SEATTLE — UNIVERSITY of Washington President William Gerberding has gone the route of across-the-board cuts before. Now, as he prepares to retire, the state is demanding a 2.4-percent budget cut.
So Dr. Gerberding recently proposed eliminating several whole departments, including communications, Slavic languages, applied mathematics, and environmental studies.
When the latest cuts are finished, the UW budget will be 10 percent below its 1990 level.
The latest round of cuts has caused a storm of protest among affected students, though faculty by and large agree that somehow the cuts must be made in selected programs, not by postponing pay raises or other measures.
Though state revenues are actually improving, spending has been capped by a 1993 voter initiative that limits the increase of outlays to the growth rate of inflation plus population growth.
''I knew when it passed that this was going to happen,'' says Bina Hanchinamani, a student in her first year here. ''People just don't think long term.''
Demand for spending is rising faster than the inflation/population formula will allow in two key portions of the state budget: prisons and public education.
As a more discretionary part of the budget than corrections or K-12 schools, higher education could see a disproportionate share of future cuts. Though Ms. Hanchinamani does not plan to major in the departments slated for elimination, she worries that more cuts could come before she graduates.
Of course, voters may eventually remove the cap, but the political climate here and across the country appears unfriendly to higher taxes. That leaves the UW and public colleges in general trying to raise tuition to cover costs.
The UW wants to be able to control how much it charges students, a power now closely held by the Legislature. It is possible lawmakers will share power by setting floors and ceilings within which universities have price-setting authority.
Some analysts say a little squeezing of the UW budget, long bolstered by huge federal research outlays, is healthy.
Bob Williams, director of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank in Lacey, Wash., suggests that the university cut administrative costs and require professors to teach more hours per week. Then programs would not need to be cut, he says.
MOREOVER, some wonder if the particular cuts Gerberding offered were designed to arouse public concern.
''I think it's just a ploy that he's used to create so much outrage,'' says Don Boelter, a UW senior. For example, the school of communications, with over 400 majors aiming for careers in journalism, advertising, and public relations, seems ideally suited to make a loud protest.
A Seattle Times editorial last month said ''each of the proposed cuts threatens to diminish the UW's status as a world-class university.''
In research, the UW remains richly endowed by federal grants and contracts, second only to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. From exploration of ''virtual reality'' technology to study of primates and tsunamis, the campus is alive with activity. This makes it a huge economic contribution to the region, with 15,000 employees.
But little of that money filters into the undergraduate experience, where state funds and tuition are what counts.
To bolster student educational quality, the UW has created a new undergraduate college within the university.
Fred Campbell, dean of that college, cites efforts to reduce class size and offer freshmen and sophomores more access to advisers in order to help them plan their studies.