The Washington Legislature is planning to slice state funding for higher education by up to 31 percent. That puts our state in select company. Among our peer states for higher education, Washington is No. 1 in budget cutting.
I work at the University of Washington. The Legislature'ês budget has left lots of people here gloomy. Some know that they'êll probably lose their jobs. For a while, I was gloomy too. Then I noticed a magazine with our First Lady of Optimism — Oprah — on the cover. I knew that her advice would be to focus on the brighter side of the budget cuts. So I have come up with a list of all the good things that will happen:
Fewer pesky phone calls. They took the phone out of my office this month to save money. For a while, I fretted that people couldn'êt reach me. But then I had an epiphany: People couldn'êt reach me! No more calls from students wanting to know about classes or asking for a job reference. No more calls from potential employers checking those job references. No more calls from parents. No more calls from my boss. And no more calls from reporters asking about budget cuts.
Less reading, more TV. The UW library is always buying books. I'êm supposed to read them to make sure I know what I'êm talking about in my classes. But the library'ês budget is getting whacked along with everything else, so that gusher of new books should soon diminish to a trickle. I suspect my students couldn'êt be happier. The less I read, the less I know. And the less I know, the less I can ask them about on exams. I'êm starting to warm to idea of fewer books too. The less time I spend reading, the more time I have for 'êDancing With the Stars.'ê
Fewer names to remember. I'êm horrible with names. Next year was going to be a nightmare. I'êm scheduled to teach classes that enroll 500 students. But the budget cuts mean UW will be accepting hundreds fewer students. Sure, that'ês hundreds fewer getting a decent college education. But it'ês also hundreds fewer names for me to remember. Or to forget.
Easier parking, at last. The big shots at UW say we may be laying off 1,000 faculty and staff. I don'êt drive to campus often, but on the days that I do, it should be easier to score a parking space close to my building. Maybe I can even drive to work again.
Saving the environment. A lot of people work at UW. In the past, we'êve had heat and electricity in our offices. (Given what'ês happened with the phones, I'êm not making any assumptions about the future.) All those people in all those offices using all that heat and electricity produced a lot of greenhouse gases. Our budget cuts will be good for the environment.
Saving my soul. I admit it. I'êm guilty of No. 6 on the list of the Seven Deadly Sins — envy. I envy all those UW grads who make more money right out of college than I do now. I'êm talking computer scientists, chemists, microbiologists, accountants, engineers, doctors, lawyers, dentists and the like. I figure that once the funding cuts damage the UW seriously enough, the better students will finally go somewhere else. Michigan and California: you can have them. Give me the mediocre student who wants to major in event planning. I know he won'êt make more money than I do. At least not right away.
This list in hand, I'êve started telling my friends in other states about the brighter side of our budget cuts. And they'êre starting to get jealous. I just know that soon they'êll be writing their own senators and representatives, urging them to be as bold as our legislators have been. So that got me thinking that I really should thank the people responsible for our budget, lest they start to slack off and let other states catch up.
I went to the Web, and looked up the Republican leadership. When it comes to eviscerating budgets for colleges and universities, I just assumed that the Republicans were leading the way. To my surprise, I found that people who call themselves Democrats are running the Legislature.
In the House, the man in charge is a Seattle representative named Frank Chopp. He'ês certainly living up to his last name this year. The woman running the Senate is Lisa Brown. I learned that she'ês a big fan of figure skating. She had $200,000 put into the budget just so that Spokane, the city that she represents, could host a figure-skating contest. (By the way, that $200,000 would pay for my phone for the next 555 years.)
I like figure skating too. I thought about calling Sen. Brown. I wanted to thank her for her hard work on the budget — and to see if she could get me tickets for the figure skating. But then I remembered that I didn'êt have a phone.