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SeattlePI.com: With New Tuition Authority, UW Needs to Become More Democratic

By Andrew Calkins June 10, 2011

Trevor Griffey, an active member of our ThinkTank and a PhD student at the University of Washington, has a column up over at the SeattlePi.com lamenting the undemocratic policymaking process at UW. Griffey's notes the recent passage of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, a bill that hands over tuition-setting authority to Washington's public universities, and concludes, "with the power of the purse handed over to the UW, there is no longer any democratic check on the UW’s administration."
The UW’s Board of Regents is unelected, and comes entirely from the business sector. They occasionally visit campus to make decisions that have largely been arranged in advance, but they are not at all involved in the day-to-day management of the school. A number of them graduated from the UW, but none that I am aware of has any experience administering an institution of higher education. The sole exception is the one student Regent, who the Governor appoints based on a private application and not a public campaign, and who is tasked with representing the interests of the UW’s 42,000 students.

The Regents have the power of the purse. There are undergraduate and graduate student governments on campus, as well as a Faculty Senate, but they mainly debate policy questions. On budget issues, their role is almost entirely advisory.

There are no representatives for the UW’s 5,000 faculty on the Board of Regents. There are no representatives drawn from the 22,000 non-faculty employees, or any of the labor unions they belong to.

That line of thinking echoes what we heard from the lobbying wing of the Associated Students of the University of Washington (ASUW), who opposed the higher education legislation because students would lose their voice. They can vote out unkind legislators. Regents are untouchable.

ASUW did make a late in the game push during the 2011 session to pass an amendment creating two more student regent slots at UW, but the amendment never got a vote.

Griffey says that this defeat may encourage an "upsurge of campus activism the likes of which has not been seen at the UW in some time." He concludes that at the UW, "change seems necessary and even inevitable."

Though Griffey penned the column on Monday (we're not sure how we missed it), it's still timely: the Seattle Times reports that UW is pondering a tuition hike next year upwards of 20 percent. That translates to roughly an $1,800 increase per year, per instate student.
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