Yet another group is at the state capitol today, protesting proposed cuts and calling on lawmakers to find the money to fill in Washington’s budget shortfall somewhere else.
This time, coalition of university presidents, deans and students held a protest on the capitol steps, saying they wanted a floor for state funding because budget proposals this session would cut higher education disproportionately and hurt the state’s chances for economic recovery.
“We’re here because this is serious—these are unprecedented times,” said Jim Gaudino, the president of Central Washington University. “We’re about to undo the system that we spent literally 100-plus years creating.”
He said he would like to see a floor in state spending for higher education so that universities have a predictable idea of the money they will get year to year.
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Other speakers for the group, called the College Promise Coalition, said they expected cuts given the budget crisis the state faces this year, but they thought reductions higher education was facing were unfair.
“These are tough times and we know that cuts are going to happen, but last time around, last biennium, higher education took a disproportionate share of the cuts,” said Ana Mari Cauce, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington.
She and others at the rally said the cuts from last biennium had taken state funding for public universities back to 1991 levels and, under proposals on the table now it would be eroded further.
Group members said lawmakers should bear in mind that universities can play an important role in helping the state economy get out of recession.
“We simply should not be cutting what is the economic driver for the recovery that we need in our state,” said Elson Floyd, president of Washington State University, though he did not offer any suggestions about where money for higher education in the state should come from.
Other participants in the protest said the Senate supplemental budget proposal, which cuts $25 million from the State Need Grant that colleges would have to make up for with money from tuition, would also put higher education in the state in a tight spot.
University presidents said in many cases they had already awarded grants to their students, making the proposed cut retroactive. “Exactly how we’re able to make up what that cut may be will be a particular challenge for us because our commitments have been made to our students,” said Evergreen State College President Les Purce.
He said that, given the pre-existing commitment and the importance of need-based scholarships, Evergreen would have to look for ways to get that money by cutting other programs.
Higher Education Coordinating Board Director Don Bennett said he thought having a coalition of university representatives ready to lobby the Legislature this year could make it more clear to lawmakers how serious cuts have been at state universities.
“This is a great effort,” Bennett said. “It’s important for people to understand that higher education has got broad support.”