Editor’s Note: After each Board of Trustees meeting, Western Today provides a recap of decisions and discussion.
Trustees Hear Report on New Directions in Marine Science at Western
Laura Anthony told Western’s Board of Trustees on Thursday, when they met at Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes, that she had wanted to be a marine scientist since she was 8 years old.
But growing up in Helena, Montana, made that dream seem far away, until her father heard about WWU’s Marine Science Scholars program at Shannon Point. That program attracted her to come to Western, and she described the hands-on benefits of studying marine science at WWU.
“I immediately was plunged into research on the eelgrass beds in Fidalgo Bay – an amazing experience,” said Anthony, an undergraduate alumna of the WWU Marine Science Scholars Program.
The hands-on marine science approach described by Anthony is at the heart of Western’s new Marine and Coastal Sciences major. On Thursday, Brian Bingham, interim director of the Shannon Point Marine Center, and Brooke Love, interim Academic Program coordinator, provided background and a progress report on the new Marine and Coastal Sciences major. In addition, Shawn Arellano, assistant professor in the Biology Department, and Anthony provided their perspectives as well.
As part of its 2018 supplemental budget, the Washington State Legislature approved $1.3 million for development of an undergraduate degree program in marine and coastal sciences at WWU. This program, only the second undergraduate marine science degree program in the state, will help meet a growing demand among incoming students for access to marine science training while addressing the need within the state to create more STEM graduates who have the necessary interdisciplinary training to tackle the problems that face local coastal communities, the state, and planet.
The degree program will pull together expertise and resources from the WWU Department of Environmental Sciences, the Biology Department, the Geology Department, and the Shannon Point Marine Center in a rigorous, interdisciplinary, cohort model. The program will focus on research opportunities for students early in their college careers; active, hands-on learning experiences in the laboratory and in the field; and engaged learning communities built around coursework series, programs, and immersive learning experiences.
“I think we’ve made some great progress” in developing the new degree program, said Bingham, who added that the program will strengthen interdisciplinary connections, with faculty and students involved developing a group identity focused on marine sciences.
Love indicated plans for an initial cohort size of 25 to 30 students.
Challenges facing the program include transportation for students from Western’s main campus in Bellingham to Shannon Point with its marine labs, proximity to the water and research vessels. Shannon Point has responded to this issue in the past by carpooling and also can comfortably house 24 people on its campus. Stabilizing Shannon Point’s base budget also is important, Bingham said, as well as seeking more funding to offset increasingly costly course fees.
Trustees asked about diversity and inclusion in the program and Bingham said that is a high priority, and highlighted several marine center programs – including the former national award-winning Multicultural Initiative in the Marine Sciences, and the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.
Trustees Discuss Title IX Audit Report
On Friday, meeting at the Majestic Hotel in Anacortes, the trustees heard a report of the results of an Internal Audit on university practices related to cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence (Title IX). Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, in all educational programs and activities.
After hearing concerns from students, faculty and staff regarding Western’s response to sexual violence, President Sabah Randhawa said he asked Antonia Allen, director of Internal Audit at Western, last May to review how those cases were handled. Allen, in a report to the trustees, described the audit process and findings (see Audit Report). Allen said she reviewed cases handled by Western’s Equal Opportunity Office between fall 2016 and June 30, 2018.
Randhawa said several important changes have been made. As he described in a message to campus earlier during fall quarter, Randhawa said the university is restructuring Title IX investigations, creating a separate Title IX office that will report directly to the president and will focus exclusively and comprehensively on investigating reports of sexual violence and sexual misconduct, as well as coordination of Western’s policies, processes and prevention efforts. A national search for that position is under way. Randhawa said a reassessment of the effectiveness of the changes will occur in a year, or late in 2019.
Randhawa noted that the increased workload and responsibilities for the Equal Opportunity Office – including Title IX investigations, other cases of discrimination and issues related to equity and inclusion in hiring and training – have challenged the capacity of the Equal Opportunity Office, which is part of the reason for the additional staff and organizational changes. Sue Guenter-Schlesinger, vice provost for Equal Opportunity and Employment Diversity and Title IX coordinator, said the combined number of Title IX informal resolutions and formal complaints have greatly increased over the past few years after the Equal Opportunity Office was given sole responsibility for conducting administrative investigations into sexual misconduct on campus.
As recommended by the Internal Audit report, a revision of Western’s Discrimination Complaint procedure, which will include increased transparency about the investigative process, will be completed no later than January 2019. In addition, to improve coordination between the Western Office of Student Life and the Equal Opportunity Office, Melynda Huskey, vice president for Enrollment and Student Services, is being designated as deputy Title IX coordinator, leading and coordinating the student disciplinary function that is the purview of the Office of Student Life.
Western also is enhancing its sexual violence prevention and education efforts. Currently, Western requires all students, including freshmen, transfer and graduate students, to complete mandatory on-line sexual violence prevention training (previously called “Haven”). This year, in order to reinforce the training, the university will be instituting a second on-line training for all students at the end of their second or beginning of their third year at Western, typically when many students move off campus into the community.
Trustees also asked about pending federal changes to Title IX guidelines, which as reported in the media may include: limiting the scope of inquiries by colleges and universities, making it easier for students accused of sexual misconduct to defend themselves, and not requiring schools to investigate incidents off campus involving students.
Western officials are in the process of reviewing the federal draft guidelines recently reported on by the New York Times and say there are no plans to change from previous Title IX guidelines from the Obama Administration.
In a related matter, Randhawa said that Allen, in addition to her duties as director of Internal Audit, is now also Western’s ethics officer, an advisory role. That role was previously handled by the WWU Human Resources office, but Randhawa indicated that it is more appropriately handled by the director of Internal Audit.
In other business, the trustees:
- Heard from Ray Thompson, vice president, Higher Education Services, MGT Consulting Group, who provided a progress report on an ongoing feasibility study of expanding Western’s educational delivery and presence on the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas. The Washington State Legislature appropriated one-time funding in 2018 for WWU to study the feasibility of expanding its educational offerings on the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas. In conducting research for the report, Thompson said he met with numerous people in the communities within the four counties that make up the two peninsulas. He told the trustees he hoped to have a final report ready by mid-November.
- Approved President Randhawa to receive the same raise – 2 percent this year and 2 percent in January 2019 – as other Western professional staff based on a statewide authorization during the past legislative session. Trustee Chair Earl Overstreet said that the trustees are very pleased with Randhawa’s leadership. “It is an honor to work with you to advance Western,” Randhawa told the trustees.
- Heard from Randhawa that Western’s total fall quarter enrollment is 16,121 students.
- Heard that the Governor’s Office has appointed Trustee Sue Sharpe to another six-year term on the board. Former Gov. Christine Gregoire appointed Sharpe to a term on the board through Sept. 30, 2018, and she was reappointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to a term ending Sept. 30, 2024.
- Heard from Randhawa that roles and responsibilities have changed within the President’s Office staff. Paul Dunn is now chief of staff and secretary to the Board of Trustees, and Barbara Sandoval is the senior executive assistant to the President.
- Heard a presentation by Provost Brent Carbajal and Brian Burton, associate vice president for Academic Affairs, on the Strategic Planning Website and dashboards.
- Approved awarding a construction contract for Multiple Building Access Control; and a construction contract for Multiple Building Replacement of Switchgears, Panels, and Motor Controls. Trustee Karen Lee asked whether Western was seeking increased participation by minority contractors in campus construction projects. Rich Van Den Hul, vice president for Business and Financial Affairs, said the university is starting to use a design-build model for construction on campus and that model makes it easier to include an emphasis seeking qualifications from minority and women-owned businesses.
- Heard an update from McNeel Jantzen, Faculty Senate president.
- Heard an Olympia update from Becca Kenna-Schenk, executive director of WWU Government Relations, on the upcoming 105-day legislative session, which will begin on Jan. 14, 2019.
- Heard an update on the Student Success Committee by Trustee Mo West, committee chair.
- Heard an update from Trustee John Meyer on the Board Audit Committee.
- Heard an update from the Associated Students from Levi Eckman, AS vice president for Academic Affairs. Eckman described progress on creation of a Student Senate.
The next regular meeting of the Board of trustees will be Dec. 13 and 14. Meeting documents are available at the Board of Trustees website at https://trustees.wwu.edu/meeting-materials