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We’ll Know Soon… April 24, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in Uncategorized.
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The senate and the legislature in Washington have come to an agreement. The results will be posted at 9am tomorrow morning (Friday) – under the Conference heading. But rumors have begun to flow out. 22% cut in how much the state funds the university. To make it back they give us permission to raise tuition by 14% this year and next year. After you run the numbers you’ll find something like an 11% cut in the operating budget for the university. This is just an acceleration of a trend that has been going on for years: the state is slowly transferring university support from hits coffers to the backs of the students.

They are cutting support by almost a quarter. That will probably drop the state to the fourth largest source of funding for the university, research funding, tuition and the endowment (well, when it goes back to being positive… ahem), tuition [This ordering I’m repeating from the UW administration]. The irony is the total drop in our budget – about 11% – sounds good given what we thought might be coming at us – the 23%-30% cuts.

Should UW remain a state institution at that point? Perhaps it is time for more independence and a looser arrangement with the state of Washington. For example, they could pay us some $$/seat to subsidize the seats for instate students. And otherwise get out of our hair. That would be too bad – currently one of the big missions of UW is to serve the state. I suppose it will always do that to some extent seeing as it is located here, but as state funding decreases the UW will have to look out more for itself and less for state interests.

A pity. I guess we will see what the actual numbers are tomorrow. Anything close to the above is depressing, though we will be able to deal with it. My impression is things will move very quickly after that. By May 14th the university has to have a budget to present to the board of regents. And as part of that process various departments (like mine, physics) will find out how much they really have to cut.

UPDATE: Thanks to a friend that pointed out several inaccuracies in this post.

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1. Kevin - April 24, 2009

I’m very sorry to hear about the difficulties you are having, and I am hoping that you guys can weather this storm. Thanks for you eloquent and thoughtful observations.

My university is similar to yours–we are always near the top of aggregate research funding (largely due to a huge biomed operation). We are relatively well known for being quasi-private, and I think some of this is due to having 35% out of state students who pay Ivy League tuition. Even though our state is leading the league in the Terrible Economy category, our state will only cut our budget by 3%, and that has no impact on our operations at all. In my department, we are actively recruiting senior faculty (indeed from schools with different budget situations), and our junior faculty hiring continues full-bore. I mention all this not to brag, but simply to point out that no one would ever consider this university to have abandoned its principal committment to the people of the state. In fact, as far as I can tell, it is one of the crown jewels that people here look to for hope–even when we only win 3 football games. Every speach the governor makes mentions the university, its talent and the potential to create entrepreneurial opportunities from research at the university.

Although GM will close for 9 weeks this summer, Microsoft just reported its first drop in quarterly earnings. So we know about our problems, but what is clear is that this economy is affecting everyone. Having never visited, I would say that UW has a huge appeal being a top research school in a famously romantic city (at least for people like me who know what grunge is) in a remarkable part of the world. My impression–which is based only on repuatation and fantasy–can be marketed. Not everyone wants to live in Berkeley or Cambridge. I’m not sure that loosening ties with the state necessarily imples that the school is less devoted to the state’s citizens.

gordonwatts - April 24, 2009

Kevin – thanks! Very nice post. Indeed, UMich and UVirginia were mentioned as two schools upon which UW might model future operations. I’m sure that if that is the direction we decide to go it will be very nice once we are there – but change is hard!


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