WSU will likely have to handle its budget woes without assistance from the state government.
Sen. Mark Schoesler, who was the state’s senate majority leader until Tuesday’s elections, said he had not seen any indication from lawmakers or university officials that the state government would intervene to dull the impact of spending cuts.
In a late October email, University President Kirk Schulz announced system-wide spending cuts of 2.5 percent in an attempt to reign in WSU’s $30 million deficit. Measures intended to reduce spending have included eliminating the Performing Arts program, allowing five contracts to expire for retention counselors in Multicultural Student Services and requesting colleges keep vacant positions open as long as possible, despite the administration seeking to fill its own open positions. Schulz has said the university should be able to begin restoring its reserve balance after cutting spending by $10 million for three fiscal years in a row.
“Some things you have to take responsibility for internally,” said Schoesler, a WSU graduate whose legislative district includes Pullman.
The Ritzville Republican said the state government bailing out one university could be the first step on a slippery slope. If one university with budgeting issues gets extra help, he said, others would seek it too.
“We could write a check and rescue them,” Schoesler said, “but if they don’t make their spending sustainable, one-time money would just kick the can down the road.”
He said the state-appointed Board of Regents, WSU’s highest governing body, should guide the university to more sustainable spending behaviors.
“The one thing that is consistent since having a president, an acting president and a sitting president is the Board of Regents,” Schoesler said. “They need to act in a fiscally responsible manner.”
Despite this, almost all of WSU’s publicly available budget directives have come from the administration, college deans and department heads, not the Regents.
Desiree Jacobsen, executive assistant to the Board of Regents, directed requests for comment from the Regents to Phil Weiler, vice president for marketing and communications. Weiler could not be reached.
Chris Mulick, WSU’s director of state relations, agreed with Schoesler, saying the state government is not liable for making sure the university is spending responsibly.
“The financial challenges the university is facing are really for the university to address,” Mulick wrote in an email.
The state government has been responsive to WSU’s needs, he said, in terms of supporting growing programs and funding the new Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine in Spokane.