While the Washington State Legislature expects to include significant cuts in their upcoming biennial budget, Western has been looking for ways to make significant cuts in anticipation of reduced state funding for the next two academic years.
The recent decision to discontinue Viking football is just an early and visible demonstration of how profound the budget cuts are expected to be. It is likely that no department or office will be unaffected, according to AS President Erik Lowe.
“Nothing's off the table,” he said.
While cuts made by the state legislature for the next two academic years will not affect this year's budget, Governor Christine Gregoire advised state universities to start the downsizing process as soon as possible in anticipation of the cuts.
“The unfortunate thing about Western is the majority [of the budget] goes to salaries and it makes things a lot harder,” Lowe said.
Wages account for 51 percent of this year's operating budget for the university, and that does not include health and other benefits. As a result, reductions in staff and faculty will be unavoidable, Lowe said.
Governor Christine Gregoire has proposed 13 percent cuts for each of Washington's four-year institutions. Some worry that the final budget passed by the state legislature could increase cuts in excess of 20 percent in order to balance the state budget without raising taxes.
“If cuts proposed are as bad as that, class size and the ability to get into classes are going to be severely affected,” Lowe said.
Thirty-two percent of the money for the university's current operating budget comes directly from taxpayers through appropriations from the state set by the legislature. Another 22 percent comes from tuition revenue. Revenue from these sources supports academic, administrative and departmental operations. Another 32 percent of the revenue comes from “self-sustaining” areas, such as revenue generated from bookstore sales or parking fees. Areas such as these that fail to pay for themselves may be the most at risk of being cut under the current budgetary climate. The remaining 14 percent are grant monies that are given to the university for narrowly targeted purposes.
Current state law gives the state legislature the authority to set tuition for all in-state undergraduate students. Since most of Western's students are undergraduate Washington residents, this greatly limits the university's ability to offset reductions in state appropriations with increases in tuition.
Lowe has been discussing with the university administration about the need to find ways to reduce costs in a way that minimizes any negative impacts on students.
“I've been a part of a lot of these discussions,” he said.
“I have regular meetings with [Vice President for Student Affairs and Academic Support Services Eileen] Coughlin and [President] Bruce [Shepard].”
Many of these discussions take place during university committee meetings. These committees are made up of student, faculty, staff and administration representatives, and each has a particular area of focus. Although they have no direct decision-making authority, they are important venues for dialogue and information-gathering to advise those with the power to make such decisions.
AS Vice President for Academic Affairs Andrea Goddard is one of the student representatives on the University Planning Council (UPC).
The council's responsibilities include “formulation and annual review of a Contingency Plan, which is aimed primarily at providing a basis for responding to legislatively mandated mid-biennium budget reductions” and “participation in the allocation of resources appropriated by the legislature,” according to the UPC's Web page.
“We have no direct budget planning role,” Goddard said. “It's not [allocating money] dollar-by-dollar.”
“We look at different programs that can be funded or not depending on the [state] legislature's decisions,” she said.
Goddard noted that the faculty and staff can bring valuable perspective of the history of the university, while students can apply fresh perspectives about what certain programs actually mean to students.
“Students have the ability to keep things real,” she said, “and talk about how things affect students directly.”
Goddard cautioned that the committee system is still very complex and can at times be inefficient and convoluted, a problem that the university is presently in the process of addressing.
In the spirit of transparency, the university has set up an online forum to take suggestions for cost-saving opportunities. “University Planning and Budgeting Corner” was created last November on Western's “Viking Village” Web site at as a forum for anyone to contribute questions, suggestions or concerns about the budget process.
President Shepard also has his own forum on “Viking Village” called “President's Corner,” in which he has asked the university community for advice on what its collective priorities should be.
If there is a silver lining to the university's budget woes, it is that the Associated Students budget is derived from student fees, which are dependent upon enrollment levels rather than state appropriations.
AS Vice President for Business and Operations Virgilio Cintron said that cuts in state funding should not affect most of the services provided by the AS. Only a few programs jointly funded by the AS and the university, such as the Child Development Center, may be affected.
Lowe also recommends that any students who want to have their voice heard in the process contact the AS Board of Directors.
“We're here to represent students and students' views,” Lowe said, “and it's a lot easier for board members to work through the university structure than it is for the typical student.”