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Originally published Sunday, January 1, 2012 at 7:52 PM

New provost sees UW's glass as half-full

Ana Mari Cauce, a trained clinical psychologist and now dean of the UW Colleges of Arts and Sciences, will become the university's new provost Monday.

Seattle Times higher education reporter

Ana Mari Cauce

Age: 55

Education: Undergraduate degrees in English and psychology from University of Miami, doctorate in clinical/community psychology at Yale University

Professional background: Taught psychology at the University of Delaware, then moved to Seattle in 1986, when she started at the UW as an assistant professor. She worked her way up to chair of the psychology department. She was executive vice-provost between 2005 and 2008, at which time she became dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Salary: $405,000 a year as provost

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Ana Mari Cauce says there's a joke among academics about what a university provost does: She's the one who follows behind the college president and says, "What he really means is, 'No.' "

Cauce, now the dean of the University of Washington College of Arts and Sciences, will become provost for the university on Monday. As second in command, she'll run the school from day to day, making academic and budget decisions.

But even though she'll be saying "no" a lot, the Cuban-born academic thinks the university's glass is half-full — despite a 50 percent cutback in state funding and the threat of an additional 17 percent cut next year.

Trained as a clinical psychologist, Cauce, 55, sees the UW as if it were a patient going through a crisis. "When you're in periods of flux and turmoil and crisis, there's real possibility for change," she said.

"Budget cuts do bring out the creativity in people, and we are doing amazing, creative work here that will position us well for the future."

For example, the down economy is a big plus when the UW is looking for new professors. And despite budget cuts, the university has been able to hire new professors because its overall enrollment on all three campuses has grown by about 5,000 students in the past five years, she said.

UW job postings draw hundreds of applicants, Cauce said. Another thing working in the UW's favor: Seattle housing is more affordable now — a problem that once kept many good academics from considering moving here, she said.

"If things go reasonably well for us during this budget period, 10 years from now — or probably 50 years from now — someone will look back and say, 'My God, look at how Seattle, how Washington state, how wonderfully we were positioned,' " she said.

Cauce is expected to be approved by the UW's Board of Regents this month, but it's just a formality. She starts the new job, with its $405,000-a-year salary.

"She is very clearheaded and open and sincere," said Susan Astley, president of the UW Faculty Senate, adding that the faculty was pleased by her nomination. "It just seemed unanimous — the faculty were quite thrilled."

UW President Michael Young has called Cauce "very smart and extremely knowledgeable about the university and much of its workings." As dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, she ran the UW's largest and oldest college, with 25,000 students.

Young said Cauce has done "a very good job of managing budgets and deploying money in a way that realizes a larger vision."

Cauce expects to work closely with Young on the day-to-day running of the university. Like most university presidents, Young spends much of his time fundraising, promoting the university and lobbying the Legislature. Because he's only been UW president since July, Young said he expects Cauce's institutional knowledge to be especially valuable.

Some of the university's biggest challenges include a squeeze in several academic departments, including computer science, which has had to turn away four of every five students who applied this year because there wasn't enough room. The university is capping enrollments in a number of other majors, including economics, biology, chemistry and international studies, Cauce said.

A few critics have suggested that the UW eliminate some majors — especially those in liberal arts — and put that money instead into high-demand fields such as engineering and computer science.

But Cauce, who has been dean of the College of Arts and Sciences for three years, said tuition alone pays the full cost of educating many liberal-arts majors. Some of those programs even make a profit, helping to subsidize more expensive programs.

"We could take the price of tuition to $18,000 a year and it still wouldn't raise an engineer," she said. Resident tuition and fees now total $10,575 annually.

She said it's also important to know that liberal-arts programs do lead to jobs — her niece, who majored in English at the UW, is now a successful screenwriter, and her nephew, who majored in geography, works as a city planner.

Cauce was born in Cuba and grew up in Miami. Her family fled the country during the Cuban revolution, when Cauce was 3 years old. Both parents took jobs in shoe factories, hoping Castro would be deposed and they could return to Cuba.

Cauce said she grew up in a family that was "pretty close to dirt poor," which has made her cautious about spending money, but that her parents — her father was the Cuban minister of education under Fulgencio Batista — prized a good education above all else.

For recreation, Cauce likes to take long, meditative walks, and she considers herself an amateur birder.

Last year, on a vacation she helped count little penguins in Australia, hard work that included pulling the baby penguins out of their burrows so they could be weighed and tagged.

Angry birds? Done that, for real. Cauce pulled up her sleeve to show a scar on her bicep. That, she said proudly, is a penguin bite.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @katherinelong.

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