February 28, 2012
Getting Down to Working Together
Dear Faculty, Staff and Students:
When I wrote to you in January, I said that I did not have simple answers to the difficult issues we face, both here at the University of Washington and in public higher education more generally. Easy answers are still elusive, but we are making progress on various pieces of unfinished and ongoing business that continue to vex us. Rather than focusing on the laundry list of issues today, I thought it might be helpful to just highlight a few to show how I am approaching them, in close consultation with the President and appropriate advisory groups.
Raises and Faculty Salary Policy. The lack of pay raises is one of the greatest disappointments of the past three years, and we face yet another year of a state salary freeze. This has been difficult for our faculty and staff, particularly as other parts of the economy recover. The freeze just can’t continue, and both President Young and I are committed to working with the Legislature to ensure that we return to a more normal pattern of raises in the future.
Now is the time to start planning. The process of awarding staff raises will continue as usual, but on the faculty side, our present salary policy is just not working. This leads to a recurring sense of bad faith permeating administrative-faculty relations.
So what are we doing? President Young and I have been working with the Faculty Senate to put together a joint committee with two goals. The first is to develop guidelines for distributing raises in the next biennium. The second is to develop a more enduring policy that can guide us through at least the next decade. We will draw both from the principles underlying the policy articulated in 2000 in Executive Order 64 and upon best practices followed by our peers. The goal is to create a policy that brings us together, rather than accentuating our differences.
Transparency and Process in Program Closures. During the next few months, you’ll no doubt hear about plans to close programs. Many of our units are considering significant realignments and cutbacks. While perhaps not as severe as we’d feared, budget cuts will continue into a fourth year, and we have yet fully to adjust to the budget cuts of the past. Virtually all our academic units have been using temporary funds to meet programmatic needs, and that can’t go on indefinitely.
We face difficult choices as we adjust to a new today and tomorrow. I cannot promise to maintain our full complement of academic offerings and programs while maintaining high quality standards; some programs just can’t run without substantial state support, and that is just no longer there. What I can promise is that whatever we do will be guided by a very good and clear process — the Reorganization, Consolidation, or Elimination of Programs (RCEP) — that is based on several important principles: protecting as much as possible the curriculum and educational needs of our students, prioritizing program quality, and retaining our commitment to tenure and to diversity in faculty, staff and students.
As I begin the budgetary process in the coming weeks, I will be guided by the principles established last year by Interim Provost Mary Lidstrom in consultation with faculty, students and campus leadership, including the Senate Committee on Planning and Budgeting, the Board of Deans and Chancellors, and the Provost Advisory Council. Those principles still inspire and direct us: quality, a focus on students and faculty, affordability and leverage, and long-term strategy.
Together, we are working to survive huge budget cuts that have more than halved our state subsidy. Still, we remain true to our mission as a public university. While we do not enjoy the bargain basement tuition we were once able to offer, an education at the University of Washington remains a great value and investment. Despite steep tuition increases, when coupled with our strong commitment to providing financial aid, the University remains affordable. This year we had the most socioeconomically diverse student body ever, with almost a full third (32%) of our undergraduates from lower income backgrounds, as defined by Pell grant eligibility. We are not only an economic engine for state business and industry, but an engine of opportunity for its citizens.
The tough times are not over, and the issues are not easy. But I am confident that we can not only weather the storm, but thrive. If we are strategic in re-shaping our future, keep our focus on those things that most matter, remain committed to transparent processes, and continue to build trust as a community, we can emerge on the other side a stronger University.
Ana Mari Cauce
Provost and Executive Vice President