The UW and Washington State University have announced the launch of a joint center to assist in addressing hard-to-resolve social, economic and environmental issues in Washington.
Presidents Lane Rawlins of WSU and Mark Emmert of UW announced that it will be named for William D. Ruckelshaus, highly respected for his public service, corporate leadership, and help on community issues. He was the first and fifth director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as deputy attorney general and acting director of the FBI.
Ruckelshaus is a former senior vice president at Weyerhaeuser and chairman/CEO of Browning Ferris Industries, and currently is a strategic director at Madrona Venture Partners. He has been leading efforts on salmon recovery and has been chairman of the center’s board, known during its pilot phase as the Policy Consensus Center. Board members and others in the community are raising funds to endow the center in his honor.
“The state of Washington is very fortunate to have Bill Ruckelshaus,” said Emmert. “He is one of those rare individuals that people from every sector, every political persuasion, and every point on the compass all trust for his integrity and problem solving skill. This joint center will embody his values and constant quest for fair and sensible solutions.”
“Not only can the center respond to current issues, it can work with the spectrum of leaders and interests on items that will affect us in the future,” said Rawlins. “By combining our institutional strengths through the center, and with the assistance of Bill and the center advisory board, we can make a real difference. The center will create a bridge among the universities, community leaders and policy makers, bringing a neutral forum, knowledge and other tools to forge solutions.”
“I have long supported the Policy Consensus Center and the collaboration between these two world-class institutions,” said Governor Chris Gregoire. “Everyone who sees the name William D. Ruckelshaus on these doors will know the Center stands for integrity, respect for all and civil solutions that make life better for all Washingtonians.”
The center has already helped with some contentious water issues and contributed to alterations in program and policy. It is bringing farm interests together with environmental advocates, community leaders and tribes to identify approaches to farming that can improve profitability and provide environmental benefits. It has been invited by the state House of Representatives to put on a workshop for newly elected legislators and has assisted with conflicts among business, labor and regulatory agencies.
Mission and services of the Center were developed after examining efforts in other states and consulting with some 300 leaders from around Washington and the universities. The center provides immediate assistance to those already in conflict, as well as anticipatory assistance to those who see one coming. The center gets involved only if all significantly affected parties agree to its presence, and tries not to duplicate services already available. The center’s involvement doesn’t signal an imposed solution, but assistance in finding one. By working transparently, the Center increases the chances for success.
Former Governor and U.S. Senator Dan Evans, who has helped in the formation of the center, said: “We live in an increasingly shrill and competitive world. Progress is thwarted by conflict. The Ruckelshaus Center gives Washington an alternative, a chance to reach consensus through calm, rational decision making.”
A further service is to provide instruction in conflict resolution to help leaders address issues that cross traditional lines and to also prepare the next generation of leaders.
In addition, the center sponsors conferences and forums on emerging issues and pursues research on conflict resolution practices, feeding the lessons into its service and instructional activities, and into the national educational and intellectual stream.
Ruckelshaus said this is one more way that the universities can benefit the state. “By working directly with the people who are affected, the expertise and neutrality of the universities can fly below the political radar to help find a win-win solution,” he said. “Particularly on issues that generate political polarization, an honest-broker institution like this center can call on many kinds of expertise to fill gaps in our ability to address issues that affect our future.”
Among similar centers, this is the only one that combines two research universities for statewide reach and it offers the most comprehensive array of resources. The center has also benefited from a diverse and active advisory board. Board members provide advice on center priorities, business model, and mission, as well as on specific projects. The board includes leaders from business, labor, environment, agriculture, non-profits, law, and officials of tribal, state and local governments. The presidents, host deans and several regents are also members. The center is co-located at the UW Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs and WSU Extension. The new name is subject to formal approval of the regents of both universities.