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Wise and administration developing university budget in the dark

Interim President Phyllis Wise said the UW administration is making a point to maintain access and excellence at the university, even though they will need to increase tuition. Wise and the administration are currently developing a budget for the next biennium without knowledge of how much the university will loose in state funding because the state Legislature is still in session.

“I’ve never had the responsibility to create a university budget when we haven’t had an official [state] budget,” Wise said. “Clearly we will be responsible to make sure we continue to provide access and excellence [for UW students].”

After missing the April 29 deadline for the scheduled legislative session, the Legislature is in a special session to finalize the state budget. Both the Senate and the House have released their budgets, which both cut funding for the UW by roughly $200 million for the next biennium.

Wise held the first of three weekly community meetings yesterday in Paccar Hall. She said the purpose of the meetings is to keep members of the UW population up to date on the latest developments in the budget process, as well as the presidential transition. At the meeting, Wise addressed the university budget, student concerns about the food services company Sodexo and her outlook on the university as whole.

Because of this late legislative session, Wise said she and the administration have been working to create a university budget without an official number of how much state funding will be cut from the UW. The UW Board of Regents, which approves the university budget, will have a meeting next Thursday, during which the administration will present the board with a budget outlook.

Because the cuts for the state will result in less funding for financial aid for students, Wise said that she and the administration are looking for ways to put money back into programs that help maintain access to the UW for students who need financial aid.

“Obviously as we raise tuition for graduates and undergraduates, we realize we have the responsibility to give money to make students who cannot afford to be able to come [to the UW],” she said.

Wise said that one measure regarding tuition that the Board of Regents already passed in November is a motion about out of state tuition waivers for graduate students. The motion that Board of Regents passed will make out-of-state tuition waivers only apply to current students and those coming to the UW this fall. After that, there will be no out-of-state tuition waivers to grant nonresident graduate students less expensive tuition.

House Bill 1795, which is currently in review in the Legislature, would grant tuition-setting authority to the Board of Regents. With this power, Wise said the university would be able to increase tuition to an appropriate level so that the UW is accessible for students. Tuition money would also go toward funding financial aid, she said.

Wise said that although ASUW and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS) may differ in terms of details about university budget decisions, students have recognized the need for the university to make up money that is being cut by the state, and tuition-setting authority would help this process.

“Discussion with the students has been really rich and good,” she said. “Students have been on board with us in terms of tuition flexibility.”

ASUW Director of Government Relations Quinn Majeski said that the ASUW does not support House Bill 1795, but the UW administration is open to their opinions.

“The administration has been extremely good at reaching out to students,” he said. “It has been clear that it’s a priority.”

Majeski said student leaders are working to amend the bill so students have more voice with major decisions made at the UW. For example, they are hoping to increase the number of student regents on the Board of Regents to three, instead of one.

Another topic brought up at the meeting was the UW’s relationship with the food services company Sodexo.

UW Junior Allie Padgett asked Wise why the university is choosing to do business with Sodexo, the global company that provides concessions at UW athletic events, when Sodexo has been targeted as an unethical company for multiple reasons, including labor-abuse and unhealthy food practices at some of their facilities.

Padgett is a member of the UW’s Kick Out Sodexo Coalition, which is supported by the national organization of students called United Students Against Sweatshops. She said there are roughly 100 UW community members trying to end the university’s relationship with Sodexo, and they have been in communication with Wise about their requests.

“[As students], we are part of this university and our voices deserve to be heard,” she said. “We don’t appreciate being part of these illegal practices.”

Wise said that she wants to meet with the company in person to have a discussion about the allegations against them before any action is taken to discontinue or renew their contract.

“Data we have [about Sodexo’s practices] is on both sides, that’s why it’s really important we have the opportunity to talk to them and hear both sides of the story,” she said. “They have given us documents that say the things they are accused of have been corrected and some are not true.”

The company’s contract with the university expires June 2012, and the UW is currently accepting bids from various organizations to take over concessions at UW athletic events, including UW Housing and Food Services (HFS).

Wise focused on having a positive outlook for the UW. She said that after a trip to Asia last week, where she met with business, academic and political leaders in Taiwan and attended the Asian Pacific Research University Presidents Meeting, she was proud that students from the UW have become leaders with great influence in their current countries.

“Successful businessmen and politicians [there] have a connection with the University of Washington,” she said.

Wise said she hopes the UW faculty is “proud of the students you helped trained to become leaders in the world” and that current students “will join those kinds of people and become leaders and do us really proud.”

Community members also asked for clarification that the Evans School of Public Affairs and the Information School would not be consolidated. Wise said that the deans of each school presented proposed budgets that would allow them to remain independent, at least for this biennium.

The interim president said the budget process is being vigilantly handled, and that she has high hopes for the future of the UW.

“The University of Washington is in a good place,” she said. “When the budget turns around … we will be at the forefront of public research universities because we’ve done some very careful planning at this time.”

Wise’s next community meeting will be May 13 in Hogness Auditorium in the Health Sciences Center at 8:30 a.m.

Reach reporter Daron Anderson at news@dailyuw.com.

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