Politics Blog

Report: WWU’s Shepard refuses to play state’s budget-cutting game

A certain fiscal exercise was commonplace in state and local governments in 2009 and 2010. Before elected leaders considered draft budgets, departments within city and county governments were asked what they could stand to cut -- 5 percent, maybe 10 percent of their overall budgets. This would mean layoffs and reduced services for citizens, owing to reduced sales tax and other revenues resulting from the Great Recession.

Now it’s 2014, the economy has been growing, and those draconian slashing exercises are history, right?

Not at the state level, where the Office of Financial Management asked public universities to propose how they would cut 15 percent from their budgets.

It was just a theoretical exercise, to help the governor in case any hard choices needed to be made in his 2015-17 budget proposal, which he will give to the Legislature in December. The Seattle Times reported on Tuesday, Sept. 9, that Western Washington University’s president refused to play the state’s game.

President Bruce Shepard, who has a history of unvarnished quotes, had some choice words about the state’s request in his interview with Times columnist Danny Westneat:

“It’s idiotic. 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.”

“We’re a talent-based industry. 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.”

Shepard made public his decision not to propose budget cuts last month.

Westneat goes on to ask (I might be overlaying some of my own thoughts here) whether the state can churn out the well-educated, career-ready young adults it says it wants while slashing college budgets. Now, with the pressure to significantly increase funding to K-12 even greater after the Supreme Court’s contempt ruling today, will the Legislature in 2015 rob the colleges to pay the public K-12 schools?