BELLINGHAM, Wash. ― Every two years for at least a decade, the governor and the Legislature have asked public university and college presidents to project what kind
of cuts they would make if they have to slash their state budgets. And every time, they groan and figure something out.
Not this year.
Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard is refusing to play the budget cutting game, after being asked by the state Office of Financial Management for a list of proposed cuts adding up to 15 percent of the university’s state budget.
“It’s idiotic,” he told The Seattle Times this past week. “If we go through this you’ll see students start fleeing, faculty taking other jobs. My obligation is to protect the quality of this university, so no, I’m not going along.”
Shepard was repeating a message he gave his board of trustees last month. He says they agreed to take this stand with him because even theoretical budget-cutting is bound to damage the school at this point.
A 15 percent cut in the money the university gets from the state would require a double-digit increase in student tuition, according to Shepard, who says more increases would be seriously damaging for Washington. Instead, Western is asking for at least a 5 percent increase in its state budget to maintain operations.
Washington needs more university graduates, Shepard said. Tuition increases make college attendance more difficult for families and will lead to fewer kids going to college, he said in the narrative of his budget proposal.
Shepard says the leaders of Washington’s five other public, four-year universities are joining him in refusing to help the governor and the Legislature further erode the higher education system.
“We’re a talent-based industry,” he said. “If I put out a ‘hit list’ saying we might cut Department X or Program Y, then faculty, staff and students all understandably start to seek opportunities elsewhere. It happens whether we eventually make the cuts or not.”
In a letter to trustees, Shepard said pay for staff and faculty will be the university’s top priority in Olympia next year. Western’s budget request to the state will ask for 4 percent salary increases for faculty and staff.
He also wants to look at student wages for teaching assistants and other campus workers.