by ROBERT HEROLD & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & S & lt;/span & ince the early '80s, Spokane has clamored for a research university. Recently WSU President Elson Floyd reassured Spokane leaders that WSU is Spokane's research university. But is it?
There's a difference between a university doing some research and a research university. WSU has made some progress at the former -- although it should be pointed out that the $10 million per biennium in research proudly reported by WSU Spokane amounts to less than 5 percent of WSU's total research. As for becoming a research university? WSU Spokane has made no progress.
This should come as no surprise. To gain research-university status the institution must offer doctoral degrees in the research disciplines, complete with graduate research assistants and surrounding research infrastructure. The graduate programs WSU has brought to Spokane do not qualify as research programs. A research university in Spokane has never been WSU's intention for Spokane, nor the state's either, for that matter. However, since Brian Pitcher arrived as chancellor three years ago, we have seen a subtle change in strategy. Pitcher has laid out what I will term the mutual value-added campus strategy.
First, Pitcher redirected WSU Spokane away from the locally imposed technology training agenda; he is focusing on applied and basic research health sciences. And why? Because in his mind that's where the academic opportunities exist, both teaching and research -- in the hospitals and in the laboratories.
WSU Spokane will continue to serve regional professional needs through a range of market-driven degree programs associated with medical services. Sensitive to the problem of too narrow a focus, Pitcher also sees WSU Spokane becoming more involved in community affairs.
Second, Pitcher seeks to promote biomedical research. I asked, "Where will you find the necessary academic support to pull off serious research here?" Pitcher acknowledged that this is a problem because "we won't see in Spokane free-standing research-driven doctoral programs." No such doctoral programs, no research assistants.
But what appears to be a serious problem, Pitcher sees as an opportunity. He hopes that eventually WSU in Pullman will come to view WSU Spokane as its primary channel into the biomedical world in Spokane. Spokane research could then be supported by WSU Pullman graduate students and faculty. But this will only happen, says Pitcher, if WSU Spokane attracts excellent faculty. He points to a number of recent hires as evidence of progress. Pitcher is betting that excellent faculty on the WSU Spokane campus will come to be viewed as adding value to the degree programs and research done in Pullman, and vice versa.
His mutual value-added strategy has been informed by his experience in Idaho. As provost at the University of Idaho he watched resources being drained from the "far better university" in Moscow down to Boise State, a former community college. While he accepts that money moving to population centers is inevitable and academically necessary, he doesn't want to see what happened in Idaho unfold here. Nor is the troubling Idaho experience lost on Pullman. Spokane research-university advocates have accused WSU of foot-dragging for years. Pitcher, however, believes this reluctance can better be explained by WSU's concern that it not go the way of the University of Idaho. The Pullman campus remains to be convinced that a dollar to Spokane isn't a dollar less for Pullman. Pitcher believes that his mutual value-added strategy can change this perception.
President Elson Floyd to the contrary, WSU is not, and will not ever be, Spokane's research university. After 20 years there is little to prove that claim. However, if Pitcher's strategy succeeds, Riverpoint can eventually become a university in Spokane doing much more research in cooperation with Pullman and, no doubt, doing a wider range of other interesting academic stuff as well.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & final word regarding that sought-after connectivity of the University District to the overall downtown plan. Boosterism aside, might we acknowledge that Riverpoint is a suburban-design campus, intended to serve suburban students who drive in, go to classes, and then beat feet? It is an automobile-centered campus, not a pedestrian campus. It is not a residential campus. It is a mono-use facility located in a mono-use district. These are the facts of the matter. The master plan shows appreciation for this problem; but, given distances between Riverpoint and the city center to the west and Sprague to the south, transforming Riverpoint to even a semi-urban campus remains problematic.
Development on East Main is welcomed; however, Trent Avenue (now renamed Spokane Falls Boulevard) remains a University District killer. If we can't make this street pedestrian friendly, forget about making any progress. And even success here won't solve the problem. To attract small business, the campus will need to provide a critical mass of students, which takes us back to the need for more academic programs. Thirty medical students and a few new faculty are only a start. Needed are residential students and a mixed-use urban environment.
The challenge is made more difficult by the Division Street wall, as well as the dismal aesthetic condition of Spokane Falls Boulevard, which effectively deepens the sense of separation between Riverpoint and the downtown. Billboards? Surface parking lots? Chain-link fencing? Get rid of it. Suburban-design buildings? The City should weigh in.
Can Dr. Pitcher's strategy succeed? Can we avoid repeating the Idaho experience? Or, if we overreact, does Pullman once again begin to dig moats? Can the city and business community transform this suburban campus?
Open questions all.