WSU awaits grower vote
The university is ready to match growers’ commitment with salary and benefits for six new endowed chairs in tree fruit research.
WSU President Elson Floyd met with fruit growers at a recent field day.
Washington State University President Elson Floyd made a big decision on his first day in the job in May 2007—to raise a billion dollars.
“The first day that I walked into the office, we made a decision that we should engage in a major fundraising initiative or capital fundraising campaign for the institution,” he said in an interview with the Good Fruit Grower during the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center’s annual field day at Sunrise Orchard near Wenatchee on August 16.
Since the campaign was launched, fundraising has been proceeding at a clip of $100 million or more a year. As of the field day, WSU had raised $568 million, which Floyd considered “an amazing number given the overall economic situation.”
That includes two of the largest gifts the university has ever received: $25 million from the Gates Foundation and $26 million from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. The university is waiting to learn if the tree fruit growers of Washington State will collectively out-contribute either of those with a commitment to raise $32 million within eight years. Growers are voting now on a special assessment of $1 a ton for apples, pears, and stone fruits and $4 a ton for cherries. The referendum closes at the end of the month and results should be announced by mid-September.
If tree fruit growers vote to assess themselves the $32 million, part of the money will pay for six endowed chairs in research areas of greatest importance to the industry. For each position, the endowment would provide revenue of $80,000 to support the position and WSU stands ready to cover salary and benefit costs in perpetuity. Floyd said the university can make this commitment, despite severe budget cuts, because over the past several years it has cut faculty positions and eliminated or consolidated programs so that it can focus its resources on priority areas. Tree fruit is one of those areas.
The rest of the $32 million would be earmarked for enhancements to information and technology transfer and for support of WSU’s research orchards at Wenatchee and Prosser.
The university is hoping that businesses related to the tree fruit industry will provide a further $10 million.
“What these funds would allow us to do is have a research program that’s second to none,” Floyd said. “When you have problems and challenges, we want WSU to be the university of choice that you can come to. That’s what world-class institutions do."
He said the university’s commitment to agriculture is recognition of the value that agriculture brings to the state of Washington and the fact that agriculture is the number-one economic driver in the state.
Dr. Dan Bernardo, Dean of WSU’s College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, said the university has placed an increasing emphasis on tree fruit research over the past five years and hired key faculty from around the world.
“Forty-two million dollars would be a huge infusion, and we have to take that money and move the needle—not just a little bit, but really move the needle,” he told growers at the field day. “If we invest these funds, we will be the number-one tree fruit research institution in the world.”