June 6, 2012
Looking back and moving forward
Dear Members of the University Community:
As we enter the final week of spring quarter, it is hard to believe my first year at the University is nearly over. I look forward to congratulating this year’s graduates at my first UW commencement ceremonies. The year has moved very fast, and much has happened. We have many things to celebrate, from two Rhodes Scholars to our newest MacArthur Fellow to our three new inductees to the National Academy of Sciences, and so much more. In this regard, it has been a typically exceptional year. But there have also been immense challenges, most notably our budgetary struggles and our rapidly increasing tuition levels. For me, it has also been a year of successive epiphanies, as I discovered remarkable students and awe-inspiring faculty. The people I have met have been overwhelming in their accomplishments and success, and the programs to which I have been introduced have been among the most vibrant and creative I have encountered anywhere.
A few weeks ago, Provost Cauce wrote to you about our efforts to stabilize our budget in this coming fiscal year 2012–13. With a slowly recovering economy, the Legislature seems prepared to stop the slide in state support for higher education and to support greater operational flexibility. Meanwhile, we have used the recession to re-evaluate our own administrative costs, encourage greater efficiency, and implement a budget system that is transparent and encourages accountability. All of these factors should help us slow significantly the rise in cost of tuition and begin to make strategic reinvestment in the quality of our educational mission.
We hope this is the beginning of another era of vibrancy and dynamism at the UW when we can put behind us the herculean effort to hold our university together and make it through the Great Recession and its immediate aftermath. It may be too soon to pronounce with certainty that the worst is over, but I believe it is. We now need to turn our focus to the future.
Our people are the University’s most precious resource. The University has one of the most outstanding faculties in the world, as evidenced by our prominence in international rankings of world universities, as well as by our remarkable record of success in competing for research funding. For those who are relatively new to the UW, it is worth pointing out again that every year since 1974, the University of Washington has been the top public university in America in competing for federal funds for research. Among all universities—public and private—we have been in the top five every year since 1969 and in recent years have been second only to Johns Hopkins. This is a remarkable record of success, and it helps shape the research-intensive environment in which our students learn. It is also from my perspective the single most telling fact about the quality of this faculty and our support staff. We must do all we can to ensure that this quality remains among the best anywhere in the world, and that will require retaining and attracting talent and ensuring our people are fairly compensated for the extraordinary work they do. I want to assure the entire community this is my absolute top priority going forward as we plan for the 2013–15 biennium.
We also need to resume making strategic investments in programs and developing new capabilities to engage the world’s biggest, most complex challenges. Many of these opportunities invite broad interdisciplinary and collaborative approaches—exactly what this university is exceptional at. We must redeploy resources and restore our capacity to respond to opportunities and keep this university moving forward in expanding knowledge and solving problems. And as we do so, we must always—always—strive for only the very highest quality. This is what makes us distinctive, and we must not let the difficulties of the recent past blur our focus on quality. Quality will be the first thing we invest in and the thing we will not sacrifice. This is the value that has guided and sustained the University of Washington for a century and a half, and it will continue to be the true north on our compass for the future.
Finally, we must maintain our deep commitment to access and opportunity for our students. We are rightly proud of having one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation. This diversity undergirds our excellence and ensures the high quality of what we do. The fact that thirty percent of our freshmen this year were the first in their families to go to college reflects our values to make higher education accessible to anyone capable of doing the work, regardless of economic circumstance or cultural heritage. More than a fourth of our freshmen from Washington are Pell Grant–eligible Husky Promise students who pay no tuition. This year, we were also able to provide additional grant aid to some 2,000 lower middle–income students. For all of our students, we need to get back to more modest and predictable increases in tuition. We must also creatively and aggressively develop ways to ensure that financial aid is available in some useful form to everyone who needs it. Keeping this university accessible to all is part of our DNA and lies at the heart of our being a great public university. We remain firmly committed to that mission.
It has been an eventful year, one I hope represents a transition point from the constraints of the past few years to a more expansive and innovative future, a future I very much look forward to sharing with you.
Have a great summer—whether you have a long break or not—and see you back here in the fall.
With best regards and much thanks for all you do to make this such an extraordinary university.
Michael K. Young