PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University President V. Lane Rawlins called for the state Legislature to take greater responsibility for funding higher education during a campus dialogue today (March 7).

“The Legislature needs to be obligated to fund higher education the same way it funds health care and K-12 public education,” Rawlins told an audience of about 100 at the Smith Center for Undergraduate Education.

His comments were part of an hour-long open dialogue – one of an ongoing series – that covered proposed budget cuts by the Legislature, possible tuition increases and enrollment, among other issues raised at the meeting by students, faculty and staff. The discussion also was available live by videostream from the faculty/staff page on the WSU Web site.

Since the 1990s, the university has been caught in a cycle of increased funding in the fall from the state Legislature followed by cuts in the spring. University departments react by investing in long-term projects and then get stuck cutting money from operating budgets in the spring.

“We’ve got to get out of that cycle,” Rawlins said. Instead, he proposed a steady source of funds from the state based on WSU’s programs and mission as a land-grant university.

Cuts in higher education by the state seem unavoidable in the near future, however. Rawlins said a Washington state House of Representatives budget proposal released today “stretched the budget as far as (House lawmakers) can stretch it to help higher education.”

The House budget recommendations are a nearly $12 million reduction to WSU’s base budget, but the proposal allows the university flexibility to take the 4 percent cut where it is appropriate. It also provides for a 2 percent salary increase for university employees (deferred until Sept. 1).

An earlier budget proposal released by the state Senate looked even grimmer, calling for cuts to higher education almost double those proposed by the House. The Senate budget cuts total $19.5 million or 9.3 percent of the WSU base budget. It provides no salary increases to university employees, reserving salary increases for K-12 teachers and community college faculty.

The president said the Senate budget “did some things we don’t like to contemplate.”

Rawlins warned that although the House budget cuts would be manageable “that does not mean there might not be some hardship.”

WSU has already implemented a “soft” hiring freeze, limiting new hires to essential positions, and asked employees to defer travel that is not essential to their jobs, such as professional development opportunities. After the final budget is approved by the state Legislature, options for dealing with the cuts would be presented to the campus, Rawlins said.

Rawlins said he does not want drastic cuts that might permanently downsize the university. WSU students and the administration see eye-to-eye on the institution’s priorities – quality education and strong research programs.

He said he always wants to be able to say to students “we will give you a quality education that you will be proud of.”

“It is such a terrible time to make cuts because the student demand is so high,” Rawlins said, referring to the largest and highest quality batch of admission applications WSU has received in its history.

The complete discussion is available at http://experience.wsu.edu/articles/exprawlins.asp.