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New leadership for the ‘new normal’ at the UW

Post by Kim Bradford on April 26, 2011 at 7:59 pm with No Comments »
April 26, 2011 7:59 pm

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Michael Young and Debra Friedman are nothing if not brave.

The two – he, the next University of Washington president, and she, the next chancellor for University of Washington Tacoma – are joining a university under incredible strain.

Their credentials and records of accomplishment mark them as hard chargers up to the challenge. That’s encouraging. If ever the state’s higher education institutions were in need of impressive leadership, it is now.

Last year, for the first time, UW students paid a greater share of their education than the state. And the Legislature, mired in a budget crisis, isn’t done cutting higher education. The UW is looking at losing 50 percent of its state funding in just four short years.

Such is the “new normal,” as the UW’s interim president Phyllis Wise puts it. State universities face enormous challenges to stay true to their public mission by preserving college opportunity for state students.

At UW’s Seattle campus, admissions officials made the painful choice this year to admit fewer in-state students to make room for out-of-state students whose tuition can provide the subsidies the state can’t.

It’s little wonder then that UW Regents went looking for a proven fundraiser. Young speaks with pride about the $1.2 billion campaign he led as University of Utah president, an effort that created 48,000 new donors for the university.

A university president doesn’t have that kind of success without proving to donors the worth of their investment. Under Young’s leadership, the University of Utah has eclipsed the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as the most prolific creator of spinoff companies from research programs, creating 7,500 jobs and $100 million in taxes in the process.

Young is also known for his political skill, a key attribute for a UW leader who will need to work with the Legislature to halt the erosion of public support and develop tools to ensure that the UW can continue to be, first and foremost, a place to educate this state’s homegrown students.

Steep tuition increases may be unavoidable given the hole in state funding, but they should be balanced with hefty financial aid – not just for the students on the lowest rungs of the income ladder, but also those solidly in the middle class.

Under former president Mark Emmert, one way the UW made college more accessible and affordable was to grow its branch campuses to serve place-bound students.

In Debra Friedman, the university appears to be re-upping its commitment to that strategy and to downtown Tacoma.

Friedman, a Seattle native who was an administrator at the UW’s Seattle campus before moving to Arizona in 2005, knows firsthand the role a university can play in revitalizing a city’s core.

Not only is she vice president at Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus and active in that city’s economic development efforts, but Friedman – who visited Tacoma often as a child – also has witnessed Tacoma’s metamorphosis.

She is already talking about beefing up the campus’ partnerships with local businesses – a welcome sign that she wants the school to be an even bigger economic engine for Pierce County. Key to realizing the campus’ full potential will be developing more science and technology programs to foster entrepreneurship.

The years ahead will be demanding ones, as the University of Washington comes to terms with what it means to be a state university primarily funded by sources other than state coffers.

Leaders like Young and Friedman give reason to hope the university will emerge stronger than ever.

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