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Saturday, July 29, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Head of WSU to step down

Seattle Times staff reporter

V. Lane Rawlins, who for the past six years has led Washington State University as it has reshaped its image from a party campus to a serious academic institution, announced Friday that he will retire in June.

Known for a folksy style, Rawlins, 68, is credited with fostering harmonious relationships on the Pullman campus and with the Palouse community. And he is lauded for improving relations with the University of Washington to the point that the traditional rivals have begun working together on budget proposals and political strategies.

He said Friday he'd decided in recent months that there are "some other things I want to do."

"This has been a difficult decision, but sooner or later one has to face it," Rawlins said. "One wishes from time to time that you were really young, like 59 or something, but those days are past."

His successor will be chosen after a nationwide search and will be expected to jump into the midst of a major fundraising campaign, deal with increasingly complex political relationships and continue Rawlins' history of improving academics.

Rawlins has an association with WSU that has lasted nearly four decades. He grew up on an Idaho potato farm and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. He joined the economics faculty at WSU in 1968 and later became department chairman and vice provost.

He was then appointed vice chancellor of the University of Alabama system and after that served nine years as president of the University of Memphis.

He returned to WSU in 2000, becoming the university's ninth president and the first former faculty member to assume the office.

Rawlins will continue as a part-time faculty member. He said he hopes to do some writing and research on economic and educational policy and perhaps teach a class.

"I also have three grandsons under the age of 10, and none of them knows how to hold a fly rod," Rawlins joked Friday.

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In an e-mail to faculty, Rawlins said waiting until June to step down would give the Board of Regents time to find a new president — but wasn't a sign he was slowing down. He said he will finalize plans for expanding fundraising, continue to steer a capital-construction agenda and begin initiatives to improve research and teaching.

"I expect this to be my busiest and most productive year as we launch several new initiatives and seek a better budget," he wrote.

Gov. Christine Gregoire issued a statement saying the state is indebted to Rawlins for his contribution to education.

"Lane raised the stature of WSU as a premier research institution, a designation affirmed by the Carnegie Foundation when they named the school one of 96 top-tier research institutions in the country," she noted.

UW President Mark Emmert said news of Rawlins' retirement was a disappointment for the UW and for him personally.

"He's been a terrific leader for WSU and the state, and he has lots and lots of respect around the country," Emmert said.

"He's been especially helpful in quelling the widely held belief that Cougars and Huskies can't work together. We've reached that point in our relationship where we really are cooperating; it's not just window-dressing. We see ourselves as partners and allies."

Rawlins took over the presidency from Samuel Smith, who had expanded the university's reach by building branch campuses in Spokane, the Tri-Cities and Vancouver, and offering programs online.

Rawlins quickly developed good relationships with faculty, staffers and students alike. There was an immediate feeling among faculty that he was a good hire, said Ken Struckmeyer, chairman of the faculty senate. He cleaned up the athletic department by improving its finances and academics, Struckmeyer added.

Under Rawlins, enrollment grew from 20,600 to 22,600, and the freshman grade-point average improved from 3.35 to 3.45. Research funding increased from $105 million in 2000 to $182 million last year. Rawlins has emphasized the importance of life-science research.

Kenneth Alhadeff, who chairs the Board of Regents, said the board was aware that Rawlins planned to retire sometime in the next few years, but it still was a surprise when he told them this week. He said the regents plan to assemble a search committee.

One of the next president's challenges will be to take over a campaign to significantly boost the WSU endowment, now about $250 million. The campaign, which probably will kick off in the fall, hopes to raise about $600 million in private grants and donations over seven or eight years.

The next president also will be expected to take a prominent role in Olympia and with federal lawmakers, something Rawlins became increasingly involved with over the last few years.

Rawlins now makes $545,000 a year, counting a base salary of $315,000, a retention bonus of $80,000 and deferred compensation of $150,000.

Upon retirement as president, he will be paid about $126,000 for the first year he spends as a part-time faculty member.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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