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From A Distance March 10, 2009

Posted by gordonwatts in life, university.
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I have been lucky so far – this economic slowdown had not affected me directly until last Wednesday (and even then it was minor). The worst has been a few less restaurants to go to, for example. Perhaps the worst has been watching some of my friends get laid off.

Out jobs are pretty secure. Both my wife and I are are quite productive – both in teaching and research. We bring in some decent sized grants to the university in connection with our research. Students don’t complain about our teaching very much. Further we have tenure, which makes it that much more difficult to lay us off.

But budget cuts are coming to the university, no two ways about it.

This last week we found out about the first direct impact – no raises this year. This is no surprise – we were all expecting this, we just didn’t know when it was going to become official. Indeed, it would have been quite hard (embarrassing) to take raises when staff around us is getting laid off! The staff hasn’t been laid off yet – in fact, Washington (and thus the university) won’t know its budget until the end of this month. But I don’t see how staff won’t loose their jobs here at the University.

I’m hopeful that our family will suffer no more than the loss of our raises. But it is hard to believe that will be it. Looking around – car sales fall about 50%. The 8.1% unemployment number… Breath taking.

I’m very curious to see how the budget for Washington state and higher education here works out. The noises coming out of the legislature are all over the place – doubling the class load, turning off research (which makes no sense considering how much cash it brings into the state), no reduction in numbers of students in the entering class, no tuition increases… Many of these things don’t sum to one (i.e. in geek physics speak: violate unitarity). So far the University doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job explaining how it works to the state legislature. I hope it will improve – if it does perhaps we will only get a 13% cut of our budget…

UPDATE: Ron pointed out in the comments that my statement above “The U doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job explaining…” might be more harsh than I intended. The climate down there is almost impossible – and very complex. After all, it is a lot of people interacting and it is very easy for messages to get crossed. For the most part the university is doing quite well. There is a small army of people – a number of whom donate their time because the believe in the mission of the university – who spend a lot of time down in Olympia trying to make sure that legislators are making decisions based on facts and not rumors. Perhaps I was overly depressed hearing a few people who I know where directly talked to still seemed to entertain incorrect notions of how a university like UW operates and how its finances work (deciding to cut is one thing, but deciding to cut and citing incorrect facts to justify it is another). Apologies if I angered anyone who is spending time down there. I’ve lobbied congress and spent considerable effort convincing one or two aides that a particle accelerator is not a source of energy – I know how hard it can be sometimes.

Comments»

1. Ron - March 10, 2009

“So far the University doesn’t seem to be doing a very good job explaining how it works to the state legislature.” I believe the university does an excellent job of explaining how it works to the state legislature. One can’t measure the quality of the job simply by how the legislature decides to treat us, or by what individual legislators say. Any number of analogies with measuring how well we teach come to mind.

2. Gordon Watts - March 10, 2009

Ron – I’d say under most circumstances you were right. But these two are people that Emmert said he had personally talked with (well, spent hours with) – so they should have it. I don’t expect them to vote our way after that conversation, but I do expect them to at least have a grasp of how the university works. They didn’t seem to even have that! I suppose one possibility is they are playing “dumb” for political reasons – and in that case, you are most certianly right.


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