in order.
But his courage to come out publicly and say past budget practices were flawed is what really has attracted attention. Such bold transparency is reassuring, and if this is any indication of how he conducts business — well then, we are impressed.
This candor appears to be typical of the former Kansas State University president. Once, when he hired a new athletic director there in 2009, he said he wanted to operate in a “transparent fashion” and announced that copies of the contract would be available to anyone who wanted one.
Documents like a new public employee contract aren’t always so easy to get, even though they should be. To have a university president make one so readily available is encouraging.
And for Schulz to start his new job immediately telling university staff their budget practices must change shows he also is not afraid to be blunt.
It turns out that WSU has spent more money annually over the past couple of years than has been brought in, according to a letter Schulz posted to his website. He said central reserves are being drained at a significant rate and noted administrators have not been using a “formalized” process when they the plan the biennial budget.
He also scrutinized capital spending decisions by WSU’s board of regents. According to The Associated Press, WSU has projects worth $212 million under construction and another $240 million worth of projects in the design or planning stages. Schulz said the school does not have a “comprehensive funding plan” for many of those projects, and some proposals were brought to the regents “without a robust financial analysis.” He insists that must change.
With a record number of about 27,000 enrolled students statewide last spring semester, there is a need to keep up with that growth. But Schulz is right in demanding that WSU officials adopt a more prudent financing plan — one that ensures there is enough revenue to cover expenditures without using reserves.
In addition, Schulz wants to reduce the annual $13 million deficit in the athletic department, which partly has been caused by fundraising campaigns and money from television contracts that have failed to meet expectations.
After his post attracted media attention, Schulz later clarified in the Spokesman-Review that the university is not in dire financial straits, and his letter was not meant to criticize the regents or his predecessors. He said he just wants people to be informed.
He also told the Spokesman-Review that during his tenure at Kansas State he developed a “belief in transparency” and that he made an effort to make sure elected officials, students and taxpayers “really knew” what was going on.
It looks like he’s bringing that same level of openness with him to WSU, which the Cougar community should embrace. Schulz is off to an admirable start.