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13 Is A Bad Number December 22, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in politics, university.
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The governor of the state of Washington has proposed a budget for the next two years (2009 and 2010). She had this to say (quoted in a Seattle PI article), which I thought both nice and also apt:

Gregoire said of her own budget: "I hate it. … Nothing went untouched, and I’ve told people whom I respect and admire and who have folks that are going to be dramatically affected by this budget, ‘You’re going to hate it.’ I’ve told legislators, ‘You are going to hate my budget. There’s something in there for everybody not to like.’ "

I guess that is what happens when you have a projected 6 billion dollar short fall over two years in a 33 billion dollar budget.

Everything is hurt – just read that article, but what I’m here to write about is how UW and higher learning is affected. Depending on which document I read it looks like a 13% cut to UW’s state budget. At first this doesn’t sound too much: the state pays only 400 million a year out of UW’s annual 1.2 billion dollar budget. Until you realize everyone is paid out of the 400 million!! I think I can safely say that I won’t be getting a raise next year (and I am grateful to still have a job in this economy!), but what I’m really curious about is how UW (and other institutions) will make up the rest of that difference. Will we shut down departments? Kill all TA support?

It is tricky. For example, if you just eliminate professors then you eliminate grant money. The university skims money off the top of that grant money, so if you aren’t too carefully cutting professors also cuts your income! How about cutting staff? Same deal – the university can’t function without its staff. You cut too much of it and it falls over. What if you only eliminate only small departments or departments that don’t bring in a lot of funding? That is a very slippery slope. For example, because of the projects we do, science tends to be much better funded than the humanities. That scale doesn’t seem right either! And do you just hunker down for two years because you expect it to get better, or do you suspect that this will be 10 years of pain and so you might as well do the worst now? Finally, given all this, how do you make sure your really good people remain here at UW and aren’t poached by others? I suspect whatever the university does it will be about as popular as the governor’s new budget!

And I should also note, this is only a proposed budget. Next stop is the legislature. As is clear from the article I linked to at the top there are a lot of folks ready to push on our state’s legislature to change the budget. So perhaps 13 is too low or perhaps it is too high. Who knows, but I guess we’ll see it over the course of the next several months.

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