BOT Report: Trustees Discuss Pandemic, Equity & Collaboration with College Presidents 

Editor’s Note: After each Board of Trustees meeting, Western Today provides a recap of decisions and discussion.   

Western’s Board of Trustees on Thursday, Feb. 11, discussed a range of issues, including the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic dislocation, equity gaps among students, and the need for greater collaboration, with other college leaders. 

Trustees met via Zoom with Kathi Hiyane-Brown, president of Whatcom Community College; Walter Hudsick, interim president and chief academic officer, Bellingham Technical College; Justin Guillory, president of Northwest Indian College; Tom Keegan, president of Skagit Valley College, and Marty Cavalluzzi, president of Olympic College. Several board members of some of the colleges also participated in the discussion moderated by Western Provost Brent Carbajal. 

The group reviewed findings of the Washington Roundtable’s recent report titled “Path to 70% Credential Attainment: Restarting Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic,” which advocates that 70 percent of Washington students by 2030 will complete a post-secondary credential – degree, apprenticeship or certificate – by age 26.  

The report shared lessons from the Great Recession and described people who are most vulnerable in the economic wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, namely people of color, young workers and those with only a high school education (see: 

The college presidents all agreed the pandemic was worsening issues of equity and accessibility to higher education in the state. 

“We know, when there is a crisis, it exacerbates equity gaps,” Keegan said. 

Guillory said remote learning was a “weak substitute for that sacred space of being with another human being.” 

“We take pride in our students being visible,” Guillory said, adding students at Northwest Indian College are being resilient in the remote learning environment, which has many challenges, including the fact many tribal areas suffer from spotty broadband coverage for Internet connectivity. 

Debbie Ahl, Bellingham Tech trustee, agreed that lack of equitable Internet in rural areas, which frequently are cheaper places to live, is an ongoing problem for education. Broadband connectivity is “as essential in today’s world as running water,” Ahl said. 

Western President Sabah Randhawa asked how Western can become a better and more effective partner.   

Bradley Smith, former WWU Huxley College dean, and now a Bellingham Tech trustee, said “the institutions represented here have a history of collaboration” and recommended that increase “by a factor of 10.” 

Hiyane-Brown said closer collaboration, including with K-12, will help address issues such as retention of students of color and preparation for higher education. 

College representatives also discussed dual admission as a prime opportunity, with Cavalluzzi of Olympic College describing dual admission, when a student is admitted to both Western and a community college, as a “win-win.”  

Skagit Valley College graduates choose Western more than other universities, Keegan said, but stronger pathways, especially for diverse populations, will enhance both recruitment and retention. 

The trustees, Western officials and college presidents agreed to continue meeting to discuss shared areas of interest. “I see some wonderful opportunities for collaboration,” said WWU Trustee Chair John Meyer. 


In other business,  

  • On Friday, Feb. 12, Drew Shirk, Gov. Jay Inslee’s executive director of Legislative Affairs, provided an update on the governor’s budget and policy priorities for the 2021-2023 biennium, including COVID-19 response, economy recovery, climate change response, and addressing equity issues and systematic racism. Shirk said the state of Washington was poised to be a national leader in clean energy, and he discussed expanding higher education into underserved rural areas of the state and the need to expand broadband accessibility. Following Shirk’s presentation, Nicole Ballard, Associated Students vice president for Governmental Affairs, and Jude Ahmed, Associated Students director of Legislative Affairs, provided an update on the ASWWU 2021 Legislative Agenda. Roger Anderson, legislative liaison to the Faculty Senate, provided an update on the Washington State Council of Faculty’s 2021 legislative priorities. Becca Kenna-Schenk, WWU executive director of Government Relations, provided an update on the 2021 Legislative Session. 

  • Trustees approved summer session tuition and mandatory student fees. See: 

  • Faculty Senate President Jeff Young provided an update on Faculty Senate continuing work on expanding diversity, equity and inclusion, and changes to General University Requirements (GURs). 

  • Student Senate Pro-Tempore Sargun Handa provided the Associated Students report, describing successful student lobbying efforts at the state legislature, including Western Lobby Day. She said work has begun on an AS Constitution task force. She also criticized the University’s efforts to establish an Honors College, saying that would harm Fairhaven College. 

  • Trustee Faith Pettis reported on activities of the trustees’ FARM committee, including a consultant’s report on Western’s building preservation and maintenance. With half of Western’s buildings 50 years old or older in the next decade, the consultant recommended spending $15 million a year to address deferred maintenance and preservation needs. Western is spending about $3 million a year to maintain buildings. 

  • Trustee Mo West reported on opportunities to expand Western’s nursing program, including the potential of offering a master’s degree. 

  • Approved reduction in Human Services distance learning tuition and fees. The online degree program primarily serves the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas. See: 

  • Approved appointment of the Washington State Auditor’s Office to perform an audit of fiscal year 2021 financial statements for Western’s Housing and Dining, and the Wade King Student Recreation Center. See: 

  • Approved Winter Quarter degrees. 

  • During the public comment potion, trustees heard from Amy Lam, an applicant for a faculty position in Western’s Department of Design, who was critical of Western’s commitment to hiring diverse faculty members. 

      The next regular meeting of the Board of trustees will be April 1 and 2, 2021. Meeting documents are available at the Board of Trustees website at