April 02, 2009

State Budget Cuts and Atmospheric Sciences

Many of you have read about the State budget and the proposed severe budget cuts at the University of Washington. The implications of these cuts are now becoming clear...and the effects on teaching atmospheric sciences in our department are very disturbing.

I am not talking about faculty and staff pay, which will be frozen. Or the inability to fill retiring faculty or to avoid major staff cuts....those will happen...and in fact we have already laid off one staff member. What really bothers me are the implications for the students who wish to study atmospheric sciences.

Some examples:

This fall I will teach atmospheric sciences 101--the big (240 student) introductory class--something a really enjoy. Normally, there is myself and 3 TAs, which allows us to not only have the lectures, but small sections where students get to closely interact with an instructor, who know them as a person. With three TA's we can also grade complex homeworks (weather map analyses, calculations, etc) and provide substantial personal feedback. Becuase of the upcoming budget cuts I will lose two of the TA's...radically reducing our ability to do the above and substantially undermining the student's learning experience. This will be particularly true of the weaker students who need more personal help. The students will lose a great deal.

But I will tell you an impact that is even more worrisome...the student's who will never get into the UW who want to major in atmospheric sciences. I am the undergraduate advisor and see the lists of students who have applied or have been accepted to the UW and who have indicated my department for their future major. This year something has really changed....FAR more students are on the waiting list. Students who would have easily gotten into the UW in the past are now being told there may not be a spot for them at the UW. Something has changed...far fewer students are being accepted--clearly the UW is going to admit far less students this year because of the budget cuts (in fact the Seattle Times suggested that 10K fewer studens for all higher education in our state). For student's interested in atmospheric sciences, the results are really devastating. The UW has the only atmospheric sciences dept in not only the entire State, but the entire Northwest. So for many, especially those who can't afford to travel out of the region or to pay for out-of-state tuition, this is the end of their career in meteorology, and for many the termination of their chance fortheir dream profession. I had one student who called last week who sounded like he was desperate and nearly in tears over his wait list situation. And I had no good options for him.
I could give other examples, but the above are powerful illustrations of the substantial harm that will be done if higher education sustains the huge hits in the Senate and House (even worse) budgets.

There is a way to deal with this....allow the higher education institutions to increase tuition beyond 7%, using some of the money to insure that students with need are taken care of. This is the higher tuition-higher aid model. Currently, UW tuitition is substantially below its peers. By allowing tuition to rise, but with radically increased financial aid, a large portion of the budget cutbacks could be offset, allowing the UW to keep our current registration numbers and saving instructional support (like TAs). Money will not be removed from other hard-hit state programs. Time is short now...if you want to help, email or contact your state legislators, asking them to support this tuition-based solution.


  1. I was a grad TA at my school (Michigan State) for a similar course (intro geology). I cannot imagine how hard that would be for you guys with those kind of budget cuts! It was hard enough having two labs with 30 kids each (I was one of 8 TAs for those labs)....but 240?! Yikes!

    I really hope things start changing soon. We really need more kids (esp. women and minorities) in the earth and atmospheric sciences.

    Thanks for the info!

  2. if that concerns you, think about all the prospective nurses that are denied access to ADN/BSN programs.To get in you have to have anear perfect to perfect GPA. And there is a critical nursing shortage that is only going to get worse and the public is going to pay for it.

  3. I think the gods are laughing at us. Snow, coming down hard at 0430. Issaquah Plateau.


  4. Regarding Washington public universities, we saw the writing on the wall as news of our states budget shortfall came this winter. We encouraged our high school senior to look at other university of….state schools with less of a budget crisis (fewer cuts). Plus with the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), any student that can get into UW can certainly take advantage of this program. The WUE is a scholarship that brings out of state tuition down to the level of state tuition.
    We are very pleased with our son’s decision and as a result he is enrolled at a well respected accredited program for architecture (again, like atom. sciences, not that many choices in the NW).

  5. Dang, I took Atmos 101 when I was at UW. It was an awesome class and I cannot imagine it with just one TA!

  6. The reality is that your idealistic idea of raising tuition and raising financial aid isn't realistic. The people on the borderline will suffer. They always do. The more tuition hikes the more they suffer.

    Hate to be brutally honest, but I'm acutally a post-bac student at UW. Being more critical of education this time around, I'll tell you that it is the rare TA that provides enrichment to courses. I suspect this is because TA'ing is a compulsory part of getting the PhD so many TA's do the work because they have to, not because they're really interested in teaching. Most of the time TA sections are about putting in time/wasting time for a grade. I'm an A student, but I tend to avoid classes with "discussion sections" for that reason. I'd rather get a few more lectures with the instructor, than rehash the same information with a TA.

    Until Emmert cuts his own ridiculous salary (he is the third highest paid public university president nationally) and until they say new stadiums are off the table, and until they cut the stupid light rail connector to downtown Seattle project, ferget it. I am not for raising my tuition.

    And I think most students would say the same.

  7. First, I want to thank Cliff and those who have commented before me for beginning this very important discussion. I plan to add several comments on the topic today, as time permits and other comments inspire me.

    I am a recently-retired mathematics professor (with main research interests in applying math to physics and implementing math concepts with computers and programmable pocket calculators, and main teaching interests in the mathematical and computing tools needed in the sciences and engineering: linear algebra, differential equations, Fourier series and Fourier and Laplace transforms), committed member of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), and once president of the (now deceased, may resurrect) UW Local of the American Federation of Teachers Union. Recent floods of AAUP emails about the budget process and its probable impact have already had me very worried. But Cliff's blog post and these comments have provided an unusually vivid and moving example of what all of this will mean in practice: to our student-learners, faculty-teachers/researchers, and TAs (who are both learning-teachers and teaching-learners, positioned in between...)

    The main theme I want to explore in detail later is the double purpose of TA-sections of large courses with enrollments often in the hundreds:

    (1) to provide a more intimate learning environment where individual students can ask questions, revise or correct answers, and maybe even be invited to present answers or essays for group discussion (best in groups of 10 or less but marginally possible with 20-30...); and

    (2) to provide a "teaching-learning" environment for the TAs where the professor can run a "teaching seminar" to explain what should happen in section meetings and have the TAs practice and coach each other, and then the professor visits section meetings to "grade" the TA teaching.

    Cliff's posting shows that his class can no longer do this, and it's my impression of his style that this is probably important to him, and something he does with great commitment and success!

    I have to rush of fto an appointment. More later!

    Bob Moore

  8. I don't think raising tuition 7% when other state agencies (and cities/counties)don't have a choice and have to lay off or cut programs is what a deficit is about, especially during a severe recession.
    It would seem fair to cut programs across the board. While the tuition increase is not a tax, the Gov has already said no new taxes. If the Tyee Gridheads want to pay for a new Husky stadium without state help, then I might see a fee increase.

    This is being talked about currently (9am)on KUOW. Steve Scheer(sp) asked why philanthropists are not being asked to give more?

  9. Billions to banks, billions to obsolete technologies, billions to boondoogles-- stimulus money should go to universities across the country. That's what we'll need to be competitive in a world economy. The UoW budget should have been INCREASED as part of the recession and MORE students let in. Ah, but that's preaching to the choir.

  10. I don't think it's as easy as just "raise tuition". Or at least not a blanket tuition increase. I still like the idea of charging higher tuition rates for some of the more lucrative career tracks.

    But I also disagree of Teresa's views on TA's. I can recall several classes where TA sessions were essential to not only understanding breakneck speed lectures, but also in allowing a deeper discussion and learning than the 200+ student halls permitted.

    The following coursework came to mind...

    Most history courses
    Math, algebra, etc.
    German (foreign languages in general)
    Pretty much all science courses.

    Education is more than just going to a lecture. TA's are an essential part of higher education. The sessions they lead allow a lot more interaction, exercises, as well as things such as site visits and experiments.

    No, not every TA is thrilled to be teaching, but a good many are. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  11. This is a really sad situation. I adored the Meteorology 101 class I took at BCC, and did so well that the teacher asked me to become a mentor to other students in the class (which I did through the school's peer tutoring program). My friends and coworkers all know me as the resident weather geek, and my parents kept suggesting that I consider atmospheric sciences instead of my chosen career. I've even thought of it as a backup or second career. It's a shame that people with more ambition and science-oriented skills than I have can't pursue their dream. Given my love for this science, I really feel for them.

  12. All the programs are important. Steve Scher on his KUOW program asked the UW pres if this was a collective effort among the other schools.

  13. Somehow, the stadium comes into this? For the 1,000,000th time, the stadium funding "tax" is a user fee on tickets/hotel/motel/rental cars, etc. It has no effect on your personal taxes should you choose to not participate in these tourist based activities. You may not like football, but many of us do.

    That said, I agree wholeheartedly that the stimulus money should be going to education first...the jobs will return eventually, but will we have qualified educated people to fill them adequately?

  14. I have lots to share about other comments, but I've had many hours of urgent projects and now my wife needs the computer, so my other comments will be later tonight or over the weekend.

    Bob Moore

  15. I'm not sure I fully understand the higher tuition-higher aid model; tuition has already skyrocketed over the last 15+ years and this model sounds like it could really hurt the middle class' ability to afford school. Anecdotally, my experience with big class populations were some of the least valuable during my college career. That particular environment was not conducive for absorption of knowledge and cheapened my overall educational experience. I could see your argument having some merit at a teaching institution like WWU, but UW is primarily known as a research institution. If you need to retain TA's, maybe it's time to get creative with the grant-writing process.

    As an aside, graduate student stipends are very small. I would think this proposed measure would put a negligible dent in the budget.

  16. Finally, time for more from Prof. Bob Moore, this time about tuition raises (7% proposed.) What many of the posted comments concern has also been a main topic of AAUP emails, including some from Dean Cauce of A&S, if I'm recalling correctly. Here, many have advocated strategies for a "progressive tuition raise" - in effect raising the tuition higher for wealthy students and much less for poor students (like our income tax -- one of my projects today...) The probable way this might be implemented for a 7% overall raise would be to formally raise tuition 10% or maybe even 12% but then offer "tuition scholarships" for students who would have to drop out at that tuition level, effectively reducing their raise to 0%, 3%, or something higher they might be able to afford.

    The tricky part here is figuring out what "... can afford" means, in various family situations (young-single with parental support; versus older-married or single-parent-underemployed, for example!) And, somehow "student loans" need to be factored in here too.

    Most faculty emails agree that tuition raises (or even state budget money now) shouldn't be involved in building a new stadium, or probably other new campus buildings. But some point out that athletics attract income (including donations) that supports sports directly now and might be partially re-allocated to meet instructional staffing needs (TAs, etc, not just quarterbacks, centers, pitchers, goalies, etc...)

    So, as usual, there are two or more sides to every issue, and no easy answers, but it looks like lots of us are at least asking good questions, and sometimes "to question IS the answer!"

    More tomorrow,... maybe?

  17. Cliff,
    This is alarming. Having almost decided upon the UW, I ended up at Gonzaga University to study human resources and marketing. My professors have been so supportive of me and it's just felt like one big family. I feel for your program and the hit it is taking. Having talked to some Atmos. students myself, they always praised your introductory course. I will do my best to spread the word - that's all I can do. Thoughts are with you and the program...

  18. Finally, more from Moore on TAs in math in better times (10-15 years ago):

    (1) I only taught a really big class (with around 200 students) twice, but I had 7 or 8 TAs so they had only 25-30 students in their sections, where group discussions and individual-student problem-solving examples could work. This was a "pre-calculus" class for students who came to UW with a weak high-school math background that didn't prepare them for our usual freshman calculus classes, or majors in the sciences or engineering, and lecturing to a big crowd like that in Kane Hall-sized classrooms made me feel almost like I was performing on TV, with zero contact with my students except when I visited the TA sections.

    (2) I preferred our 50-60 student Freshman Calculus classes, with 2 TAs, where I had more contact "in class" with my students than Cliff's 3 TAs used to have, and my TAs and I could really connect with them in section meetings and with each other in conferences in my office.

    In either context, I did most of the "lecturing" (introducing ideas and the main examples) in "class" and my TAs did mostly homework, quizzes and exam-feedback in "section meetings" and there was some variation as to whether exams were administered in class or section. But my lectures were based mainly on my own lecture notes, diagrams, and examples, while the TAs did most of the surveying of the textbook, answering student questions and expanding stuff that was too brief.
    (But, if examples or discussion in the text was incorrect or confusing, I'd try to clear that up in lecture.)

    We'd have some team-designed "Big Quizzes" in Section between exams, with the same quiz in every section, announced ahead of time. But we'd also have some short individual "surprize quizzes" in just one section at a time, designed and graded by that TA. We graded exams and big quizzes together, each of us doing a couple of problems, the TA adding up total scores for her/his section, and me proof-reading the grading to be sure the scores were fair and the totals were correct.
    (The TAs also did some proof-reading and maybe adding comments, since they knew the students better.)

    Also, as I suggested in an earlier post, I'd visit section meetings (sometimes with other TAs joining), maybe share some comments during the meeting, and then meet with the TA to discuss techniques, problems with individual students, projectors, etc, so there was a lot of teamwork and "teaching how to teach" involved. That part was the most fun!

    Finally, I was lucky enough to have a TA as "Computer Lab Aassistant" when I offered "linear algebra computer labs" to my junior-year linear algebra classes, where my students used the Maple "Linear Algebra Pac" software to do visual and large algebraic and numeric experiments on their individual MAC lab computers, or I did "computer lecture-demos" where we could all watch the math happening and visualize the pictures that illustrated it. This was the best of all, but in these hard economic times, I'm sure UW can't afford this kind of learning experience for undergraduates, and probably not even for our grad students. But we can hope things will improve again, and maybe we can figure out how to help that happen?

    That's all I have to share for now.
    I hope it's been helpful in expanding Cliff's messages, and not too long or boring.

    Bob Moore

  19. That is disturbing to here about cuts in the Atmospheric Science program at UW. The priorities of State Government have definitely been part of the problem.

    One correction to your post; the University of Washington does not have the only Atmospheric Sciences Department in the Northwest. I graduated with a B.S. degree in Atmospheric Science from Oregon State University in mid-70's and the Atmospheric Sciences program there is still going strong. I enjoyed your book - The Weather of the Pacific Northwest. Today is a day to get out and enjoy it.

    Kim Scattarella

  20. Kevin, the Office of Financial Management for the state of Washington indicates that as of 2007 the STATE LOTTERY players have paid well over 100 million dollars for the three stadiums (King Dome...we're still paying for that one.). That was money that was suppose to go for education.

    The higher education system in the state of Washington is out of control. We need leadership from our elected official to force the various Universities and colleges to remember they are here to serve Washington students.

    A friend of mine had a daughter that went to Central. She transferred to UW. UW would not accept some of her credits...not University quality. She transfers back to Central. Central does not accept some of her UW credits. They do not meet Central standards!!

    That is a higher education system out of control!!

    The good news about this budget crises is that we can get the last bastion of 1900 century moving toward the 21st century.

    Higher education is too important to leave to the higher education system. Enough is enough.

    The higher education system in Washington is suppose to serve the STUDENT not the University Administration.

    Crises is always an oppportunity. Time to reform the higher education system.

  21. Good points, Vlad. I think the legislature should be tasked with how are we going to fund higher education in the long term in this state. But I also see the $9 billion deficit being across the board in which no agency will escape.
    I found out that WSDOT is without a rail branch director (RIF)at a time when passenger rail is setting records and freight mobility is needed in our rural areas.

    If there is a 7% increase, will it be sunsetted?

  22. kdscott,
    Unfortunately, Oregon State gave up their undergrad program in atmospheric sciences...so the UW is the only such dept in the NW...cliff

  23. Just checking in to see if anybody took issue with my comments.

    One final thought. I would support NO TUITION at the higher education system in the state. I would be willing to pay for it.

    However, the UW appears to be heading toward "elite" University status by raising tuition beyond most students ability to pay.

    A friend of mine is a newspaper editior. He thinks Tim Eyeman is a horses ass. Unfortunately, he has a better opinion of Eyeman than he does of UW.

    I think there is a real need for some serious discussion between the voters of this state and the higher education system. In a pissing match between the voters and the higher education system there are only losers.

  24. Thanks for pointing out who really loses in these tough budget times at the UW: the students. I'm curious as to why there seem to be little resistance or organizing on behalf of the student body on the UW campus. If I was a student facing either double-digit tuition increases or reduced support for classes (or BOTH), I would be furious.


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