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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Retention counselors, grad stipends spared in WSU budget

Kirk Schulz, the president of Washington State University, discusses the school’s budget and other issues during an interview with the Spokesman-Review editorial board on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Washington State University departments have found ways to keep retention counselors on the payroll and avoid cutting graduate research stipends, but some remain dissatisfied over the administration’s handling of a $30 million deficit.

The student newspaper, the Daily Evergreen, reported Friday that anonymous flyers recently appeared on the Pullman campus admonishing school administrators and calling their response to the deficit “unacceptable.”

That follows weeks of outcry over the decision to eliminate WSU’s performing arts program, which hosts theatrical productions on campus, and the distribution of a widely circulated petition calling on administrators to take pay cuts of up to 30 percent.

In an interview this week, WSU President Kirk Schulz reiterated that spending reductions are necessary to replenish the school’s reserves, which have been depleted by more than half during the past four years. But he steered away from the phrase “budget cuts,” explaining that any savings would remain in department accounts instead of flowing back to the central administration.

Schulz said his message to university departments is: “Those dollars are still yours. It’s just, instead of you being able to spend them, we’re forcing you to put them in your savings account.”

The university is aiming to shave $10 million from the deficit annually and break even in three years. To accomplish that, every department has been instructed to spend 2.5 percent less money in fiscal 2018.

The administration advised waiting to fill vacant positions as long as possible, reducing travel and other expenses, and denying unplanned salary increases. It noted that personnel account for roughly 85 percent of the university’s operational costs.

“All of us have to live by that. The president’s office and everybody else has to do the spending reduction,” said Schulz, who has directed other senior administrators to forgo a 1 percent salary increase next year. “There’s no free pass to any particular group, regardless of who they are.”

Not every department has taken the same approach. A webpage launched this week,, features a memo from each dean and vice president outlining how and where cuts will be made.

“Each unit head decides how he or she is going to save that 2.5 percent and put it in the bank,” said Phil Weiler, the university’s vice president for marketing and communications.

Along with the performing arts program – which administrators say is not self-sustaining – two other proposed cuts have stood out.

Students complained earlier this year when Mary Jo Gonzales, the vice president for student affairs, proposed eliminating several retention counselor positions in Multicultural Student Services, but Schulz noted this week that the department now plans to fund two counselor positions and one management job.

Similarly, some graduate students in WSU’s Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture worried their research stipends would be reduced. The college’s dean, Mary Rezac, said Friday that plan has been scrapped and the college will save money primarily through attrition and travel reductions.

“We’re also working hard to increase revenue,” she added.

Schulz, an engineer by training, welcomed the stipend fix.

“There was a lot of concern – appropriately, I might add – about graduate students seeing a reduction in their stipends at midyear,” he said, “and I believe we have completely taken care of that.”