Letter from the Dean
What a difference a year makes. In March 2008, as I carted my files across campus and into my new Dean’s office, it started to snow. It was that gentle kind with the big frothy flakes that you know won’t stick, so you get all the pretty without any of the bother. It seemed like an auspicious start and a sign of good things to come.
At my first meeting with the Arts and Sciences chairs we discussed the hiring we would do to rebuild and strengthen departments that had experienced some critical faculty losses and were bursting at the seams with student demand. By Fall, we had approved almost thirty new hires and were extremely enthusiastic about the caliber of the candidates we hoped would be joining us next year.
That seems a lifetime away. We’re now in the midst of adjusting to a new financial situation and indeed, a new world. We cut most of our searches off in mid-stream. There will only be a few new faculty faces with us this coming fall—many fewer than the number that will be leaving, either due to retirement or competitive offers we have been unable to counter. While writing this column I received an e-mail informing me that two highly valued members of our faculty, both excellent scholars and exceptionally fine teachers and mentors have accepted offers at Duke and Oxford. They are the kind of faculty who bring people together and build programs, and their departures will be a loss not just for the UW, but for the state of Washington. The brain drain begins.
We are still unsure what size the UW budget cut will be, and how it will affect Arts and Sciences. But even in the best of the most likely scenarios, we are projecting a loss of up to 60 faculty members and more than 100 full-time teaching assistants in addition to staff layoffs, travel reductions, and other cuts. We must think creatively in our efforts to stretch our limited resources; this online edition of A&S Perspectives is one example of a change designed to save money and make effective use of existing technology.
One of the ironies of our situation is that while Ford, General Motors, and Toyota are cutting back, they are also selling fewer cars. Most job-related cutbacks are taking place where demand is down. But for the UW and the College of Arts and Sciences, business is booming! The number of students vying for entrance to many of our majors is at an all-time high. They recognize that a strong comprehensive education, as embodied by a liberal arts degree, is one of the strongest assets they can have in a world where the only constant is change.
Our pledge to you, our alumni and our donors, is that we will keep the needs of our students first and foremost. We will do our best to provide as much access to classes and majors as possible, while trying to maintain the educational and scholarly excellence that is the hallmark of a UW education. But the deeper the cuts, the harder this will be to do.
A UW education is an investment that pays personal dividends, for students and their families, and also for our state and our nation. We are proud to be doing our part and we will look even harder for creative ways to add value without increasing cost. For example, the León Center described in this issue was offered to us rent-free because of the rich partnerships we are forging with our colleagues in Spain. And, the new degree in Finnish was created out of existing resources. These days the silver lining is thin, but we will keep looking for it.
Last year as I walked across campus, despite the beauty of the snow, I worried the freeze would kill the spring flowers. Spring arrived late, but the cherry trees and rhododendrons sprouted their blossoms, and campus became a riot of colors, renewing itself as always. Now, as then, we will find our way through this long winter.
Ana Mari Cauce