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WSU picks its next president; plus, a new way to look at incarceration rates

click to enlarge WSU has named the replacement for former president Elson Floyd, pictured, who died of cancer-related complications last year.
  • WSU has named the replacement for former president Elson Floyd, pictured, who died of cancer-related complications last year.

WSU CHOOSES 'CANDIDATE C'

After a secret search, Washington State University has chosen a new president to replace the late Elson Floyd, who died of cancer-related complications last June. KIRK SCHULZ, currently the Kansas State University president, will be the 11th WSU president. He was chosen unanimously by the WSU's Board of Regents last Friday.

During the board's discussion of the three finalists for the job on Friday, Schulz was referred to as "Candidate C." The school decided early on in the process that names of candidates would not be released, so their employers wouldn't be tipped off that they were looking for other jobs.

In an interview with the Seattle Times, former state auditor Brian Sonntag says not discussing the candidates openly violates the state's Open Public Meetings Act. The regents say the process was approved by WSU's attorney. Other schools, including the University of Washington, have used similar processes of not naming candidates in a presidential search.

Schulz, a professor of chemical engineering, has been Kansas State's president since 2009. He is also on the NCAA Board of Governors.

According to a WSU news release, regent Mike Worthy, who chaired the presidential search committee, says Schulz had all the qualifications the school was looking for.

"When we did the opportunities and challenges document, laying out the characteristics Cougs said they wanted in a president, well, [Schulz] has them all — leadership, commitment to academic quality, administrative skills to complete the strong trajectory WSU is on," Worthy says.

Schulz has indicated he will serve as KSU president until May and transition to WSU in June. School officials say they plan to fly Schulz here this week to meet students, staff and media. (WILSON CRISCIONE)

NUMBERS GAME

Washington is the second least punitive state in a new CRIME AND PUNISHMENT metric from Pew Charitable Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project. Idaho, on the other hand, is the second most punitive.

For decades, criminal justice analysts have pointed to the millions of people sitting in prison — 900 per 100,000 adults in the United States in 2014 — as a gauge of how the country deals with criminals. The 2.2 million people in U.S. prisons and jails in 2014 is the most of any country on the planet.

But in a "more nuanced assessment of punishment," Pew suggests comparing the number of inmates to the frequency and severity of crime, rather than to the population — in other words, a "punishment rate" rather than an "imprisonment rate."

Pew's calculation divides the imprisonment rate (the count of inmates sentenced to a year or more per 100,000 residents) by a severity-weighted crime rate, which measures the frequency and severity of reported crime per 100,000 residents. Each crime is weighted relative to the average amount of time people are sentenced for it. A homicide would be weighted more heavily than a theft, for example.

Notably, this calculation does not include drug offenders, who make up a significant portion of the country's prison population.

Washington state's punishment rate is 237, about half of the nation's average. Idaho checks in at 808, second only to Mississippi. According to the data, all states became more punitive from 1983 to 2013, with Washington state increasing by 61 percent and Idaho increasing by 339 percent in that time period.

There is, however, at least one inherent flaw in Pew's metric. As The Marshall Project points out, Pew is comparing people in prison to the crime rate, but there is a lag between crime and punishment.

Pew concedes that the calculation paints an incomplete picture, but is still an "essential tool" in understanding correctional trends among states, showing where certain crimes are punished more, or less. (MITCH RYALS)

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