Statewide system emerging

Branch campuses, newer campuses, urban campuses — the descriptors have changed several times, but Washington State University’s three teenage offspring — WSU Vancouver, WSU Spokane and WSU Tri-Cities — are not confused about their roles or need to establish their own identities. Last spring, the university’s Board of Regents gave WSU the nod to transform these growing campuses (founded in 1989) into a statewide “system.”

Two questions currently at the forefront are: How will the new statewide system be structured? And, how is that transformation progressing?

Realizing this was a gargantuan undertaking, the university named Hal Dengerink as a special assistant to the president, assigned to serve as point man on the project on a half-time basis. The remainder of his time is focused on his duties as chancellor of the WSU Vancouver campus.

To say Dengerink has his plate full would be a gross understatement. His time and efforts are spread statewide on all four campuses, as well as in Olympia during the legislative session. Dengerink quickly points out that the only reason he has been successful in juggling these two missions is support from excellent staff and faculty, to whom he regularly delegates assignments.


During the past year, Dengerink has studied and visited numerous statewide systems, looking at each one’s strengths, weaknesses, policies and structure. To help provide additional insights, he also participates actively in the National Association of Branch Campus Administrators.

“The structure that we currently are proposing includes elements from many state systems,” said Dengerink. “In the end, it will be a unique system specifically intended to work for WSU in its current circumstance.”

If there is one state system that WSU is following more closely than another, it may be Indiana, which encompasses eight campuses. A major reason is that the Indiana system is not centralized.

In some program areas, one Indiana campus takes the lead, said Dengerink, while in others the lead is taken by a different campus. Or, two or more campuses might operate programs independently.

For example, each campus has its own chancellor, but the statewide president’s office is based at IU Bloomington. On the other hand, the dean of liberal arts, located at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, oversees that division statewide.

“Indiana has a flexible system that is very inconsistent and convoluted in how it is structured and managed, but it seems to work,” said Dengerink, pointing to several examples, such as the fact that IU Indianapolis, with a total enrollment of just 28,000 students, has one of the top ranked medical schools in the nation.

“Overall, the structure of Indiana’s administrative system is based upon a commitment to do whatever they need to in order to serve students best, rather than structuring the system based on who is in charge. They look at what they want to accomplish and how they can make it work.”

In some ways, Dengerink said, there are aspects of this type of structure already in place at WSU. He pointed to WSU’s nursing program and the clinical pharmacy program, both of which are centered out of WSU Spokane, rather than Pullman.

“In many instances, it doesn’t make sense from a financial and/or human resource standpoint to create an independent department,” Dengerink said. For example, Vancouver probably will not develop a sociology, English or psychology department; but it will continue to operate under and coordinate with those departments in Pullman.

“However, in some cases, it makes great sense to develop an independent department on an urban campus,” he said.

Informatics at WSU Spokane, he said, might be a good candidate, because that campus’ health science program is located in the midst of several corporations interested in seeing this program developed. Plus, some companies are already working with faculty and providing funding.

Larry James, chancellor at WSU Tri-Cities, agrees. “A more systemwide approach facilitates WSU Tri-Cities’ ability to offer programs that address specific community needs and/or that take advantage of community resources such as the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).”

James pointed to a multitude of supporting statistics: PNNL’s main campus, which is located within a mile of the WSU campus, has over 1.9 million square feet of laboratory and office space with a total replacement value of $500 million. And 700 of PNNL’s 3,800 employees have PhDs.

In 2002, PNNL conducted more than $555 million in research and development activities in the Tri-Cities. PNNL scientists and engineers and state-of-the-art facilities and equipment are among the best in the world. Many PNNL scientists and engineers teach undergraduate and graduate courses at WSU Tri-Cities. They also collaborate with WSU faculty throughout the state in a wide range of research areas.

“A systemwide approach is a major step toward a strategic partnership between WSU and PNNL that leverages their vast resources to the benefit of the state as well as WSU faculty and students,” James said.


WSU is trying to design a statewide system, Dengerink said, that provides flexibility but does not create a brand new administrative structure.

“We have an outline of the proposed system in place,” said Dengerink. “What we’re trying to do now is work it through and get a feel for what the details are going to be and how we can implement it. We’re trying to determine how large the ‘devil’ is in the proverbial details.

“It’s a difficult process, because what we really are trying to do is change WSU’s culture. We’re proposing that the university and administration function more broadly, embracing a concept that WSU is a system of four campuses that are very different from each other — which is a drastic change from the past philosophy.”

The historic branch campus system was designed to create branch campuses “genetically identical” to Pullman.

“Reality is, the Pullman campus functions very differently than urban campuses,” said Dengerink. “At Pullman, most faculty are in their offices, or giving lectures or conducting research. On urban campuses, faculty members may lecture on campus, but they are often off campus doing research, working with the businesses and community.”

Student demographics on urban campuses also are different. Most undergraduate students transfer from community colleges. In addition, they usually are more community, rather than campus, oriented and often older.

“Overall, it’s a different way of thinking and providing services,” Dengerink said. “That’s not to say one is right and one is wrong, it’s simply different, because each campus is different.”


The first phase in moving to a statewide system is slated to be complete in August, with a report to the Board of Regents.

“The proposed system is a very complicated structure,” Dengerink said. “Its success, if adopted, will depend on cooperation and joint effort by a wide variety of groups.”

The biggest challenge in the process, Dengerink said is “time.”

“This is something that just takes time. You have to work through some of the issues and try it… And change is always difficult to bring about.

“I think the biggest concern — on all sides — is uncertainty about what it all means,” Dengerink said. “While we all understand the concepts, there are concerns about the details and the long-term implications of what we put into place.

“The only way to address this concern is to carry some proposals through … and see how it works. And that’s what we are doing right now.”

Additional sidebar, not in print version below.

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Seven steps toward a statewide system

The following is a brief list of steps taken in 2003-04 beginning the movement toward WSU’s new statewide system.

1. Campus chancellors have met monthly with regents, providing them with updates regarding campus developments and implementation steps.

2. The advisory councils for each campus have been reconstituted and visiting regents assigned to each. Each advisory council has met at least once.

3. A President’s System Council, including six members, has been formed and meets monthly.

4. Formation of a Provost’s Academic System Council. This nine-member council has met monthly and has proposed a set of procedures by which academic planning will take place across the four campuses.

5. Faculty assemblies or organizations on the urban campuses are starting to form and are developing some understanding of how they will operate. The overall Faculty Senate has devised a way for these faculty groups to be represented in a Faculty Senate steering committee.

6. The student governments from all campuses are meeting four times a year, and statewide system issues are being discussed.7. The overall System Council for Administration and Operations has met twice. The individual subcouncils that make up this larger group have been formed. Some of these have been meeting on a regular basis — up to once a month. Some are just beginning to address the implications of a university system for their domains.