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Monday, June 1, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WSU President Kirk Schulz talks budget cuts in interview with student newspaper

Washington State University President Kirk Schulz received a petition Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017 signed by 50 WSU employees outlining an alternative plan for the university to save $30 million in the next three years. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State University President Kirk Schulz received a petition Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017 signed by 50 WSU employees outlining an alternative plan for the university to save $30 million in the next three years. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

In a 36-minute interview with the editors of the student newspaper on Tuesday, Washington State University President Kirk Schulz defended the hiring of a new administrator amid sweeping budget cuts and described in broad strokes how the university plans to pull out of a $30 million deficit.

The interview, which the Daily Evergreen streamed on Facebook Live, came a day after Schulz announced budget cuts and staff reductions in an online statement. He spoke Tuesday alongside Phil Weiler, the university’s vice president for marketing and communications.

Schulz publicly set his sights on a leaner budget before his first official day as WSU’s president in June 2016. The former Kansas State University president stressed that WSU did not enter the deficit on his watch.

“I want folks to realize that the budget situation did not happen in the last 15 months,” he said, adding that expenditures have outpaced revenues since 2013. “This was four years in the making, and it’s going to take us some time to work our way out of it.”

Weiler said Monday that the university should break even in three years if it sticks to the plan of spending $10 million less each year. Every WSU department has been instructed to reduce spending by 2.5 percent in 2018.

An unspecified number of jobs are being cut, some of which were temporary contract positions, and WSU’s Performing Arts program will be eliminated at the end of this performance season.

Some professors stressed Tuesday that the program, which hosts musical and theatrical performances on campus, is not related to the Fine Arts Department or the School of Music, which offer degrees. Students in fine arts and music should not experience major problems in their coursework because of the budget cuts.

The Performing Arts program does not receive state or tuition funding, and Schulz said it has used $1.6 million in reserve funds since its inception in 2011. Overall, the university has spent about $115 million, or 56 percent, of its reserves since 2013, according to its chief budget officer.

During Tuesday’s interview, a student journalist asked Schulz if the program might be able to survive on donations.

“Do people give to performing arts and fine arts and music at WSU? Absolutely,” Schulz replied. “Are they going to give at the same level as they’re going to give to football? Probably not.”

He added, “And I’m not saying that’s the way it should be.”

Schulz also was asked about stipends for graduate students conducting research in the engineering college, where his wife, Noel Schulz, is a professor. Some stipends have been cut, prompting backlash from WSU’s Graduate and Professional Student Association.

Schulz said it’s up to the dean of each college to decide how to reduce spending. “That is a departmental decision,” he said, adding that he’s “not going to encourage other programs to pursue” stipend cuts.

Schulz also defended the creation of a new administrative position – the associate vice president for community equity and inclusive excellence. The yet-to-be-filled position is one of several steps the university is taking to heal a campus riven by extreme politics, resistance to multiculturalism and, in some instances, overt racism.

Weiler told The Spokesman-Review the job will pay between $175,000 and $210,000 per year. Some students have questioned whether the school should create a new administrative post while laying off retention counselors who work face-to-face with students, but Schulz said change will come from the top.

“We need a senior-level person who wakes up every day thinking about diversity, inclusion and equity at Washington State University,” he said. “That voice needs to be there on our leadership team, so I’m going to argue pretty strongly that this is something that’s important for us.”

Schulz stressed that the associate vice president will be accessible and “is going to interact with students,” while having the ability to summon significant resources where they are needed.

It’s one thing to cut spending. Schulz said the university is also working to increase revenue.

One, he said, is to enroll more students from other countries, who pay more in tuition. WSU signed an agreement late last year with a private company called INTO, which recruits international students.

Schulz said the program met its first-year revenue projections and is expected to generate a “significant” amount of money over the next several years. He said the initiative would help introduce students to other cultures and values as part of their educational experience.

Weiler told The Spokesman-Review he couldn’t immediately obtain specific revenue projections, and it wasn’t immediately clear how many international students the university hopes to enroll.

Schulz said various university departments plan to offer about a dozen new online degree programs in 2018.

“That basically builds our enrollment, but it builds our enrollment not by crowding additional people in a classroom,” he said.

Finally, Schulz said he would work to attract more private donations. Some of that would be funneled into the athletics department, but only to free up other sources of revenue, he said.

“You’re going to see me spend a lot of time on fundraising over the next six months, not just for athletics,” he said. “For the university.”

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