Office of the Provost

January 9, 2013

Our 2013 Resolution: To re-affirm our pact with students

Dear Members of the University of Washington Community:

As each New Year starts, it is customary for us to take some time and reflect upon the past as we head toward the future, re-committing to important goals in the form of “resolutions.” This tradition ties us to our ancient past. Babylonians began each year resolving to pay back debts, and Romans made promises to the two-faced God Janus, who looks both backward and forward.

Resolutions generally reflect a desire to maintain or become our better selves—healthier, less impatient, or kinder and more thoughtful. Research tells us that resolutions are most likely to stick if we make them public, if we make them early in the year, and if we monitor our progress.

In that spirit, I’d like to begin this year, which marks the start of my second one in this position, by re-affirming our pact with students, enacted just before I began my time as provost:

The University of Washington Pact with Students

“The University of Washington educates a diverse student body to become responsible global citizens and future leaders through a challenging learning environment informed by cutting-edge scholarship” — UW Vision and Values

Based on our Vision statement, the University of Washington makes these commitments to our students:

First, the quality of the student experience will always be our primary goal.

Second, we will work with student leadership to invite and obtain representative input from our students about those decisions that most directly impact them.

Third, we will enrich our students’ learning experience in the classroom, online, in our support centers and through experiential learning and research.

Fourth, we will recruit and retain top faculty.

Fifth, we will work to contain the overall cost of a degree.

Short, simple, and straightforward, this pact puts our students at the center of the University, where they belong. It affirms the fact that we believe their voices should be heard and considered as we make decisions that will affect their future. They are not only the raison d’etre of our university, they are involved with every aspect of our enterprise, not just as learners, but as teachers, as researchers, as healers, as performers and artists.

Students are our partners in the education enterprise, and this pact makes clear that their fate as students and ours as faculty, are intertwined.  In order to reach their full potential, students need top faculty. Faculty, in turn, are inspired by smart, inquisitive, and hard-working students. And both are supported by world-class staff.  Learning is a relational enterprise, and when all goes well, the faculty-student relationship, which most often begins in the classroom, can last throughout our lifetimes, and beyond.

I spent a good part of Christmas Eve with a student from about a decade ago, who was back in town to visit family—and that included me. That evening, I got a note from my graduate school advisor, now 96, just to say he was thinking of me. And as I did my last check of the day, I received a truly surprising e-mail from a student of my father’s from about a half a century ago, in part, saying, “Now that I too sport the thin, gray hair your father had when he was my teacher, I only wish that I could thank him for his lessons.”  And with that he wished me a happy holiday.

The timing was perfect, as I used the quarter break to put together the syllabus for my Freshmen Seminar. This Freshman Seminar series is just one of a number of new initiatives we’ve been putting together this year in order to make the pact’s focus on educational quality come alive. We have also focused more attention on creating opportunities to support students in developing leadership skills, have restored the undergraduate student –TA ratio in most of our introductory science courses, and have opened up more seats and sections in courses that had become “bottle-necked.” Early indications suggest that students are no longer having the kind of trouble I got constant complaints about last year—that they couldn’t get into a course they needed to be able to graduate on time. We’ve also added seats in some of our most sought-after undergraduate majors, including Computer Science and Business. And, on the graduate and professional end, we are making some of the most significant changes in our health sciences curriculum in decades, emphasizing the interdisciplinary background our students will need both to do cutting-edge research and practice.

This winter and spring will bring challenges and create lots of opportunity for conflict within our ranks. After four long years of double-digit tuition increases, our students understandably are ready for the increases to end. After four long years without regular raises, our faculty and staff are likewise ready for a change. It is natural to assume these imperatives will collide with one another, unless the Legislature can find a way to provide us with new funds.  I am somewhat hopeful that the Legislature will do its part. This week, our six public four-year state institutions unveiled a proposal to the Legislature for keeping resident undergraduate tuition at its current level if the state can find $225 million to reinvest in our four-year institutions. We will be working hard to seal this bargain, difficult as it may be.

Regardless of the outcome, as we move forward, I will be guided by principles in the pact, with its multiple focus on quality, rich learning experiences, top faculty, and cost-containment, to help find the right balance. And, I will be working side by side with faculty and students, listening to their ideas and priorities as we make decisions. My toast to the New Year was simple—may 2013 be the year that we begin to re-invest in the future!


Ana Mari Cauce
Provost and Executive Vice President