Mary Cullinan and Daryll DeWald: Changes in the University District: Our partnership evolves

Sunday, February 2, 2020

(as reported in the Guest Opinion section of The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane’s University District (U-District) evolved from a remarkable vision. In 1998, Senate Bill 6655 directed local universities to “emphasize and implement a maximum level of collaboration and partnerships” in creating a shared footprint for higher education in Spokane. In 2004, the University District board created a master plan highlighting the universities and addressing economic development, urban growth and transportation in the area.

The U-District grew into a beautiful urban campus housing Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane (WSU Spokane) and Eastern Washington University programs. We not only share in this space but, as public universities, also share in the generous support of our state. We take seriously our responsibility to use state dollars responsibly, while also working to capitalize on growth opportunities inherent to the U-District.

In 2018, the spectacular Gateway Bridge connected our shared campus to East Sprague Avenue and greatly expanded the potential of our shared footprint. With the bridge approved, Avista and McKinstry partnered to build the Catalyst Building, now nearly completed, with the aim of creating the “five smartest city blocks on the planet.”

As plans for the Catalyst Building progressed, and with the significant financial support offered by Avista and McKinstry, EWU elected to be the building’s primary tenant. As part of a plan to vacate the EWU Center on the health sciences campus, EWU will move Spokane-based, non-health programs into the Catalyst. The programs will join at least four other EWU programs, three of which – computer science, electrical engineering and visual communication design – are currently taught in Cheney. EWU is also developing the curriculum for a fourth program, computer engineering, to be housed in the Catalyst. This will align EWU’s science and engineering endeavors in Spokane.

Our universities’ partnerships in nursing and speech and hearing sciences will not change – those students from each university will continue to study together on the health sciences campus. Additional health programs on campus will also remain: WSU Spokane’s research and programs in medicine, pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences, and nutrition and exercise physiology, and EWU’s programs in health science and public health, social work, addiction studies, dental hygiene, and occupational and physical therapy.

Also, with EWU’s move, much-needed space will open up on EWU’s Cheney campus and for WSU Spokane on the health sciences campus. For WSU Spokane, this means reducing its rental spaces off-campus. The move will also provide new space for collaboration with Spokane’s higher education institutions and for additional public-private partnerships in health and medical sciences research. The changes and expansion of the U-District still reflect the visionary spirit that inspired its creation more than 20 years ago.

The ongoing partnership between WSU Spokane and EWU reflects our commitment to collaboration and being good stewards of state resources. We remain united in our shared principles, in our mutual fiscal stewardship, in our proven collaboration, and in our commitment to future partnership. Moreover, we stand committed to meeting the changing needs of our students, our city and our state.

Mary Cullinan is president of Eastern Washington University. Daryll DeWald is vice president and chancellor of Washington State University Health Sciences Spokane.