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Washington State University presence will be President Elson Floyd's legacy in Everett

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EVERETT, Washington — Elson Floyd had been Washington State University president about two years when Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson asked him in late 2009 to join forces to plant a WSU flag in the city.

Thus began a relationship that spawned WSU North Puget Sound — better known as University Center — operating on the campus of Everett Community College. There are plans to expand into a new multistory building on North Broadway and dreams of a branch campus somewhere in the future.

Floyd died a week ago of complications from colon cancer at the age of 59. His pivotal role in cementing the university's presence in the city will be his lasting legacy in the community.

"His commitment to bringing WSU to Everett and Snohomish County will positively impact us for generations to come," Stephanson said Monday. "It fundamentally changes us for the better," he said. "I often say that one day the campus in Everett with WSU will be as large as Pullman. And we'll still have Everett Community College."

Connie Niva, a longtime Everett resident, served on the WSU Board of Regents and led the search committee that recommended Floyd be hired in 2007.

What she didn't know at the time is that he'd be the one helping realize her dream of seeing a four-year university set root in the city.

"He was focused. He was filled with determination," said Niva, who now lives in Seattle. "It was the right thing because of Elson."

Regents will soon begin the process of replacing Floyd. For now, Daniel Bernardo, WSU's provost, is running the school as acting president.

The regents will hold a special meeting in the next few weeks to appoint an interim president and likely name a committee to conduct a nationwide search for a new president, WSU spokeswoman Kathy Barnard said Monday.

The interim president will lead WSU until the new president arrives.

Landing WSU represented a major victory for the city and Snohomish County.

Olympia beat out Arlington in 1967 to become home of The Evergreen State College. Two decades later, Bothell beat out Everett for a branch campus of the University of Washington.

A decade ago, state lawmakers again gave the University of Washington the inside track to start a branch campus. But feuding among the area's representatives on a location and the projected billion-dollar price tag torpedoed the effort.

Floyd deliberately stayed out of the fray. Though it was no secret WSU leaders desired to stake a claim on the west side of the state, he understood the politics, having served as executive director of the Higher Education Coordinating Board when lawmakers chose Bothell for the UW campus.

When the Seattle university's interest in Everett waned, Stephanson reached out to Floyd and got a response a few days later.

"Right from the get-go he was enthusiastic about it," Stephanson said. In this venture, Floyd proved to be a man of action. He attended meetings, engaged in the detailed planning and made sure required resources were made available.

PHOTO: Gov. Jay Inslee raises the flag of Washington State University in honor of its late president, Elson Floyd, Thursday, June 25, 2015, in Olympia, Wash. Floyd died last weekend from complications of colon cancer. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
Gov. Jay Inslee raises the flag of Washington State University in honor of its late president, Elson Floyd, Thursday, June 25, 2015, in Olympia, Wash. Floyd died last weekend from complications of colon cancer. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

"We forged a relationship in this matter that really was hand in glove," said Pat McClain, executive director of governmental affairs for Everett.

A 2011 law directed WSU to replace Everett Community College as administrator of the University Center, a consortium of public and private universities that offer courses at EvCC. WSU also launched its first degree program in electrical engineering.

WSU's presence paid dividends swiftly. Enrollment grew in Everett Community College's stellar engineering program as soon as WSU launched its mechanical engineering degree program.

Four years later the University Center continues to operate and WSU North Puget Sound is up to four degree programs. Former Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel oversees the operations as chancellor.

This year Floyd made construction of a new University Center building in Everett the top priority for WSU. He requested $61 million in state funds. As of Monday it remained unclear what amount the state might actually provide in a final budget.

Getting to this point didn't come without a few bumps for the charismatic Floyd.

"Yes, there was some tension, but I think that's to be expected in such a transition," EvCC trustee and former Herald editoral page editor Bob Bolerjack said in an email. "Much of the mistrust when it was first proposed came from the state board, which I think was suspicious that Elson was trying to take over EvCC, and that he might even have a grand plan to do the same elsewhere.

"If that was ever his intent, it didn't last long. In conversations with me, he always said he wanted WSU and EvCC to be productive partners," he wrote. "That's how it's playing out, in my view."

Everett Community College President David Beyer said "Floyd's legacy as a passionate advocate for higher education will be remembered in this state for a long time. His willingness to expand the number of WSU programs offered on our campus led to increased numbers of students continuing their education close to home."

State Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, worked as hard to land a UW branch campus as he did to bring WSU to town.

"WSU Everett wouldn't have happened without Floyd," he said. "He knew he had to get to this side of the mountains where the students were. He put together the team to make it happen."

Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, came to the same conclusion when the two met for dinner after she became chairwoman of the Senate Higher Education Committee.

"Dr. Floyd is one of those individuals that make things happen," she said. "He was a great negotiator, very tenacious. Sooner or later you would be able to see what he was seeing."

What Floyd saw is WSU's manifest destiny as a land grant university to spread higher education to every corner and county of the state.

"He always said access was the key ingredient for economic development in the state of Washington from his HEC Board days to his last days," said Marty Brown, executive director of the state Board of Community and Technical Colleges.

Floyd considered it a mission — his as well as the university's.

"I've never met anyone who was more courageous and more visionary than Elson Floyd," Stephanson said.


Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldnet.com

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