Northwest Presidents Join Call to Change Higher Education

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Three Pacific Northwest university presidents have joined in an open letter to state and land-grant college executives across the nation, urging reform designed to put students first on the campus.
Presidents Samuel Smith of Washington State University, Judith Ramaley of Portland State University, and Paul Risser of Oregon State University are among 25 current and former university presidents who have signed a letter titled, “Returning to our Roots: The Student Experience,” released here today. The three Northwest educators serve on the 25-member Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities.
The letter calls on public institutions to become “genuine learning communities” that are student-centered, support and inspire learners of all kinds, and sustain a healthy learning environment.
It urges public colleges and universities to:
— reinforce commitment to undergraduate instruction;
— revitalize partnerships with elementary and secondary schools;
— strengthen the link between education and career;
— improve teaching and educational quality with keeping college affordable and accessible;
— define educational objectives more clearly and improve assessment; and
— create many more opportunities for hands-on learning, including undergraduate research.
WSU’s commitment to providing students with quality education and leadership development opportunities dates back to the university’s earliest years, said Smith.
An example of renewed emphasis on undergraduate instruction is WSU’s new Freshman Seminars program. Students experience an “intense and fun semester-long introduction to learning at the college level,” he said. Working in small groups, the students are assisted by a peer facilitator, a graduate student and an academic faculty member. This program allows WSU students to “establish a foundation upon which they can build more successes during their academic career and then in their profession.”
“The future of the nation depends on a strong network of research universities that take
seriously their responsibilities to their students and to the communities that they serve,” said Ramaley. “The Kellogg Commission has started with the heart of the matter — the experience of our undergraduates.
“We have worked hard on this report and we believe that we have offered a principled agenda for change that will encourage all of us to test our actions against the challenges posed by a set of simple, yet fundamental, principles that will permit us to act always in the best interests of the public. We hold a public trust and we must always honor our core commitment to creating a learning community for everyone.”
“Our society is knowledge-based,” Risser observed. “In Oregon, we’re already at work developing new partnerships among public universities and community colleges to make higher education more attainable. We recognize the need to help people of all ages and experiences benefit from the opportunity of higher education. Our new OSU Statewide program will use every available resource — from distance learning to new technologies — to make learning more accessible and affordable for all our citizens.”
The Kellogg Commission was created by a $1.2 million grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. “The Student Experience” is the first in a series of Commission reports, intended to frame a vision for reforming public higher education and outlining action for change.
The presidents’ letter contains a statement of principles defining commitment to a learning community, access and opportunity, educational value, cost containment, accountability, meeting new needs, and being flexible and responsive. It also proposed a “national conversation” to discuss more broadly the principles and action agenda, and pledges to collect models of “best practices” of public universities to share with others in print and on the information superhighway.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Other Northwest contributors to the Kellogg Commission include John Byrne, the retired president of Oregon State, who serves as the Commission’s executive director; Mike Thorne, executive director, Port of Portland; and Paula C. Butterfield, superintendent, Bozeman, Mont., Public Schools, both members of the Commission’s Advisory Board.