By Thi-Le Vo
Northwest Asian Weekly
The University of Washington is feeling the economic crunch. What it’s doing to cope is not garnering many fans.
On May 28, the Board of Regents at the University of Washington (UW) held a meeting about the budget and proposed funding for the fiscal year of 2010. The total capital budget for the university is $557.5 million, but the state capital funding provides only $65.5 million or 12 percent.
According to the Office of Planning and Budgeting at the University of Washington, “this is a reduction of 45 percent for 2009 through 2011 compared to 2007 through 2009.” With such a drastic decrease in the university’s budget, departments throughout the campus are facing cuts and closures, reportedly as a way to maintain the school’s integrity and core mission.
The Women’s Center was one of the most talked-about issue during the meeting. The Women’s Center fulfills its mission of being a place where women and men partner to build a culture of gender equity campuswide, locally, and globally though classes and many free services.
At the meeting, a supporter of the center, Felma Gloria, expressed that the 50 percent cut from the current 30 percent budget the Women’s Center receives from the university is disproportionate in comparison to the 15 percent budget cut of other programs.
A letter from UW’s Provost and Executive Vice President Phyllis M. Wise stated that the administration is following certain principles that will help make its difficult budget decisions. Some of these principles include, “promot[ing] and enable[ing] cutting-edge research and scholarship,” and ensuring that, before making decisions, the administration will consider all entities that could potentially be affected.
For many, Wise’s explanation is of little comfort. In an interview with NWAW, Senait Chrisostomo, a student who just finished her first year at the UW, recounts how important the Women’s Center has been to her education. “When I was in high school, I participated in the Making Connections program, which is hosted [by the Women’s Center].” Making Connections is a high school outreach program that provides strategies and skills training to help high school students succeed and prepare for higher education. Chrisostomo says that many students in the program are first generation immigrants.
“When you take away the budget for the program, students don’t get all the resources they need,” she said. “When the budget is taken away — it [feels] personal. If it wasn’t for the program [and the Women’s Center], many students wouldn’t have progressed.”
Norma Timbang is a current graduate student and a survivor of domestic abuse who says she benefited greatly from the center. “The Women’s Center contributed greatly to my growth,” said Timbang.
“As a queer Filipina woman, it is one of the few places on campus where I feel that I am accepted for my whole self. It is a place where critical thinking about issues impacting women and girls is not just an afterthought. … Jeopardizing the Women’s Center’s resources at a disproportionate 50 percent cut … would negatively impact this university’s capacity to engage in local, national, and international scholarship.”
Timbang observes that the center operates very efficiently on a small budget, especially compared to centers at other universities. “I think that the regents, provost, and president don’t seem to understand that the Women’s Center has always operated on a shoestring [budget] and, yet, it has always been able to provide an exceptionally broad range of services,” stated Timbang.
“The administration needs to understand that these are real lives they are dealing with — many with complex needs, facing extreme barriers, which make dreams so very hard to reach,” Timbang added. “The Women’s Center can help to address these barriers and provide support that many women and families need if given enough resources to do so.”
Dr. Sutapa Basu, the center’s executive director, says she expected budget cuts for the center, especially in the current economy, but she was “shocked at the disproportionate cut of the Women Center’s budget,” especially since “the demand for our service has gone up exponentially.” Basu points out that Washington State University’s Women’s Center, which is one-third of UW’s size, receives three times more money for its budget.
Nevertheless, Basu remains optimistic. “We are [currently] negotiating the budget cut. I know the provost office is willing to work with us. I’m sure they will support us in continuing to provide crucial services to women who need our services.”
A current subject of controversy amid the university-wide budget cuts are the salaries of the school’s administration. Many who are dissatisfied with the disproportionate cuts wonder why some staff members of the university will retain their high salaries.
“Why — when they make budget cuts — are they taking from the bottom end?” said Chrisostomo. “They are taking away from people who have less resources. It’s unfair.”
“This is more than just a center — it’s very welcoming here,” she added. “It’s a place where people can come and be comfortable. We’re affected when you take away our resources.”
At the meeting, members of the Board of Regency clearly expressed that they were not happy or satisfied with the decision of the state legislature to cut educational funds. Some members expressed that the changes were out of their control. ♦
Stacy Nguyen contributed to this report.
Thi-Le Vo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.