Schulz talks mental health, budgets, enrollment

WSU president spoke as new academic year begins, addressed athletics deficit



WSU President Kirk Schulz addresses university finances and future admissions trends while talking with reporters at a press conference held Aug. 22 at the Lewis Alumni Centre.

IAN SMAY, Evergreen reporter

WSU President Kirk Schulz fielded questions regarding mental health resources, budgets and this year’s largest-ever freshman class during an hour-long press conference to mark the beginning of the school year Wednesday morning at the Lewis Alumni Centre.

Budget and athletics

Schulz said the university markedly reduced its spending in the past year.

“We don’t have final figures yet, but we will definitely exceed our goal in fiscal spending,” he said.

Final numbers on how well the deficit-reduction plan has been carried out in the first year should be released in the coming days, according to a news release handed out at the press conference.

Schulz touted the university’s 2018 fundraising efforts, which garnered $145.1 million, and thanked faculty and staff members who had helped in reducing spending across the university.

In athletics, the Board of Regents approved a plan to reduce the department’s debt by fiscal year 2023 during their final monthly meeting in June.

The president said he thinks the Cougar Athletic Fund, which had its best year ever with $7.76 million in revenue, will continue to increase.

“We expect to see that grow aggressively in the next few years,” Schulz said.

He praised Director of Athletics Pat Chun for his efforts to increase revenue through fundraising.

“I want to accelerate [reducing the deficit] as much as possible,” Schulz said. “We have the best fundraising AD that WSU has ever had.”

He also spoke about the possibility of having additional student fees implemented to help address the deficit, which would need to be approved by ASWSU and voted on by the student body.

“I would like to have, at some point, our students assist us with the funds needed for a competitive athletics program,” he said.

Other schools, such as the University of California, Berkeley, have been in as bad or worse spots and still managed to field competitive teams, Schulz said.

He also said the university would bring in an independent group to complete an audit of the athletics department following results from an internal audit showing inflation of attendance numbers and possible state law violations with recordkeeping and the distribution of tickets.

“I want us to be completely credible in all that we do,” he said.

Mental health

WSU worked to raise awareness of suicide prevention and mental health resources on campus following the January death of quarterback Tyler Hilinski by suicide, according to a WSU fact sheet.

Four new initiatives were listed in the fact sheet, including a second mental health screening for football players, a full-time clinical psychologist, free mental health first-aid training for students and collaboration with the JED foundation to increase awareness.

Schulz said the university wants to make sure all students, not just athletes, are aware of the mental health resources available on campus. He also wants students to be trained to spot signs of mental health issues or suicidal tendencies in their peers.

Phil Weiler, vice president of marketing and communications for WSU, also said the university was looking at how to address mental health issues and suicide without increasing the risk of suicide contagion, in which more people commit suicide after a high-profile or locally-known person takes their own life.

Conversations were held between Schulz and Chun on how to address the issue of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, with Cougar football players, Schulz said.

Student body

There were concerns about a lack of housing for the freshman class, as some dorm rooms will have three students and resident advisors in some halls will have roommates this year.

While there was initially a waitlist for some to get housing through the university, Weiler said the issue has been resolved.

“As of [Tuesday], that waiting list is down to zero,” Weiler said.

It was important to find rooms for freshmen to ensure they had a smooth start to their academic careers at WSU, Schulz said.

“We don’t want someone’s first experience to be ‘welcome, we don’t have anywhere for you to stay,’ ” Schulz said.

The issue arose with more people choosing WSU after receiving acceptance, not from the university accepting more applicants, Weiler said.

Schulz said he thinks the reason so many students wanted to come to WSU was because of the university’s reputation.

“I think the university had a pretty substantial party image for a while,” he said. “I think we’re seeing a little bit of the result of positively increasing our academic stature.”

In addition to a larger student body, Schulz also said Provost Dan Bernardo had helped increase the academic strength of the class by giving tours and successfully recruiting highly-sought freshmen to Pullman.

He also covered how the university would move forward in regard to students in the country under DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects those who entered the country illegally as minors with their parents. Schulz said WSU would play it by ear based on national policy decisions.

“I think that’s going to be based on what we hear out of Washington D.C.,” he said. “We’re going to need to be flexible.”

He also spoke about student debt and preparing students for life after graduation, whether it be graduate school or the workforce. He said he wants to ensure graduates aren’t burdened by debt when they leave WSU.

“How successful can a person be if they are going into a job that doesn’t pay six figures when they’re $100,000 in debt?” Schulz said.

He also said the university is working to increase inclusivity and diversity on campus, noting that the press conference was almost a year to the day after a student sit-in took place at the French Administration Building to protest a lack of diversity in the WSU faculty, staff and student body.

Schulz said the university will never stop looking at how it can foster diversity and ensure everyone is given the same opportunities.

“Our students were expressing disappointment at the pace of change on campus,” he said about diversity. “You don’t ever check a box and say you’re done.”