How does WSU Spend ‘Grant Lands’ Revenue?

Dear Colleagues:

On January 27th we received a constituent concern about how the money raised from the 1890 land grant to WSU are expended. These lands were originally expropriated from tribal nations. This concern has been raised previously including in senate and during meetings between the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and the President and Provost. Provost Chilton and Vice President Stacy Pearson offered the following specific responses to the postedPhoto of Faculty Senate Chair, Doug Call concern from January.


Douglas Call,

Faculty Senate Chair


Note: Questions from the post are in bold and responses are italicized.

In reference to how WSU expends funds form the Agricultural College Permanent Account and the WSU Bond Retirement Account:

  1. Are there certain expenses that, by law, can or cannot be covered with these two accounts, or does the administration have full discretion over how the land grant revenue is spent? The law explicitly states how the endowment lands are managed for the benefit of the University. Management of these lands, legal responsibilities, and the process to appropriate proceeds for the WSU capital budget and bond retirement fund are defined. Please see the link for details.
  2. What percentage of this multi-million dollar annual revenue stream goes to directly support Native American students, staff, and faculty each year? These funds are only appropriated to WSU for capital; they are not under the University’s discretion to cover operating expenses. My understanding is that this would require a statutory and perhaps a constitutional change. We have asked the Attorney General’s office to review the legal aspects of this, are assembling a longer history of the funds received, and an allocation from these endowments.

Finally, I’d like to add that Zoe Higheagle Strong, Executive Director of Tribal Relations/Special Assistant to the Provost and Executive Vice President; is assembling a small working group to develop a proposal for how to address the larger context of the “Land Grab” research. This research and an expanding partnership with Native peoples and students have been the topic of previous discussions among CAS leadership, under the direction of Dean Todd Butler. Elizabeth Chilton, Provost and Executive Vice President; WSU Pullman Chancellor

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6 comments on "How does WSU Spend ‘Grant Lands’ Revenue?"
  1. First, I want to express my sincere thanks to Provost Chilton and VP Pearson for posting the answers to my questions to this forum for all interested faculty to see. As always, I learned a lot from their answers.

    For those who haven’t checked out the document they provided (see link above), here is my quick summary of the pertinent details. Please have a look at the document when you get the chance.

    1. According to their linked document, the State of Washington still owns 151,188 acres of the 190,000 acres of federal (i.e., previously tribal) land it was granted by the Enabling Act of 1889 to support what is now WSU. These lands are managed by the WA Department of Natural Resources for the benefit of WSU, and the revenue goes into the Agricultural College Permanent Fund and the Scientific School Permanent Fund.

    2. Page 8 of their document shows that together the Agricultural College Permanent Fund and Scientific School Permanent Fund generated approximately $230 Million of trust revenue for WSU over just the last 12 years. That is an annual rate of approximately $19M/yr.

    3. Land grant revenue funds the construction and maintenance of WSU buildings. Expenditure of these funds on capital projects and debt service is authorized by the state legislature.

    4. None (0%) of the multi-million dollar annual revenue generated by 151,188 acres of expropriated tribal lands is set aside to directly support native students, staff, and faculty at WSU.

    Thank you, Provost Chilton and VP Pearson, for providing this important information regarding land grant revenue at WSU. I am looking forward to learning more about the total amount of revenue generated for WSU over the entire lifetime of the land grants. Given the rate over the last 12 years, it seems likely the total amount will exceed 1 billion dollars (and counting). That is a very large transfer of wealth.

    Luke Premo
    CAS Faculty Senator

    1. Hi Jessica,

      Yes, I agree. I will follow up with the Provost’s office to ask when we can expect a report on 1) what the Attorney General’s office said regarding the legal aspects of how WSU can spend revenue generated by land grant parcels and 2) the full history of the annual revenue generated by Agricultural College Permanent Fund and the Scientific School Permanent Fund stretching back to 1890—surely WSU has an internal record of this revenue that goes back more than 12 years. I will ask that the information be posted on this forum so that all concerned faculty can see it for themselves.

      In the meantime, I’d encourage you to contact the Provost’s office directly to share your concerns and thoughts on this very important issue.


  2. First, I’d like to thank the administration for the November 21, 2022 memorandum. According to the document, it appears that whatever information the Attorney General’s office provided in response to their queries did not differ from what was already known—land-grant revenue is designated for WSU capital projects (including construction, maintenance, and retiring building bonds) and expenditure requires approval of the state legislature.

    The accompanying “Land Trust Distribution Data” pdf shows that the lands granted to the state of Washington to support what is now WSU generated a total of $543,415,550 from 1987 through 2022. As I understand it, those dollars are not adjusted for inflation. These data show that parcels of expropriated land granted by the federal government to the newly formed state of Washington in 1889 have generated over half of a Billion dollars in just the last 36 years, yielding an annual rate of approximately $15M/yr (again, not adjusted to today’s dollars). That money has been used to build and maintain WSU’s infrastructure. None of it has been used to directly support Native students, staff, or faculty.

    To me, these data clearly demonstrate that being a land-grant university is about far more than “just” being located on others’ ancestral homelands (though that is very important as well). Just as it has for more than 130 years, WSU continues to benefit monetarily from the 151,188 acres of land that remain of the 190,000 acres originally granted to the state in 1889 as part of the Enabling Act. To learn that the buildings we work in and teach in were (and are) paid for in part with these funds comes as a surprise to many faculty only because there has been little-to-no public acknowledgement of the huge revenue streams provided by the Agricultural College Permanent Fund and the Scientific School Permanent Fund or to what ends they are used. The initial steps the administration has outlined in the memorandum and publicly sharing revenue figures from the last 36 years are admirable signs of movement in the right direction, but we can and ought to do better.

    I had asked for the full set of annual revenue numbers dating back to 1890. The memorandum states that the administration was able to verify the figures only as far back as 1987. The memorandum promises an update report by the end of this academic year. I am looking forward to that report. I respectfully repeat my request that the update report include revenue numbers going all the way back to 1890.

    The memorandum also states that the administration is “supporting efforts to provide tuition waivers and/or assistance to tribal students, either as part of a state-wide program or WSU-wide.” That is the right thing to do. Now that the state-wide effort (represented by bill HB1399) has died in this year’s legislative session, I ask the administration to also include in the update report detailed WSU-wide plans for providing tuition waivers and other forms of assistance to Native students next semester.

    We’ve got (at least) 543,415,550 good reasons to increase opportunity for Native students, faculty, and staff across the entire WSU system. Let’s not wait around for the state legislature to pass a law next year, or the next, or maybe the next. While state representatives are working on a new Native scholarship program bill for next year, we should prioritize investing WSU resources to increase Native opportunity right now. Why has it taken 133 years? I realize that question has a complicated answer, but, please, let’s not make it 134 years on our watch. We can’t change the past, but we can shape the future by embodying what it means to be an equitable and respectful land-grant institution in the 21st century by investing in Native opportunity and success at WSU starting this fall semester.


    Luke Premo
    CAS Faculty Senator

  3. Hi Luke,

    Thank you for circling back on this important issue. I look forward to thinking about this more, and hope it comes up with Zoe (Zoe Higheagle Strong; Vice Provost for Native American Relations and Programs & Tribal Liaison to the President) visiting or speaking with Faculty Senate this next week (March 23, 2023). While we are located on historical Nez Perce land here in Pullman, there are a number of other tribes across WA that the MOU also lists, and which we can help serve. On the broader picture it is all of these people that our land grant mission has the opportunity to engage with and learn about where monies and efforts from WSU can benefit the goals of these tribes.

    All the best,

    Bert Tanner, CVM Faculty Senator

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