‘Cougs help Cougs’

The Cougar Nation is deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved president, Dr. Elson S. Floyd. President Floyd was an infectious leader who treasured WSU, but above all else, he loved students and believed in each and every one of you. You returned this love to him, affectionately referring to him as E-Flo and honoring him with the loudest of applause at university events, such as convocation, commencement, and basketball games.

President Floyd was the students’ president. He often mingled among you, asking how WSU could serve you better, listening to your suggestions, and taking action to improve the student experience. The social media, as well as interviews with print and broadcast media, are filled with accounts from students and recent alumni who recalled a chance meeting with him, noting that he remembered their name and circumstances the next time their paths crossed. He once told a student reporter that as a college student he often felt invisible and didn’t want any WSU student to feel that way. President Floyd had a way of making everyone he encountered feel special. The reason was simple – he truly cared.

No core value motivated President Floyd’s lifetime of achievements more than providing access to higher education to everyone.  Growing up in a poor, small community with blue collar parents who did not graduate from high school, his mother instilled in him the power of opportunity through education, and he embodied that value throughout his professional career. At WSU, he was driven by the ideal of increasing access to higher education for the state’s citizens, regardless of their location, income, or life’s circumstances. Enrollment increased by more than 30 percent under his charge, and a majority of this growth resulted from WSU reaching out across the state of Washington to encourage young people who had not traditionally been part of our student body to become Cougs.

Over the past few days, I have been interviewed numerous times, and inevitably I am asked about what President Floyd’s legacy will be – the medical school, a successful $1 billion fundraising campaign, increasing enrollment, the building of several state-of-the-art facilities across our four campuses?  While all of those are notable accomplishments within a sizable list of transformational changes that occurred under his charge, in the end, he will be known for making Cougars believe in themselves and their institution, and for leading us to successes that most of us never dreamed were achievable. I am certain that history will look back at this era as one that launched WSU into new stature within the American university system.

I have the enormous responsibility of serving as the acting president of WSU until a permanent president is selected by our Board of Regents. I have no conception of replacing President Floyd; no one can possibly replace Elson Floyd.  My job, as recently described to me by President Floyd himself, is to continue to move the institution forward and accomplish the many initiatives that he has set us on course to complete. This is a tall order, but I do not stand alone; while I may be the acting president of WSU, our guiding force and the person providing the vision, is still Elson Floyd.

WSU is in a time of mourning. An important part of dealing with the loss of a loved one is to engage in the grieving process. It is ok to cry. It is important that you express your feelings so that healing can begin. I encourage you to connect with each other to share your favorite Elson Floyd story, and to remind each other of the tremendous hope he had for each of you. Please share your thoughts on social media if you are willing so that the whole world has an opportunity to know how much your president meant to you. Sharing our love for Elson Floyd, for WSU, and for each other will help us all cope with the despair that envelopes us all. Over the coming months, we will stand together in support of one another, and we will come out of this tragedy stronger than ever. That is what Cougs do. As President Floyd often said, “Cougs help Cougs”. He would expect nothing less from each of us.