UW Prez: Full Speed Ahead, damm the stock market! October 15, 2008Posted by gordonwatts in university, UW.
I drew the faculty senate short-straw this year. This means, for the next two years, I must attend the faculty senate meetings. This university (and many others) have a joint governance arrangement – both the faculty and administration participate in running the University. The faculty’s role is fairly minor – there are certainly things that the president can’t do without the faculty’s official agreement. The faculty senate is that formal line of communication between the faculty and the administration (personally, I think the informal ones are more important).
As a result I did something I’d never done for the past 7 years – I went to hear the president’s yearly address for the first time. Sort of like a state-of-the-union. It surprised me. First of all, this guy seems good – not like a lot of the one previous one I knew. Second, he wasn’t all doom-and-gloom about the financial situation. We aren’t endowed the way Harvard is, for example, but we have a substantial endowment and we depend on that for a lot of our funding. Further, we get about 400 million (or 12% of the total yearly budget) from state coffers. And our state collects its revenues from a sales tax – which means when everyone decides not to buy the state feels the pinch right away… say, like, right now, for example. Oh, and my salary? That comes from the 400 million.
So I fully expected Emmert to be setting up two years of belt tightening. I was quite wrong! Two things seem to be behind this. First, UW has just completed a 7 year effort to raise a huge amount of money to improve its endowment. That exceeded expectations and plans. As Emmert pointed out – thank goodness we aren’t out there trying to raise 100’s of millions of dollars right now (he seemed to imply he got at least one check for 50 million!!). The second thing was they had managed to park most of the university’s investments in fairly safe places – so it had weathered the stock-market crash quite well. There was not a little smugness in that line when he delivered it. And no, he didn’t reveal UW’s secrets.
The upshot is, Emmert thinks, things will be tight, we don’t have to stare at our toes until this financial crisis blows over. Indeed, he said that this might be an opportune time to do what other universities were doing to us about 4 years ago – poach! That is good news as we have just lost a few high profile people in our department and are starting aggressive searches to replace them.
Also, on a more embarrassing note, I wasn’t watching where I was going on the way out and bashed into one of our board of regents members, Bill Gates (the father of the Bill Gates everyone knows). Ops. Sorry.