February 14, 2009
State budget update
Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students:
Recent media coverage of the state fiscal crisis has highlighted the potential loss of jobs at the University in the 2009-11 biennium and the impact this might have on students. It is only natural, of course, that such news would cause alarm. I am writing to provide information about the context for this news and to provide information about where we are in the budget process. I will also be providing you with regular updates about what is happening both at our campuses and in Olympia with regard to budget issues. Events in Olympia happen very quickly at times, and I will do my best to keep you informed in a timely manner.
The recent news stories were prompted by a request of us from several committees in the Washington State Senate for budget reduction scenarios under both the Governor’s proposed 2009-11 budget, which includes a 13 percent reduction for the UW, and a hypothetical scenario of cuts 50 percent greater, or approaching 20 percent. In response to this request, we modeled such scenarios, which resulted in the headlines of a potential job loss of 600-800 positions. You can see the materials we submitted here.
At the moment, we do not know if either of these scenarios will come to pass. We certainly hope not. As I said in my letter to the state senators, reductions at those levels would have a significant impact on our ability to provide the high-quality educational opportunities our students expect and deserve. I and others are doing everything we can to minimize any budget cuts. We are in Olympia every day presenting the case for the University and testifying at committee hearings. We will not know how successful our efforts will be until the budget emerges from the legislature sometime later this spring, but we hope our reduction will be less than those modeled for the Senate.
Nevertheless, as everyone here knows, our University is a very people-intensive enterprise. Most of our budget supports our people. We have all been cutting spending this year to meet the 2009 reduction by shaving operating costs and reducing expenditures wherever possible, and we have done well in that regard. Unfortunately, since so little of our budget actually goes towards operations costs, you reach a point where it is impossible to avoid the loss of jobs.
Our strategy for reducing our workforce will involve a combination of actions. In many cases, we will seek to eliminate jobs that happen to be vacant. This is opportunistic, to be sure, and it may leave vacancies in important areas. We will seek to avoid layoffs, but the magnitude of the budget cuts will ultimately necessitate such actions. Our primary goal is to protect the instructional core of the University, which means greater proportionate reductions in non-academic areas, including administration and support activities, even if vacancies there do not exist. Finally, if need be, reductions would occur in our instructional staff. As we make reductions in staffing, we will endeavor to do so carefully, sensitively, and compassionately and with as much communication and notice as possible.
All schools and colleges and vice provosts’ and vice presidents’ offices are hard at work on budget reduction plans at the 8, 10, and 12 percent levels. These business plans will be arriving in Provost Wise’s office next week and will initiate a series of meetings between Provost Wise and her staff and the deans, chancellors, vice provosts, and vice presidents. The Faculty Senate Planning and Budgeting Committee and the University Budget Committee are also being consulted as these plans develop. These discussions will result in the assignment of a tentative budget reduction to each of the deans, chancellors, vice provosts, and vice presidents. We need to do this level of planning as quickly as possible, even though we will not know exactly what our 2009-11 budget will be until the legislature finishes its work later in the spring. It is impossible to eliminate this element of uncertainty, and we simply need to work in that context.
There may be factors that mitigate the effects of the budget reduction levels we submitted to the state Senate. One of those is tuition. None of us wants to see excessive increases in tuition. On the other hand, the University’s tuition for resident undergraduate students is relatively low compared to our peer universities. A larger than normal increase in tuition may be necessary under these extraordinary circumstances. If that is the case, our commitment to providing financial aid for students is steadfast, and a portion of any tuition increase will go towards more aid. We remain committed to the Husky Promise program, whereby one in five undergraduates at the University currently pays no tuition. And, of course, it is possible that the legislature will seek to supplement state revenues to help offset the budget gap the state faces. Likewise, the impact of the federal stimulus package on the state and higher education also remains to be seen.
These are difficult times, and the stresses on the University and its people are serious. We will do everything we possibly can to preserve the University’s ability to educate, discover, and contribute to the quality of life in our region.
Mark A. Emmert