Provost temporarily takes on presidential responsibilities, appoints team to assist

Elson Floyd speaks during the 2014 Fall Commencement in Beasley Coliseum on December 13, 2014.

Effective immediately, the Washington State University Board of Regents voted to grant President Elson S. Floyd his written request for family medical leave on Friday, June 5. In a release published that afternoon, Floyd announced he is battling cancer.

President Floyd’s approved family medical leave is for an indefinite amount of time, Executive Director of university communications Kathy Barnard said. Provost and executive vice president Dan Bernardo was unanimously voted by the board to take on the day-to-day responsibilities of Floyd during his leave.

“Dr. Dan Bernardo is not the acting president,” Barnard said. “He is not the interim president. He is the provost and executive vice president assuming the role. This is per university policy.”

Bernardo acknowledged that he is not replacing Floyd in any way, but rather managing presidential affairs until Floyd returns from his medical leave. This was made clear in both personal conversation and an automated email sent out on Monday, June 8, to all active WSU students.

“Elson Floyd remains the president,” he said. “This is under university policy.”

The email published explains how Floyd will remain president through his absence from office and announces that Bernardo has comprised a team of four administrators that will assist him in assuring academic affairs receive appropriate attention.

The responsibilities of the provost and executive vice president include managing recruitment and retention of faculty, staff, and students. Additionally, academic planning and budgeting is expected while management of diversity programs, international programs, and enrollment is achieved.

Now Floyd’s daily responsibilities as the chief administrator of all WSU campuses including Pullman, Spokane, Tri-Cities and Vancouver rest on Bernardo’s shoulders.

The members of his team that will assist in managing all of the responsibilities listed, and more, until Floyd’s return are Erica Austin, vice provost for academic affairs; Daryll DeWald, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Ron Mittelhammer, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences; and Mel Netzhammer, chancellor of WSU Vancouver.

Bernardo wrote that direction from Floyd is straightforward. The president does not want the university’s achievements to dwindle during his period of time away.

Since Floyd was recruited as the president of WSU back in 2007, his accomplishments have begun to fill pages upon pages of records held by his offices.

Overall university enrollment grew by 17.6 percent between 2007 and 2014 with 24,396 students attending WSU the first fall term and 28,686 in the last fall term on record.

The number of students who identify as students of color increased by 12.5 percent; from 14 percent to 26.5 percent. And approximately 30 construction projects across all four WSU campuses were completed during that same period of time.

Annual research grant expenditures almost tripled from approximately $200 million in 2007 to over $600 million in 2015; moving WSU into the top 11 percent of public research universities for research funding.

Alongside these economic advancements, the WSU viticulture and enology programs expanded with a new director and a partnership with the Port of Benton that helped develop a technologically advanced wine science center in Tri-Cities.

The government relations function of WSU grew with an appointment of new Vice President for Government Relations and External Affairs, and opened a WSU office in Washington D.C.

All of this was done during the universities worst budget reduction in its history. A reduction that resulted in 52 percent of state operating funds cut over a four-year period of time.

Floyd, whose contract was extended by seven years in 2014, does not plan on leaving any time soon. His administration recognizes this. Based on his record of achievements and the general support of his colleagues, administration doesn’t have a problem with it either.

“Elson Floyd’s accomplishments during this past year have been phenomenal,” Board Chair Ryan Durkan wrote in the release published June 5. “He has the full, unequivocal support of the Board of Regents, and we wish him the very best during his leave.”

This support of Floyd has been witnessed by the board, by current WSU students, by WSU alum, and by the provost himself. Bernardo attributes this mass amount of encouragement from Floyd’s inability to not be connected with his community.

“He is someone tremendously engaged with campus,” Bernardo said. “Cougs stick together in times like this.”

Kathy Barnard said that anyone who wants to continue sharing support or encouraging Floyd and his family should continue to do so online. All posts being shared with official university Facebook pages or published with the hashtag #IHeartEFlo have been, and will continue to be, seen by Floyd and his family.

“We’re trying to give Dr. Elson Floyd as much space as possible while he wages this battle and concentrates his energy on health,” Bernardo said. “President Floyd and Mrs. Floyd are very appreciative of everything being shared on social media.”

Floyd himself made this clear in the release published by the board of regents.

“I cannot tell you how much the messages of support from students, colleagues and friends around the state have meant,” he wrote. “I have said it many times: I have the greatest job in the world.”

For the remainder of Floyd’s medical leave, Bernardo will remain in communication with Floyd only when necessary. Bernardo and the rest of the administration will continue to give Floyd and his family space until he is ready to return to work again.

“In the meantime, keep me in your thoughts and prayers,” Floyd wrote.