WSU forgives $3.2 million in College of Arts and Sciences debt

WSU officials say they want fresh start for new dean

FORREST HOLT, Evergreen news editor

The College of Arts and Sciences will not have to pay off $3.2 million of its debt, according to a Feb. 8 memo from the university president and provost.

Forgiving the debt is intended to relieve financial stress on the college before a new dean takes the helm, according to the memo. Central budgets will pick up the bill instead, meaning the responsibility to pay will transfer from the college to the university at large.

The college’s last dean left his position in September 2017 to be WSU Spokane’s chancellor. Larry Hufford has since acted as interim dean, and the university has hired a search firm to find candidates who could take his place.

Joan King, WSU’s chief budget officer, said the Arts and Sciences deficit would be rolled into the university’s approximately $1 billion operating budget.

King said WSU does not currently have $3.2 million specifically set aside to pay off the forgiven debt.

“Revenue streams are not in place right now,” she said. “There will be revenues identified and it will be paid.”

Much of the college’s debt came from providing funds for new faculty to establish research projects, Hufford wrote in an email. The debt, he wrote, accumulated in the College of Sciences before it merged with the College of Arts in 2012.

The debt has steadily reduced since, and forgiving the debt would allow the college to apply more of its resources to students and faculty, he wrote.

“Debts, such as that held by the college, drag against our potential to achieve our mission,” Hufford wrote.

University spokesperson Phil Weiler said he was not aware of any intentions to do the same for other colleges.

Weiler said the College of Arts and Sciences has been carrying debt for years, and it would be beneficial for the new dean to avoid having to address financial shortfalls from the college’s past.

WSU’s administration is currently dealing with a similar situation. Late former president Elson S. Floyd forgave nearly $50 million in expenses across the university during his tenure.

The Schulz administration has identified these costs as one the root causes of the university’s current $30 million deficit, which has led the administration to implement a university-wide 2.5 percent spending cut plan that should put WSU back on track in three fiscal years. Other measures have included cutting the Performing Arts program and an informal hiring freeze.

“[Forgiving Arts and Sciences’ debt] is no different from the debt forgiveness done by the previous administration,” Weiler said.

While transferring the debt to the central budget would affect the whole university, he said, it would not make sense to leave the College of Arts and Sciences’ next dean to handle “systemic debt.”

“It does have implications university-wide,” Weiler said. “We will have to share the burden amongst everybody in the system.”

[pdf-embedder url=”” title=”CAS Debt Erasure Memo”]