Last Thursday, on July 8, we had just put our last issue to bed and were starting this issue fresh. Things were normal, if a little mundane. And then we were alerted that Phyllis Wise was named interim president of the University of Washington (UW).
We instantly knew that we had to have a story on the front page announcing this news. After all, Wise is the first female and first Asian American president of the UW. Wise also mentioned that, as far as she knows — and people at the University have been researching this matter — she may be the only Asian American female president of a major university, private or public.
The fact that she is paving the way for people of color and women in the upper echelons of academic administration is inspiring to us.
Colleen Fukui-Sketchley, president-elect of the UW Alumni Association Board of Trustees, is also a trailblazer. She is the first Asian American female in the role. When asked about Wise’s appointment, Fukui-Sketchley enthusiastically said, “It’s great. It’s really great. We’re excited to be able to support the administration. The partnership it has had with the Alumni Association has been instrumental in making the association what it is. I’m sure Phyllis will continue that support, and we’re thrilled.”
Along with a bevy of supporters, Wise also has her critics. As UW Provost and executive vice president, positions she currently holds, Wise is the UW’s main academic and budgetary officer. Over the last few years, the UW has experienced severe budget cuts, making many faculty members and students unhappy. In 2009, Wise became a controversial figure when she was appointed to the Nike Board of Directors.
Nike has a contract with the UW, and both entities took flack when Nike was found to have violated its contract with the UW when it fired more than 1,800 employees in Honduras who were making apparel with the UW logo. Nike did not pay the employees $2.6 million in severance due to Honduran law.
It was a sticky situation for Wise. But since her appointment, she has donated her Nike compensation to support scholarships at the UW. According to a UW release, Wise will continue to donate her Nike earnings while she serves as interim president. Additionally, when she was appointed to the board, she formally recused herself from all UW business dealings, and this will continue while she is interim president.
We certainly don’t want to discourage people from speaking their minds. Every high-profile figure will have plenty of fans and plenty of critics. However, we want to give everyone a gentle reminder that what is most important is for everyone — for students, faculty, staff, and community members — to work together in bettering the university. When the voices of dissent start becoming loud in their pettiness, it may become too much of a distraction for the administration and may hinder the good work it is trying to accomplish for the UW. ♦