President Floyd’s passing has been hard. He was a special leader and this clearly shows with the outpouring of testimonials, newspaper articles, web pictures, and the WSU memorial service yesterday. Add this testimonial to the list.
As a college, we felt a rather unique connection with President Floyd. While university presidents often have a tenured faculty appointment in the department for which they affiliated as a scholar, I suspect few presidents have that appointment in a college of education. But that was the case with Elson. I’m sure many were not aware of this. Certainly no one in the college ever thought Elson would come back to us as a faculty member, but we still felt a connection.
Like good leaders do, Elson worked to not show favoritism to any individual or unit at WSU, including us. In fact, most in our college will remember that while I was serving as interim dean in early 2013, the president was quite hard on us due to our lack of university presence. He argued that we needed to make our own case for our contribution to WSU. While this “ruffled a few feathers,” I think he was exactly right in his criticism of us at that time.
To the college’s credit, we embraced this challenge and put a number of initiatives into place: better university communication, particularly about our accomplishments; the development of strategic connections with various colleges and campuses; leading by example in the university’s efforts to provide better support and flexibility for the urban campuses.
I want everyone to know that President Floyd was very pleased with the way this college rose to his challenge. He was openly complimentary of our work and performance. He mentioned this in university forums, meetings and receptions. And, like good leaders do, he made it a point to compliment the work, in person, directly to individuals in the college, including me.
For many years, I didn’t know President Floyd except to say hi in the airport when I would see him (which was nearly every time I traveled). But as I transitioned to dean, and for several months afterward, I got to know him on a professional basis. I observed a top-notch administrator address difficult issues with strength, courage, grace, style, and integrity. I think it is fair to say that he viewed issues as problems to be solved. He was a consummate problem-solver. I became very impressed with him. I knew at that point the university had a special leader. Of course, this makes his untimely loss all the more difficult for the university community.
If you stroll the campus in Pullman you will readily see the impact President Floyd had on this university. The same can be said about the urban campuses, as well. Clear examples of his work and accomplishments include the new buildings, the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, a safer speed limit through campus, a state-of-the-art medical school building in Spokane, a Division I football stadium and other athletic facilities. On top of these is the imminent medical college in Spokane and the successful completion of a billion dollar capital campaign. There are many, many more.
Once Elson appointed me as the permanent dean, all I ever wanted to do was to make him feel like he made the right choice. I suspect this won’t ever change. Because, when all is said and done, President Floyd’s best administrative and leadership skill wasn’t buildings. It wasn’t campaigns. It was people. His impact was certainly felt by the university infrastructure, its programs, and the ideas it holds dear. But even more so, that impact was felt by the individuals who help carry out the university initiatives.
This is our time to mourn the loss of a fabulous leader and a special person. It is also our time to celebrate the president’s accomplishments on behalf of WSU. We can best pay tribute to President Floyd by working to carry out the initiatives he set into motion: initiatives that will catapult WSU into an elite group of universities, positioning us to have real impact in the lives of individuals and communities throughout Washington state and the country.