OPINION: UI shouldn’t look at WSU’s spending plans for help

With Idaho’s new fiscal woes, Cougs shouldn’t provide advice on the issue

GUS WATERS, Evergreen columnist

People involved with WSU should respect the financial issues that the University of Idaho is experiencing and not offer condescending solutions to a problem that we know little about.

The issues that UI is facing with their budget are different from the issues that WSU has faced in its past, and it is unfair for observers to claim that it knows a better solution to UI’s problems than UI does.

According to a memo from UI’s president published in the Argonaut, UI is currently experiencing substantive financial issues, with a budget shortfall of around $14 million that is only expected to increase in the next few years. The reasons for the shortfall are complicated but the main culprit is that the university has had a decrease in tuition revenue from out-of-state students.

This seems on paper like UI screwed up its budget and needs help from other universities who have experienced problems to it in the past, and should not look to WSU’s model for help. In 2017 WSU was in a bad budgetary situation but able to get on the right track quickly, though serious harm was done.

Phil Weiler, the Vice President for Marketing and Communication at WSU, said that the 2017 budget alterations were in part caused by massive investments WSU made in years prior, such as the creation of a campus in Everett, the new Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and the construction of the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center. 

The 2017 financial issues were hard on WSU, and the institution made massive alterations to its budget.

Weiler said the university directed each of its departments to address its run rate shortfall, a term that refers to revenue in and expenditures out. Each department was affected, and some were eliminated altogether.

Despite the hardship this caused, WSU was able to achieve budget surplus within three years, ahead of its goal of recovery within five to 10 years.

It is all too tempting to point a finger at UI and ask why they are still struggling. After all, WSU achieved its goal. Why couldn’t it work in Idaho?

The core reasons for each universities’ financial issues are different. At UI a decrease in revenue is the key cause of their issues, yet at WSU the reason for their issues was a series of huge investments. The issues here were foreseeable, and UI doesn’t get that luxury.

On top of that, WSU can get more funding and exposure to its athletic program as well.

Matt Kleffner, senior associate director of athletics at WSU said that WSU athletics receives around half of its budget from the Pac-12 network and gets plenty of exposure on top of that.

Conversely, the Vandals are not a Power Five team, and don’t receive the deals or exposure that WSU athletics gets, making it harder for them to get funding.

These massive differences in the roots of each universities financial issues makes it difficult to offer advice to UI. We are two different schools, with different people and different issues.

At WSU there is no reason why anyone here has a right to tell the University of Idaho how to manage its budget, whether they are a student or a high ranking official.

“I don’t think it’s fair for us to claim that we can give advice to any other university,” Weiler said.

 While WSU has done a praiseworthy job at getting its budgetary issues on the right track, that does not give anyone involved with this university to pretend like we know a better way for a university that is not our own.