Gov. Chris Gregoire has earned a standing ovation. She gave an articulate, heartfelt and appropriate scolding to Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard over salary increases -- nearly 14 percent over the next three years -- in the new contract between the university and its faculty.
State workers have, for the most part, been subjected to pay freezes or even pay cuts over the past four years. The state has had to lay off employees. The Great Recession has hit this state hard because it depends so heavily on sales tax revenues.
The private sector, too, has been walloped. Jobs have been lost and pay frozen.
Meanwhile the cost of goods and services has been increasing.
College tuition has increased dramatically, about 14 percent a year for most state schools. Western was recently granted the authority by the Legislature to boost tuition by another 16 percent to help the university make up for the loss of taxpayer subsidy.
The decision to grant significant pay raises is outrageous, given the circumstances. Gregoire's letter hit the nail on the head with a 12-pound sledgehammer.
"My signature is barely dry on the budget -- a budget that protected funding for higher education. Together we celebrated that very difficult victory. The Legislature and I fought together to keep all of higher education from slipping backward. But we never intended significant salary increases for faculty employees at the same time higher education institutions raise tuition on our students," Gregoire wrote.
Later in the letter, the governor said: "In the worst economic times in 80 years, I am surprised that Western has entered into a collective bargaining agreement that provides for a salary increase of 5.25 percent effective 2012-13, a 4.25 percent salary increase each year during the 2013-15 biennium, a 10 percent increase for faculty and instructors who are promoted, and an additional 15 percent increase in stipends for department chairs."
She concluded the two-page letter in writing: "The challenges in balancing our next biennial budget and protecting education will be daunting without new revenue. I believe the agreement between Western and its faculty will hurt current and future efforts to protect and increase funding for public higher education. Moreover, I believe it erodes confidence that institutions will prudently exercise the autonomy and flexibility granted to them by the Legislature."
It is understandable why the faculty wants a big raise -- who doesn't? -- but it is simply irresponsible to grant it at this time. That money will have to come from somewhere. It means Western students (and their parents) will be paying more while cuts will have to come to other areas of the university. Services will diminish and jobs could be lost.
In addition, this puts the leaders at the other state universities in a tough spot with their faculty.
The Great Recession stinks. On that we all agree. But in order to get through it, there has to be shared sacrifice. That's not happening at Western.