UW at Crossroads: Lawmakers to Debate Budget in January

At the turn of the century, the University of Washington is facing its own turning point. "There are a series of critical needs we have to meet," says UW Government Relations Director Dick Thompson, '68. "We want to protect the competitive excellence of our institution while meeting the needs of the people of the state."

Since the core funding for the UW comes from the state, decisions made in Olympia will have a long-lasting impact. Starting in January, the Legislature will write its first budget of the new millennium. The University's budget priorities include salary increases for faculty and staff, more opportunities for students to study high-demand majors, a statewide initiative to increase student diversity and a major capital improvement plan for all three campuses.

The UW is looking for a 17 percent increase in its operating budget, bringing its two-year state budget to $765.2 million, plus a $196.3 million capital budget. The legislative session opens Jan. 8 and is scheduled to run until April 22.

Many other state agencies are also asking for significant increases, warns Thompson. "We are under a spending limit imposed by Initiative 601. The Legislature and the governor are going to have a very difficult time making very difficult choices," he says.

Thompson says the UW can make a strong case. Its graduates help drive the state's economy (about 70 percent of all living UW alumni reside in the state), and the UW draws into the state more than half a billion dollars a year in research funding. For 1999-2000, that number totaled $663.8 million.

"Maintaining our competitive excellence will, of course, enhance the competitive excellence of our graduates," he says. But the edge may be getting duller. Faculty salaries are 15 percent behind the average of peer institutions such as Michigan, UCLA and Cal-Berkeley. The UW, along with the state's other four-year institutions, is asking for a 6 percent salary increase in the first budget year and 4 percent in the second year. In addition, the UW is seeking about $8 million in special funding to retain and recruit top faculty.

With freshman enrollment at record levels, the UW is seeking funding for more students, both to satisfy the demand from high school seniors and to meet the needs of employers who face a tight job market. The UW is asking for 250 full-time spots in Seattle, 150 in Bothell and 100 in Tacoma. In addition, 100 full-time spaces would "float" between the three campuses, going where demand is the greatest.

The budget request also includes seed money to help launch new degree offerings at Bothell and Tacoma in such fields as computing, graphic arts, applied math, engineering, fine arts, financial services, secondary education and human services.

Another part of the UW proposal tries to attract students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The UW has a $2.2 million plan to strengthen the pipeline of students from diverse backgrounds, particularly middle school students. In addition, the University is participating in a cooperative diversity plan from all four-year institutions that could total an additional $6.5 million.

Two technology requests would aid students on campus and throughout the state. A $1.2 million fund would upgrade selected UW classrooms with the latest computer and Internet applications. A $3 million request would continue the cooperative library project that enables other state institutions to tap into electronic databases at the UW.

There are two research initiatives as well. Historically the state of Washington has not funded basic research at its universities, unlike other states which pour millions into their higher education institutions for research. The federal government is beginning to take advantage of that funding by requiring "local matches" on some of its research grants.

The UW currently receives more federal research dollars than any other public university in the nation. "The fear is that we are going to lose some of that federal money," says Thompson. To preserve that ranking, the UW is asking the state for $3 million in research matching funds.

The UW is also asking for $1.5 million to fund its advanced technology initiative, where high technology departments link with industry to create research environments. Possible areas of investment include photonics, high-tech home health care, computational neuroscience and construction research.

On the capital side, the UW wants to speed up the construction of its Bio Science I Building, planned for the corner of 15th Avenue N.E. and N.E. Pacific Street. Its total construction cost of $80 million would be spread over three budgets, says Thompson. Over the last 10 years "we've had a 400 percent growth in students who choose life sciences as their major," he explains.

UW Bothell is seeking a new academic building that would serve 600 full-time students, more parking facilities and an off-ramp from State Route 522 to its new campus. UW Tacoma needs funds to renovate the recently acquired McClaren Building at its downtown Tacoma site, which would also serve 600 full-time students.

The UW also needs to restore and maintain many of its older buildings, such as Johnson and Guggenheim halls. About 45 percent of the UW's facilities are more than 40 years old and the deferred maintenance backlog currently totals $260 million, says Thompson.

There are about 170,000 UW alumni currently living in the state. To stay informed about the 2001-03 state budget and the UW request, call the UW Office of Government Relations at (206) 543-7604 or e-mail To contact your state legislator in Olympia, call 1-800-562-6000.

The UW and other four-year institutions are holding Higher Education Day in Olympia beginning at noon Thursday, Feb. 15, at the Indian Summer Country Club, 5900 Troon Lane S.E., in Olympia. There will be a luncheon with top legislators and an opportunity for alumni to meet with their own representatives in the afternoon. To register or for more information, call (360) 650-6825 or send e-mail to

Home / Current Issue / Archives / Talk Back / Advertising / Columns FAQ / Alumni Website / Search