UW President Emmert scores well in session
University of Washington President Mark Emmert spent so much time in Olympia this year that the school's lobbyist joked that Emmert should...
Seattle Times staff reporter
University of Washington President Mark Emmert spent so much time in Olympia this year that the school's lobbyist joked that Emmert should have set up an office there.
Lawmakers were already talking about fixing higher education before the session but buoyed by Emmert's effort, they say they came up with the best higher-education budget in years.
"He came at the right time," said House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam. "He did an excellent job, but momentum was already moving towards it."
Emmert, like interim President Lee Huntsman, sold higher education more effectively than former President Richard McCormick, who observers say was aloof and less active. Emmert focused his message on the basics of access and quality in a challenging budget year, spending a lot of time in Olympia building personal relationships with legislators, and it paid off.
"[Emmert] was terrific," Brotman said. "It takes a lot of extra effort and stomach lining to drive to Olympia on a regular basis, which is what he did. He did it because he knew that the way to deliver the message was not to deliver it through third parties or lobbyists."
UW-WSU effortHigher-education funding faces challenges every legislative session. Usually, it's treated as an afterthought to balance the budget. And unlike the community and technical colleges, which lobby together, the four-year institutions compete against each other.
State Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, head of the Ways and Means Committee, calls the four-year colleges "fiefdoms," each fighting for resources and promoting individual agendas.
This year, legislators already had been hearing from the business community and parents concerned that there wasn't enough room for students. Both the UW's decision to end automatic transfers for community-college students and Central Washington University's decision to close registration were wake-up calls.
Deepening a lobbying relationship begun several years ago, the UW and Washington State University submitted a joint budget proposal this year for the first time. Their cooperation put the emphasis on higher education as a whole instead of the fiefdoms.
The Legislature added space for 7,900 students in the state's universities and community colleges with comfortable per-student funding, and allowed some branch campuses to start enrolling freshmen. The state also raised tuition, allowing the schools to keep most of the new tuition revenue. For the first time in more than a decade, the state dedicated money to higher education with the reinstated estate tax.
The UW went into the session asking for an additional $113 million for its operating budget, and ended up with $104 million. The UW wasn't able to persuade the state to put money into development at South Lake Union, where the UW plans to build facilities for biomedical research.
"It was a very, very good session for the UW and for higher ed generally. A little bit of it had to do with some momentum," said Dick Thompson, former UW lobbyist. "But President Emmert and [UW lobbyist] Randy Hodgins deserve all the credit for getting the [per-student] funding."
Thompson said it also helped that Rep. Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, head of the House Appropriations Committee, has a keen interest in higher education.
Emmert called it "a very successful session and a very good start."
Earning his salaryLast May, the regents hired Emmert, then president of Louisiana State University. He followed Huntsman, who stepped into the job in 2002 while the Board of Regents searched for a new president. The board had encouraged McCormick to leave because of an extramarital affair with a UW employee.
The board hired Emmert because he had so effectively persuaded Louisiana lawmakers to fund higher education. State funding rose 26 percent and faculty salaries rose 22 percent in the five years he was at LSU. The fact that LSU won the national football championship in 2003 didn't hurt.
The UW Board of Regents offered Emmert $470,000 in annual pay; a one-time signing bonus of $160,000; $120,000 a year in deferred compensation if he stays for five years; and a $1,000-a-month car allowance. That package made him the highest-paid public-university president in the country in the 2004-05 academic year, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. (Emmert says the one-time bonus skewed his ranking.)
As soon as he took office, Emmert began meeting legislators around the state. He traveled to Spokane, Yakima, Bellingham, Vancouver and Kitsap County. Although lobbying reports indicate Huntsman spent more time in Olympia during the legislative session than Emmert did, Emmert took a different approach. A lot of the groundwork is laid during meetings well before the session.
The UW employs a professional lobbyist to represent the school on a daily basis, but the president's role is to preach about higher education.
"Presidents are there to articulate a big vision and big messages and really to talk about big issues," said Scott Woodward, head of UW external affairs.
Hodgins describes Emmert in Olympia as "kind of like having a celebrity."
"It's not like having Edgar Martinez Day, but when the president of the University of Washington is walking around, people notice that. And they like that," Hodgins said. "I know the UW wants to be in Seattle, but when you're in Olympia they consider that the center of the universe."
By and large, legislators have been pleased with Emmert's effort.
"He's down to earth," said Rep. Phyllis Kenney, D-Seattle, head of the House Higher Education Committee. She said she didn't see much of McCormick but has met with Emmert at least half a dozen times.
"I don't think it was the number of hours that Dick McCormick put in on legislation, it was more some people just didn't like his style," said former lobbyist Thompson.
Prentice, on the other hand, said she found the UW's attitude this session "disdainful," especially after the Senate proposed using new tuition revenue to increase financial aid for low-income students statewide. She said Emmert has not met directly with her.
"We did make it clear we thought there was some piece of the legislative budget that was not moving in the right direction," Emmert said. "We try to be direct, respectful."
He said he knew the UW is sometimes seen as arrogant and unresponsive. "We're working hard to change that perception," he said.
Emmert said his strategy was to get to know legislators and hear about their concerns, and to rank what the UW wanted. His basic message: The state needed to expand access to higher education through new seats and the branch campuses, and maintain quality through competitive faculty salaries.
In coming sessions, Emmert said, he'll continue to work on the tuition issue, faculty salaries, research funding and capital improvements.
But for now, he's happy with what the school got.
"There was a clear commitment from the governor and much of the Legislature to address higher-ed issues, including access and faculty and staff compensation," he said. "They put their money where their mouth was."
Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or email@example.com
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.