Ana Mari Cauce was at a crossroads Tuesday evening as she addressed questions and relayed key plans during the Provost Town Hall.
Cauce and her audience were aware that she has been named the UW’s interim president, but until March 2, she will remain provost. At that time, Jerry Baldasty will take over as interim provost.
“I have had to make some changes,” Cauce said. “It’s going to be a prov-ident or pre-vost speech, some kind of hybrid.”
She had more than a speech to deliver, however. Cauce also had to field questions from her audience, like those posed by Garrett Strain, a graduate student in the Evans School of Public Affairs.
Strain addressed his concerns about funding, saying he felt carryover funds — money left over from the previous year — should be diverted to areas of more importance, like funding custodians. Currently, carryover funds are going toward university endeavors like start-up costs and temporary salaries.
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To support his claim, Strain mentioned the recent report by the Washington State Auditor’s Office, which states that the UW has $185.5 million in carryover funds.
“Are you going to be prioritizing and investing those funds for things like freezing tuition?” Strain asked. “[Or] filling some of these vacancies that are causing the custodians to be overworked and the buildings [to be] deteriorating?”
Cauce said reserves are difficult to comprehend when just looking at raw numbers, simply because the numbers are large, and make it appear as though available funds should resolve numerous issues. However, because of the size of the UW, those funds must be spread out across numerous university endeavors.
“To put things in perspective, we are a $6 billion a year operation — that is a mind-boggling amount,” she said. “And we’re a huge campus. We have three hospitals, we have South Lake Union, we actually even have our own power plant.”
Additionally, Cauce mentioned the average reserve of liquid cash for most public universities is usually enough to get through three quarters of the year, whereas the UW’s reserves will get through approximately half the year.
“Just saying that the UW is a big institution doesn’t make sense to me,” Strain said. “That’s not an inordinate sum of money [$185.5 million] to fill positions with. Custodians are the most poorly paid on campus, and who work more than ever before.”
The concern was a shared topic among audience members. Doug Nielson, a former UW employee, added his voice to the UW staff’s concerns.
“The level of intimidation brought down on custodians is really bad,” Nielson said. “From the top of the university, it looks a lot different than the bottom.”
In her speech, Cauce said it’s the UW staff, who are frequently in the background, that make the university possible. However, she continued to reference the current budget issues.
“I’m not at all trying to trivialize the janitor situations, but we have less of everything,” Cauce said, “and it’s putting a strain on all of us.”
Cauce urged the audience to reach out and send letters to Washington state legislators in hopes of drawing attention to the needs of higher education.
“All of the problems talked about today weren’t about mistaken priorities,” Cauce said, “but about scarcity.”