State Budget Cuts and Atmospheric Sciences

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Many of you have read about the State budget and the proposed severe budget cuts at the University of Washington. The implications of these cuts are now becoming clear...and the effects on teaching atmospheric sciences in our department are very disturbing.

I am not talking about faculty and staff pay, which will be frozen. Or the inability to fill retiring faculty or to avoid major staff cuts....those will happen...and in fact we have already laid off one staff member. What really bothers me are the implications for the students who wish to study atmospheric sciences.

Some examples:

This fall I will teach atmospheric sciences 101--the big (240 student) introductory class--something a really enjoy. Normally, there is myself and 3 TAs, which allows us to not only have the lectures, but small sections where students get to closely interact with an instructor, who know them as a person. With three TA's we can also grade complex homeworks (weather map analyses, calculations, etc) and provide substantial personal feedback. Becuase of the upcoming budget cuts I will lose two of the TA's...radically reducing our ability to do the above and substantially undermining the student's learning experience. This will be particularly true of the weaker students who need more personal help. The students will lose a great deal.

But I will tell you an impact that is even more worrisome...the student's who will never get into the UW who want to major in atmospheric sciences. I am the undergraduate advisor and see the lists of students who have applied or have been accepted to the UW and who have indicated my department for their future major. This year something has really changed....FAR more students are on the waiting list. Students who would have easily gotten into the UW in the past are now being told there may not be a spot for them at the UW. Something has changed...far fewer students are being accepted--clearly the UW is going to admit far less students this year because of the budget cuts (in fact the Seattle Times suggested that 10K fewer studens for all higher education in our state). For student's interested in atmospheric sciences, the results are really devastating. The UW has the only atmospheric sciences dept in not only the entire State, but the entire Northwest. So for many, especially those who can't afford to travel out of the region or to pay for out-of-state tuition, this is the end of their career in meteorology, and for many the termination of their chance fortheir dream profession. I had one student who called last week who sounded like he was desperate and nearly in tears over his wait list situation. And I had no good options for him.
I could give other examples, but the above are powerful illustrations of the substantial harm that will be done if higher education sustains the huge hits in the Senate and House (even worse) budgets.

There is a way to deal with this....allow the higher education institutions to increase tuition beyond 7%, using some of the money to insure that students with need are taken care of. This is the higher tuition-higher aid model. Currently, UW tuitition is substantially below its peers. By allowing tuition to rise, but with radically increased financial aid, a large portion of the budget cutbacks could be offset, allowing the UW to keep our current registration numbers and saving instructional support (like TAs). Money will not be removed from other hard-hit state programs. Time is short now...if you want to help, email or contact your state legislators, asking them to support this tuition-based solution.
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