The Daily: UW Alumni Association Encourages Participation in Advocacy

The UW Alumni Association (UWAA) is waking a sleeping giant.

Recently, the UWAA has been working to encourage UW alumni to advocate for the future of education at the university to their respective legislators.

Washington State University and Western Washington University’s alumni association presidents teamed up with the UWAA president to write an opinion-editorial piece that was published in The Bellingham Herald about their apprehensions for the future of higher education in the state.

The article was an unprecedented call to the general public — more specifically to the 470,000 alumni who the organization collectively represents — to engage in the current economic situation.

“Since their founding, our state’s universities have been able to continually grow, thrive and evolve with critical financial support from the Legislature,” the presidents wrote. “Not anymore.”

The presidents also sent their op-ed directly to Washington state legislators to ensure that the Legislature is aware of the actions alumni are taking.

“[I] hope that legislators read it and realize that we’re waking a sleeping giant,” Colleen Fukui-Sketchley, president of the UWAA, said. “Nearly 500,000 alumni … are constituents of their districts.”

Fukui-Sketchley said that many alumni associations across the nation have started to mobilize former students in response to proposed cuts to state funding for the UW.

“Due to these cuts, access is reduced for both in-state and middle-income families,” she said. “That’s of great concern to me and everyone in the UW community. We want our alums to understand exactly what’s at stake, to feel motivated, to take action and to know how to do so.”

The UW’s Office of External Affairs created a document, “The Better Way to Fund the UW and Higher Education,” after the Washington House of Representatives released its budget, which explained the potential effects it would have on students and families.

“Students continue to pay more but are at risk of getting less,” the report said. “UW students will pay $2,308 more in tuition over the next two years. While State Need Grant funding is provided to mitigate the impacts for low-income students, no additional financial aid is available for middle-income students.”

The document also detailed the effects budget cuts will have on Washington residents, saying that 150 in-state students will not be accepted to the UW in addition to the potential loss of more than 1,000 jobs that would support families.

However, those who advocate for higher education funding are making progress. Paul Jenny, vice provost of the UW’s Office of Planning and Budgeting, said he believes Interim President Phyllis Wise’s letter to the Legislature, in which she detailed how different cuts will impact the UW, helped minimize the House’s budget cut to the university.

“We’ve already seen impact,” he said in regard to the state’s House budget, which suggested adding 15 percent to a middle-level version of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposed cut, as opposed to another proposal, which added 30 percent to the governor’s cut.

Ben Henry, vice president of the Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS), said he thinks that alumni advocating for the importance of higher education opens a new resource of support for the university that is spread across the state.

“These efforts are still developing, but already we are seeing legislators who are more attune to the perspectives of alumni,” he said. “There isn’t a single person in the state Legislature who doesn’t have a UW alum in their district.”

Fukui-Sketchley said she thinks the op-ed prompted more alumni to voice their support for higher education.

“Their response has been fantastic so far,” she said. “Our collective efforts have yielded thousands of alumni calls, emails, letters and visits to legislators.”

Jenny said that a collective action of the students, parents, staff, faculty and alumni from universities is necessary to impact the Legislature.

“It wouldn’t be successful with just alumni,” he said. “The cross-selection of all the constituent groups working together makes it successful.”

Henry said that the alumni force is still developing, but they hope to become larger players and advocate for higher education directly to the Legislature like he and others from ASUW and GPSS do during legislative hearings.

“We are excited to see [the efforts of the alumni] and would welcome a partnership,” he said.

In addition to the op-ed, alumni and other supporters of the UW can take action against budget cuts using the UW Impact website. In 2009, the UW Alumni Association Board of Trustees created UW Impact as a program to increase public awareness about the importance of the university and higher education to Washington state. It also provides information about issues relating to higher-education funding in the Washington Legislature and helps people communicate with their legislators.

Fukui-Sketchley is pleased not only with the efforts of the alumni so far, but also that students are being active and voicing their opinions to the Legislature. She hopes to see that action continue.

“This legislative session could extend until June, and we need all Huskies to stay loud until it comes to a close,” she said.

As the presidents wrote in their op-ed, they believe now is the time to “call attention to the challenges facing higher education and the need for the Legislature to step in and save our universities.”

UWAA, with the help of UW Impact, plans to continue spreading the word to all of the UW alumni to contact their district legislators and advocate for higher-education funding.


By Daron Anderson