How Big A Cut? April 13, 2009Posted by gordonwatts in university, University of Washington.
A 20% or 30% cut in the university budget is a game changer – the University of Washington would not be the same institution it is today if it is cut 20%-30%.
Last post I mentioned that Washington higher education state funding was facing something between a 20% and 30% cut. It is important to know what is actually being cut. It turns out the university gets its funding from three sources, roughly equal: state funds, grants, and endowment. The endowment money is colored: when it was gifted to the university it was gifted for a particular purpose – and often that can’t be used to hire people. I believe UW’s endowment is down about 25% or so right now. Grants are the research grants that people at the university get – for example, my NSF grant. The university skims off 20%-30% of the money from each grant and puts it towards operating expenses. Stimulus funding and increased budgets at the federal level mean that the grant income is about the same or even a bit better – as long as we don’t loose the people applying for those grants.
The final bit, the state funds, are what pays for most of the people here at UW – graduate student’s TA’s, staff, and, of course, the professors. When we talk about cutting 20% or 30% here, we are talking about cutting only the state portion of the budget. If we were to do this across the board this would mean a 20%-30% cut in the number of people (professors, TA’s, administrators, etc.). This is complicated by the concept of tenure. You can’t fire a tenured professor as long as they are doing their basic job (teaching, participating in the department administration at an acceptable level, etc.). You can layoff a tenured faculty if you close down their whole department, however.
The final bit of information is about the UW itself. We are a major research university. This means our mission is not just teaching, but also research. Students (undergraduate and, obviously, graduate) are fully expected to participate in this research. We are one of the largest public universities in the USA. We are the largest research university – that is, we receive more money in grants than any other public university. I think we are second only to Johns Hopkins (which is not a public university). Of course, our ability to get those grants has a lot to do with the people applying for them and the fantastic facilities here which means the federal research dollars are well spent.
Next I’ll talk about some of the cut scenarios.