Cryus Habib

Cyrus Habib sat down for a Q&A session with The Gonzaga Bulletin on Thursday. 

Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib visited Eastern Washington over the past couple of days to speak with local politicians as well as prominent university figures to discuss the future of higher education.

In his position, Habib deals with executive duties serving under Governor Jay Inslee. He also serves as the president of the Senate and has his own agency: The Office of the Lieutenant Governor.

He has a passion for higher education and sat down with The Gonzaga Bulletin to talk about his current work and the importance of this kind of education.

The Gonzaga Bulletin (GB): You were meeting with president McCulloh today, is that the main reason you’re in Spokane?

Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib: Yes. We met with [Washington State University] President [Kirk] Schulz down in Pullman yesterday and his senior WSU teams and had some other meetings then came up to Spokane. We’ve had meetings here all day today. We met with President [Thayne] McCulloh, Greater Spokane Incorporated (GSI), Sen. [Andy] Billig, just now I spoke at one of the rotary clubs and then I’m meeting with you and then I’m going to the Spokane City Council."

GB: What is the purpose of all these meetings?

CH: I’m president of the Senate and have a role in the legislative process, of course it’s important for me to meet with the majority leader and talk about operations in the Senate and our plans for the future. As well as to understand.

As the only member of the legislative branch who is elected statewide, also I think it’s particularly important for me to get out to areas that Democrats may not necessarily get to. You know, like Pullman or the rotary club I spoke to that was in the seventh legislative district. Those are places that have Republican representation, which means their representative is in the minority party in both chambers. I think it’s important, particularly for Democrats to go out into those areas where the legislators may be influential but in the minority.

In the executive branch, it’s part of what I do to support Governor Inslee is to travel around the state and reach out and listen. Get input, try and figure out what issues our constituents are facing and then particularly around areas of economic development, try to figure out in what areas we can help. I serve as a bridge to the rest of state government.

Then finally, the agency on higher education, we have my director of higher education who’s running some of the programs we have, we wanted to make sure she met with these college presidents and with the GSI about how we can expand pathways for college for working adults, which is a major initiative in my office.”

GB: Have you just talked to WSU and GU, or have you talked to universities across the state as well?

CH: Across the whole state. I’ve met with Eastern [Washington University] and Spokane Colleges in the past and my director of higher education went and met with the president of Eastern again. This is something we do all around the state.”

GB: When you’re talking to these presidents of these different universities, like state schools and private schools and then community colleges, how do you approach talking to those different types of universities?

CH: It’s a good question, because the relationship is different.

I actually think that one of the reasons it was important to meet with Gonzaga leadership is that I think we could do a much better job at the state. As in reaching out and partnering with our independent colleges.

You know, we are very lucky to have a very strong public university and college system in our state, but we also have wonderful and famous world class private colleges and so they’re all part of the system and network of higher education that we have in our state.

I used to teach at Seattle [University] Law School for six years so you know, I view these independent colleges as just as much of our college system as the ones that are publicly operated and funded. It’s important.

But, of course we have a much more active role in policy at our public universities and of course we provide funding for them. The character of a university that is as large as WSU and it’s footprint geographically around the state with campuses in Tri-Cities, Vancouver and Spokane and Pullman is different than a liberal arts college, or a college like Gonzaga. All of them are different.”

GB: What exactly did you and President McCulloh talk about today?

CH: We talked at some length about this Complete Washington initiative that we’ve announced in our office now for over a year. What we’re doing is working with an industry of labor and partnering them with colleges and universities to find bachelor’s degree pathways for working adults.

A good example would be the first version of this which is aimed at men and women in building and construction trades. So, if you have finished, you’re apprenticeship in carpentry, for example, you would get an Associates of Applied Sciences, an AA two-year degree form Renton Technical College and then be able to get a bachelor’s in technical management from Central Washington University while taking classes online. You don’t actually have to go to a campus, you can do it at your own pace. Whether that be over the weekend, when you’re waiting for a new carpentry job to come about.

You can do it at your own pace, online and it’s affordable. But, the most important thing is we give you credit for the learning you’ve already done on the job.

This is what we talked to Gonzaga about, this is what we talked to GSI about was that I really want us to do a pathway like this in the health care space. So, that someone who’s an entry level worker, for example a certified nurse assistant or certified medical assistant can get credit for the work that he or she is doing in the hospital or community health clinic, whatever it may be. They should get credit for that work and at the same time have access to the curriculum to get to the next degree — have stackable credentials.

I think that Spokane would be a great place to launch this because of the focus on health sciences here. Because of the number of different institutions of higher ed. here. Also, because GSI has already convened this sort of coalition of institutions that are interested in engaging adult learners.”

GB: So, this is a worked based learning type program?

CH: Yeah, exactly. The idea is that people are learning things all the time on the job. We really shouldn’t rely on a system where you have to quite your job to go back to school. Because what that is ignores is that you’re actually learning things right now, on the job. A lot of times like for you in journalism, you learn by doing.

GB: Yes I totally agree.

CH: It’s interesting just yesterday we were down at WSU at the Ferdinand’s operation down there. You see these folks making cheese, ice cream and all this stuff and they’re getting credit and a degree while they’re doing it.

GB: That’s what you and President McCulloh talked about today?

CH: Yes, but we also talked about our shared belief that the liberal arts are really important and that at this time when people are focusing on skills industry led degree, we need to also remember that many of those folks who do well in the economy in the long run also have a broader credential that allows them to navigate a changing market. So that it's important to find good industry partners.

This Complete Washington program that I’m talking about is exactly that kind of thing, but at the same time we need to recognize that there are a lot of benefits that come from a broader liberal arts education. I think it's important that our public leaders echo the importance of a broad education.”

GB: What has motivated this project and wanting to speak with such a wide range of universities?

CH: The focus for me is reflected in an article I wrote for American Magazine called ‘Stop saying 'college isn’t for everyone'.’ It tells a story of when I was campaigning, I kept hearing people say ‘college isn’t for everyone.’ What bugged me about it was almost always people who had gone to college themselves and they were taking their own kids to college.

It reminded me a lot of in my childhood, being someone with a disability and people would say ‘do you need to do Model U.N.?’ or ‘do you need to learn how to ski?’ These were things all the kids were doing and we need to realize that when people say ‘college isn’t for everyone’ they’re not talking about rich kids, they’re talking about saying that kids who would be the first in their families to go to college, or students of color or with disabilities or from rural areas. Those are the kids who need help preparing for college and need financial help and what we’re saying is ‘eh, well, maybe they’re better off without it.’ They’ll just go into a vocational trade.

The problem with that is that trade may be here today but with the rate of change and the power of technology it’s not going to be here in ten years. We need to prepare our 17-year-olds who are graduating high school for employment and make them ready to contribute and be full members of society for 60 to 70 more years.”

Riley Utley is a news editor.

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