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Can Mike Young save the UW?

He's been dealt a bad hand, and he's keeping his cards close to his vest. But the new president may have the smarts and the steadiness to rebuild the finances of this critical institution.

Michael K. Young

Michael K. Young University of Utah

The new president of the University of Washington, Michael K. Young, a former law professor who arrived this past summer from the presidency of the University of Utah, has a steady, unflappable, and low-key manner that is already wearing well with legislators and faculty.

But he is also giving off a faint and perfectly understandable sense of being daunted by the job he is facing. One hopes the circumspection reflects a smart strategy of waiting for the right moment to produce a turnaround strategy.

After a strong start, Young somewhat faded from view. "As the CEO of a major institution," observes one key, impatient legislator, "Young ought to be in the second rollout of his major plans for change. It's showtime!" But not even the first rollout has come, and Young is studiously vague on some of the big issues such as Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal for a three-year sales tax boost to help buy back the recent brutal cuts in state funding of higher education. "I like the idea of additional revenues," is as close as he would come at a recent Crosscut editorial gathering to commenting on Gregoire's deeply controversial proposal.

Some observers and insiders I've talked to are concerned at this slow start, but most feel it's too early to judge how effective Young can be and what his actual plan for turning around the UW's fortunes will turn out to be. He's clearly taking his time, figuring out whom he can trust, and starting to make some changes in his key staff. He's also settling into a new state, a new marriage (to a woman 24 years younger than he is), and trying to get his arms around an array of challenges likely worse than he thought when he took the job. Maybe it's not showtime, at least yet?

In politics, including academic politics, timing is everything. When it comes to Olympia, and repairing the university's rocky relationship, particularly with Speaker Frank Chopp (both a UW graduate and the representative from the university district), a pause seems wise. The last legislative session was all about higher education, and Democrats (with Speaker Chopp's grudging acquiescence) overcame their historic aversion to high tuition and agreed to a program resulting in a 20 percent hike in UW undergraduate tuition in this year and probably a similar boost next year.

That's what's known as "a heavy lift." So the 2012 legislative session is most likely going to focus on funding for human services, hoping that the universities spend the year finding internal economies and digesting the recent changes. It's also a good year to repair relations with legislators, something that the interim president, Phyllis Wise, effectively did. Her open, "vulnerable" manner was a welcome relief after the more lordly approach of former president Mark Emmert.

Young seemed to welcome this year of lowered temperatures, saying that "the tone of the legislature has changed," and that he's leaving a lot of the lobbying to the business community, which he says has weighed in to prevent any further hollowing out of research universities. Given that there will be a new governor in 2012 and maybe new majorities in the legislature, it also makes sense to avoid trying to fashion any big changes in funding for the UW.

Young himself would appear to have a heavy lift. President Emmert notably delegated the two big tasks of running a university, the budget and academic affairs, to Provost Wise, so when Wise departed this fall to be chancellor of the University of Illinois, Young inherited a big job of rebuilding. His first two major appointments seem solid. He chose to restrict the provost search to UW candidates, reversing an initial instinct for a national search, and made an admired choice of the arts and sciences dean, Ana Mari Cauce, a Cuban American with a forceful manner and a passion for social equity issues. For chief of staff he brought back a highly regarded former top lawyer for the university, Jack Johnson. Next up: he'll need to build up the financial strategic planning capabilities of his office.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Jan 10, 5:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Great overview.

Young has the timing right: 2012 is not the year to launch big new ventures in politics. It is the right time to prepare the University for the next generation of political leadership.

It appears that the University has a far more important near term strategy: to put its supporters out there between now and the possible vote on a sales tax, when the UW might be on the ballot.

Far better to have major employers asking for more money than high paid state government employees.

Jan

Posted Tue, Jan 10, 8:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Since there are no easy solutions, the President probably needs to be given time. The previous administration's "bright idea" was to cede control to non-academic administrators and implement a very simplified version of activity-based budgeting - the UWs antiquated accounting system does not allow the more sophisticated version that have been developed elsewhere. As this article notes, this new system provides incentives to academic units to move from rigorous small-class high-cost education to mimicking community colleges. Not only does the President have to come up with a more sensible plan that might actually appeal to the likes of Boeing and Microsoft whose support is essential, but to do so he needs to work through an entrenched administrative bureaucracy that has invested a lot in the current system and is not in the habit of paying much attention to the President.

Posted Tue, Jan 10, 8:57 a.m. Inappropriate

I don't quite understand how sending off students to other universities in the Seattle area enhances UW's mission. As well as being a research university, in the long term UW needs to be the primary provider of excellent undergraduate education in Washington State. If it allows other new/outside Seattle area universities to provide that it will discover an erosion of its base over time and a gradual diminishment both of its alumni/ae constituency and its funding base. The foundation of the UW is its undergraduate program and Pres. Young would be smart to safeguard it in order to secure a strong future for this great institution.

Posted Tue, Jan 10, 10 a.m. Inappropriate

For one thing I am most grateful: pundits don't yet run public universities.

afreeman

Posted Tue, Jan 10, 10:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Is it really such a great idea to "'marketize' the university somewhat by introducing financial incentives and by better matching academic offerings to high-demand, job-rich fields like engineering"?

Virginia Postrel recently wrote an article on this subject that is well worth reading.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-06/postrel-how-art-history-majors-power-the-u-s-.html
(http://s.coop/7u78 for short)

"Those who tout STEM fields as a cure-all confuse correlation with causality. It’s true that people who major in those subjects generally make more than, say, psychology majors. But they’re also people who have the aptitudes, attitudes, values and interests that draw them to those fields (which themselves vary greatly in content and current job prospects). The psychology and social work majors currently enjoying relatively low rates of unemployment -- 7.7 percent and 6.6 percent respectively -- probably wouldn’t be very good at computer science, which offers higher salaries but, at least at the moment, slightly lower chances of a job.

"Whether they’re pushing plumbing or programming, the would-be vocational planners rarely consider whether any additional warm body with the right credentials would really enhance national productivity. Nor do they think much about what would happen to wages in a given field if the supply of workers increased dramatically. If everyone suddenly flooded into 'practical' fields, we’d be overwhelmed with mediocre accountants and incompetent engineers, making lower and lower salaries as they swamped the demand for these services. Something like that seems to have already happened with lawyers.

"The commentators excoriating today’s students for studying the wrong subjects are pursuing certainty where none exists... Plenty of organic chemists can testify that the mere fact that you pursued a technical career that was practical two or three decades ago doesn’t mean you have job security today."

Now, of course, if there is unserved demand for spots in these fields, as I understand is the case in the computer science and engineering department, we should accommodate that. But I would hate to see the UW turned into MIT (Montlake Institute of Technology) at the expense of the historical core of the school—the arts and sciences because we think that's a "forward-thinking" thing to do.

Posted Tue, Jan 10, 12:11 p.m. Inappropriate

He can't save UW until he stops the practice of hiring political cronies such as UW hiring David Dicks, the mismanager of the Puget Sound Partnership. Gregoire told him to resign because of the corruption. So why then did UW give Dicks a cushy 3 day per week job at $75,000 per year???

UW needs to establish ethics.

Posted Tue, Jan 10, 1:57 p.m. Inappropriate

So why then did UW give Dicks a cushy 3 day per week job at $75,000 per year???

At the university's recently created College of the Environment. Short answer: to ensure that UW "science" supports the Democratic Party's environmental/regulatory agenda.

BlueLight

Posted Tue, Jan 10, 2:52 p.m. Inappropriate

I thought Dr. Young came off as a very bright person who has thought a lot about what might make UW a better university. I agree with Mr. Brewster; I would take a class he would teach.

What I thought was interesting is that I asked him two questions about the Teach for America program at the College of Education and he answered neither. He had a rather long-winded speech about how we need more people who want to teach as a second career. The fact that he avoided both questions makes you wonder what other subjects he would avoid if he didn't like the question.

For the record, I asked him about the low enrollment numbers for Teach for America students in the COE. (The program just began this year and had needed 35-40 to break even and has just 11. So the program is definitely running in the red and there isn't a lot of hope that more people will come on-board next year if the school districts didn't hire very many this year.)

I asked him:
- how long can the University operate a program in the red while cutting other existing programs funding?
- how does a narrow program whose students are selected by someone other than the University and whose students come from mostly out-of-state and the majority of those student do NOT remain teachers - how does this grow the Washington State teaching corps?

You do have to wonder why a specialty program like the TFA program gets handled with kid gloves and not other UW programs.

westello

Posted Tue, Jan 10, 5:37 p.m. Inappropriate

The following today from Naomi Klein comes closest to the bone I have to pick with the alma mater that would not be mine were my birthdate to have made me a student today:

"Look at the Chilean student protests, for instance. That’s a remarkable movement, and it’s historically hugely significant, because this is really the end of the Chilean dictatorship more than twenty years after it actually ended. Pinochet was in power for so long, and so many of his policies were locked in during the negotiated transition, that the left in Chile really did not recover until this generation of young people took to the streets. And they took to the streets sparked by austerity measures that were hitting education hard. But rather than just say, “Okay, we’re against these latest austerity cuts,” they said, “We are for free public education and we want to reverse the entire privatization agenda.” And that may seem like a narrow demand, but they were able to make it about inequality much more broadly. They did it by showing how the privatization of education in Chile, and the creation of a brutal two-tiered education system, deepened and locked in inequality, giving poor students no way out of poverty. The protests lit the country up, and now it’s not just a student movement...."

http://www.thenation.com/article/165530/why-now-whats-next-naomi-klein-and-yotam-marom-conversation-about-occupy-wall-street

afreeman

Posted Mon, Jan 16, 7:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Phyllis Wise created the College of the Environment against the wishes of all the major departments she corralled/strong-armed into its formation. She created the CoEvo (her attempt at coolness) to feather her cap as she pursued a presidency elsewhere. Her claims that such a College would save money and put the UW on the national landscape are laughable: the major departments she coerced were already on the international stage! Good riddance to Wise. Is it possible to dismember the College of the Environment back into its separate parts? I wish Mr. Young all the best: I have a great fondness for the UW, its faculty, staff, and students.

Posted Tue, Jan 24, 11:29 a.m. Inappropriate

I love Brewster's conservative editorializing tacked on to the end of what is presented at the outset as an interview of a university president. It's so (not) subtle:
 
"Allow in more out-of-state students, who pay much higher tuition (currently about 80 percent of undergraduates are from Washington state, higher than at most peer universities)."
 
Yes, let's make sure our state university makes more room for students from other states, because "hey, more money!" so it must be good, right?
 
"The university is admirably generous in its support for low- and modest-income students. One could, if the politics were to allow it, pare back the number of full-ride, low-income Husky Promise students (currently 25 percent, or 8,500 students)."
 
Generosity is admirable, isn't it? But shoot, now that tuition has spiked and put up some serious psychological barriers to applying, let's just cut tuition for the middle class to make sure they know they're not welcome. It's just "politics" - it has nothing to do with actually making a college education accessible to people.
 
"A generous State Need Grants program, a program so far evading the state scalpel and which partially funds education for students from families with incomes below $70,000, could also be reformed and cut (again, a political hot potato)."
 
Ah yes, the dreaded "hot potato" - it is *so* difficult to deal with the responsibility of ensuring the American Dream stays accessible to future generations, isn't it. Fortunately, letting go of all that is just a matter of "gently turning the dials" with a "scalpel" - so surgical, clean and precise. A little blood spilled of course, but it's to be expected.
 
Sheesh.

ba

Posted Tue, Jan 24, 12:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Missing a word, typing too fast, 4th paragraph should have said: "...let's just cut tuition *assistance* for the middle class..."

ba

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