Even though he has the interim tag on his title as EWU president, David May has a very solid handle on how he’d like to see the university navigate the next year and beyond as we hopefully emerge from a pandemic.
Delivering his speech into a tiny webcam from his office, rather than the traditional setting of a packed Showalter Auditorium, May shared his thoughts on a day which nearly marked the half-way point of his first 100 days at the helm. And the words “Eagle Strong”—a catchphrase that has defined the grit of the Eastern community over the last seven months—were part his upbeat outlook on how the university will adapt and innovate in the future.
“We have in front of us challenges and choices that seem impossible,” said May, noting how the landscape of higher education is changing and there are no easy answers or quick fixes. “But what we do in the coming year will determine what Eastern will look like for the next 20 years.”
May has held the interim role since early August, a position he admits never seemed like a possibility after joining Eastern’s political science department in 1999. But he eventually worked his way up through various administrative positions. “While I was reluctant to enter the world of administration I saw in each opportunity a moment to help intentionally shape the future,” he said.
And no moment is bigger than the present as the university works through the impacts of a pandemic. He reiterated the need for Eastern to not back down from the difficult decisions that must be made. “To be viable in the long term, Eastern must reconsider an array of programs, majors and minors. Our current configuration is simply not sustainable and must be reduced and refocused.”
This is why May invoked the phrase “Eagle Strong” as he spoke of the road ahead. Eagle Strong, he said, is exhibited by EWU faculty, students, staff and alumni who have continued to thrive in the face of adversity. “Eagle Strong is tireless efforts to meet our students and deliver on the promise wherever and whenever we can, with a willingness to do what must be done because some things are bigger than we are.”
Among the first things to be done, according to May, is to focus on the immediate needs of Eastern students in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means listening to and assisting them in every way possible to earn their degree.
May highlighted several key initiatives that will be part of Eastern’s path forward. Among them:
- While not abandoning traditional strengths, such as educating future teachers, the future will also focus on the health sciences as regional, state and national needs in those fields continue to grow.
- EWU will work to become a Hispanic Service Institution (HSI), a federal designation that comes when overall enrollment includes 25 percent Hispanic students.
- With the opening of the Catalyst will come an even stronger leadership presence in Spokane.
- Eastern will take the lead on interdisciplinary education focused both inward to classrooms/labs and outward to the communities we serve.
Most of all, May envisions an institution poised to redefine the meaning of regional comprehensive. Rather than being all things to all people, he emphasized that, “right now is the moment we decide if we are willing to take the hard, challenging, painfully bold steps required” to navigate the challenging road ahead.
May is working daily to improve his internal presence and communication while fostering critical external relationships as well.
Beyond those 100 days, his priorities include:
- A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
- Student success, retention and graduation.
- Expanding Eastern’s partnerships (in and outside of higher education).
- Decisively resize and refocus the university.
- Supporting stewardship of all fundraising efforts.
He says the moment to move is now.
“If we have the courage for those honest but hard conversations, if we are responsive to our students and to our region, if we look for solutions rather than blame, then I know we can build—together—a future for this university and for our students.”
If you missed the State of the University livestream Tuesday morning, you’re invited to watch the video below.