Lots of impressive numbers, and one that spells trouble

There are plenty of numbers in this issue of Columns—maybe too many. In “Flowing Pains,” we cite declining salmon runs: from 16 million a century ago to 3 million today. We list the average debt of a grad student at graduation—$5,910—in “My Life as a Dawg.” Our cover shows manipulations over 1,225 control points on a face for the software research story “Making the Puppet Dance.”

Since this magazine is about the University of Washington, you’ll find lots of statistics about the UW as well. Our economic impact story, “The Day They Sold the ‘U,”‘ notes that in one year the UW spent $1.6 billion on operations and capital projects. There’s also a number we’re very proud of, a record $459 million in research grants and contracts, in “Briefings.” But there’s a number on page 7 that we wish we didn’t have to print: a $19 million cut in the UW budget. With record amounts of research money pouring into a billion-dollar-plus enterprise, why should a measly $19 million be a cause for concern, you might ask.

The $19 million is a 3 percent cut out of the UW’s state funds, the very heart of the entire operation. It is money spent on faculty and staff salaries in an extremely labor-intensive industry—education. Add it to recent past cuts, and you have a cumulative total reduction of about $65 million, or 10 percent of our state funding. To absorb this latest reduction, UW officials estimate that from 100 to 200 positions will be cut, along with perhaps several degree programs.

But why not take all that record research money to cover the gap? Sounds simple, until you realize that the money is targeted to specific research projects and that any diversion would be unethical and illegal. The same goes for the millions in private gifts to the UW. About 98 percent are given to specific departments for a specific purpose.

The truth is, nothing can replace the core funding for the University, no matter how you play the numbers. It is a message that bears repeating as lawmakers in Olympia wrestle this winter with the impact of yet another number: Initiative 601.