WWU football’s end, Carver remodel were key moments under Bruce Shepard

Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard presents Holocaust survivor Noemi Ban with an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters during a graduation ceremony on March 23, 2013. Shepard will step down as president on Thursday, June 30, 2016, after eight years in the position.
Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard presents Holocaust survivor Noemi Ban with an honorary doctorate of Humane Letters during a graduation ceremony on March 23, 2013. Shepard will step down as president on Thursday, June 30, 2016, after eight years in the position. The Bellingham Herald

Bruce Shepard, Western Washington University’s president for the last eight years, will step down at the end of the day Thursday, June 30.

Shepard’s last day comes nearly eight years since he took the helm and just more than a year after he announced his retirement.

“I think you want to retire when a university is strong,” Shepard said at the time, adding that the seven- to nine-year mark was just about the right amount of time to serve.

Shepard chose not to be interviewed before stepping down, saying that he preferred to ease into retirement.

Here’s a timeline of some of the most high-profile events during Shepard’s time as president, along with statements from community members who worked with his administration.

April 2008: WWU’s Board of Trustees unanimously approves Shepard as WWU’s 13th president. He was previously chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

September 2008: Shepard takes over as president amid volatile faculty contract talks, negotiations to expand campus to the Bellingham waterfront and funding challenges from the state Legislature.

January 2009: WWU announces it will end its football program. University officials estimate at the time that the university would save about $450,000 a year without the program and bring an end to five years of losses to WWU’s athletics department. The decision is blasted by supporters of the football program.

June 2009: Amid the recession, the Board of Trustees approves an operating budget that slashes millions in funding and includes layoffs and a tuition increase.

Susan Banton, president of WWU’s chapter of Public School Employees, said Shepard helped prevent pay cuts for employees that other government agencies were making.

“This was done by consulting and cooperating with various shared governance groups in mitigating the layoffs and seeking various innovative cost-cutting ideas,” she said. “We were all in the tough times together.”

October 2009: More than 800 fifth-graders from Whatcom and Skagit counties participate in the first Compass 2 Campus tour. Spearheaded by Shepard’s wife Cyndie, the annual program partners the young students with WWU students who act as mentors to demonstrate the importance of higher education. The first group of Compass 2 Campus participants will be high school seniors in fall 2016.

Greg Baker, Bellingham schools superintendent, said the program will be one of the Shepards’ legacies.

September 2011: Miller Hall, a lecture building on the university’s Red Square, is renovated at a cost of more than $51 million. A large addition to Buchanan Towers residence hall on the south end of campus completes at about the same time.

June 2013: The Port of Bellingham approves a plan to give Western 6 acres of waterfront property. Shepard, in May 2016, says the construction of any buildings on the site would be decades away.

October 2013: A party along Billy Frank Jr. Street near campus turns into a riot involving hundreds. Shepard reaches out to neighborhood associations and police to prevent it from happening again. No riots have happened since.

January 2014: Shepard writes a blog post about the state’s changing demographics in high school graduates and the need for WWU to attract a more diverse student body. The post includes a line that Shepard said he intended to be provocative: “In the decades ahead, should we be as white as we are today, we will be relentlessly driven toward mediocrity; or, become a sad shadow of our current self.” The post draws criticism from conservative pundits, and former state Rep. Jason Overstreet, R-Lynden, calls for Shepard’s resignation several months later. Later that fall, Western enrolls the most diverse group of freshmen in the university’s history.

“I have always admired and appreciated President Shepard’s emphasis on diversity,” said Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes. “Through his leadership, President Shepard has fostered greater equity and inclusion on the Western Washington University campus. His efforts to enhance the quality of life for its students, faculty and staff have shaped Western into the wonderful institution it is today.”

“Bruce stood up for the need for more diversity at Western, which drew a lot of hatred in his direction,” said Karen Lee, chairwoman of Western’s Board of Trustees. “Yet he was speaking truth that Western’s campus and the entire state needed to hear.”

September 2014: The university expands its College of Sciences and Technology, making it the College of Science and Engineering. As part of the expansion, the engineering technology program becomes an engineering degree.

April 2015: The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights begins investigating how the university treats complaints of campus sexual assault. Western is one of more than 100 institutions in the country included in the investigation, which is still ongoing.

June 2015: Shepard announces he will retire at the end of the 2015-16 school year.

July 2015: After securing long-sought funding from the state Legislature, WWU begins a major renovation of the Carver Gym building, which includes classrooms.

“Bruce publicly admonished the Legislature’s inability to adequately fund higher education, as a legislator at the time I appreciated his openness and honesty,” said Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville.

November 2015: A threat made on social media toward specific students of color prompts Western officials to cancel all classes for a day. The university’s response to the incident draws criticism from students who feel Western isn’t doing enough to protect minority students. Tysen Dane Campbell, a sophomore, is later charged with malicious harassment, under Washington’s hate crime law, for the post.

April 5, 2016: Sabah Randhawa is named the 14th president of WWU, succeeding Shepard.

Kyle Mittan: 360-756-2803, @KyleMittan