With Gerberding’s departure, UW will go from excellence to uncertainty

With the announcement that President William P. Gerberding will step down next year, the University of Washington leaves an era of excellence for a time of uncertainty.

Shortly after his arrival in 1979, Gerberding faced crippling budget cuts as the state was hit hard by the early 1980s recession. The UW closed 24 degree programs and laid off more than 850 faculty, staff and TAs. But the institution held together. In a 1990 interview published in this magazine, he said, “The thing I’m most proud of is that we came through this prolonged budget-cutting, recession-induced malaise in fairly good shape as an institution.”

There are many signs of President Gerberding’s stewardship. Leaders from peer institutions recently reviewed the UW and found that we are “among the top rank of American public universities.” The tremendously successful Campaign for Washington drew more than $284 million in private gifts and pledges. The faculty “brain drain” has slowed to a trickle as the salary gap with peer institutions has narrowed. Research funding has climbed to record levels and during Gerberding’s tenure, four UW professors won Nobel Prizes. The UW has also given birth to two branch campuses. More resources have been poured into undergraduate education and the results show. For the past two years, Money magazine has rated the UW one of America’s “best buys” in a college education.

While Gerberding will leave his successor an institution in good health, the next president will face mounting budget problems, exacerbated by the recent passage of the 601 spending limit initiative. Plus he or she will face the “baby boom” echo as more and more young people compete for limited space at the UW.

Speaking of limited space, this issue is thinner than usual, but it holds a wealth of information. Our cover story is a wild tour of invertebrate zoology, particularly the secret life of sea snails. Other articles cover the battle in journalism between traditional reporting and news marketing techniques, a breakthrough in yeast genetics that helped produce the hepatitis B vaccine, and a look at how students are leaving the classroom to learn in the real world. As always, there is plenty of hard news about the University, alumni association news and events listings, and the Alumnotes section. Though we may be tightening our belt by cutting our size, we’re still offering a full diet of the best of the University of Washington.