University center partners uneasy over WSU administration

OLYMPIA — With Washington State University poised to settle permanently in Everett this summer, two other universities want assurances their programs don’t face future eviction from the community.

WSU is on course to replace Everett Community College as operator of the University Center of North Puget Sound, a consortium of public and private colleges offering degree programs to hundreds of students on the EvCC campus and online.

Western Washington University and the University of Washington are part of the consortium. They are concerned that their share of enrollment slots are in jeopardy once WSU, also a center member, takes over management duties on July 1.

Lobbyists for the two universities and Central Washington University pressed lawmakers this past session to put language in the state budget assuring each of them a certain number of full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment slots, and the money that comes with those, when the change of command takes place.

WSU officials, who stand to eventually gain control of 310 FTEs and $1.9 million in state funds, ardently objected. They said the language wasn’t needed, as they intend to run the center as it’s been run by EvCC for nearly a decade.

“This was one of the great fights of the session. No peace could be achieved,” said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, who was barraged from all sides up to the final day. “They’ve got to learn to trust each other. They’ve got to learn to get along.”

The dispute appears to be seeded in the 2011 law that transferred the control of the University Center to WSU.

Leaders of the UW, Western and Central opposed the transfer and fretted about whether WSU would strive to sustain the consortium or use it as a beachhead for a branch campus.

Their concern is focused on those 310 FTEs and the state funds tied to them. Theoretically WSU could, over time, try to horde them for its own programs.

WSU President Elson Floyd said Friday the university remains “deeply committed to the relationships” and wants to continue existing programs. No changes are planned, and tensions will subside as the transition proceeds, he said.

“I don’t see this as a crisis,” he said. “I see it as part of the growing process associated with the new relationship. It’ll pass and we’ll continue to work closely with the institutional partners.”

Everett Community College, which has been in charge of the center since 2005, develops written agreements with each center partner that spells out the programs to be offered, the number of FTEs to be allotted and the state funds to be paid out to cover costs.

Now WSU is in the process of negotiating them, said Paul Pitre, dean of WSU North Puget Sound, which is the new name for the center.

“We want to make sure everything is seamless for our partners,” he said.

Western Washington and UW officials don’t quite see it the same way and are still pushing for a mutually agreed-upon solution in writing.

Western, the largest provider of instruction through the center and accounting for roughly 200 FTEs and $1.13 million of the state funds, is most concerned.

“Our goal is to be (in Everett) permanently.” said Sherry Burkey, Western’s associate vice president for university relations and director of government relations.

“We’ve got faculty and staff in Everett attached to those FTEs,” she said. “If the money isn’t tied to our programs there will be no stability for the programs.”

The University of Washington’s Bothell campus, under a 2010 law, is allotted 25 FTEs for a bachelor of science in nursing program at the center. The UW wants WSU to put in writing its commitment to continue that program.

“WSU has told us they intend for our program to continue for now. The only question in our mind is what is the problem with putting it in writing,” said Margaret Shepherd, director of state relations for the university.

Shepherd made clear no one is threatening to leave over this.

“We want to stay. We want to stay for a long time,” she said. “We would just like better assurances for the long run. We want to ensure in the transition that it is made very clear.”

Central Washington University once wanted lawmakers to intercede, but now is comfortable with Floyd’s pledge for continuity.

“All is well,” Linda Schactler, Central’s director of public affairs, wrote in an email last week.

Dunshee, one of the forces behind the 2011 law putting WSU in control of the center, remains optimistic that the tensions won’t lead to defections.

“I hope not. I think it goes forward. These are just the old feudal wars, and it is sad,” he said.

“I think they should all sit down, shake hands, have a beer and write up an agreement between themselves that they are going to play nice for awhile,” he said.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;

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