On November 9, UWFF members in Tacoma supported UW Dental School faculty and alumni attending the Board or Regents’ meeting so as to voice concerns about the handling of the financial crisis in their unit (See pictures below). The origins of the emergency are complex, but at the center lies not only (as has been widely reported) investment in the Sandpoint Pediatric Dentistry Center, which failed to deliver on projected revenues, but also, and more fundamentally, years of unaccountable, top-down leadership in the school and a dean who effectively side-lined faculty governance.
Equally troubling, in the wake of Dean Berg’s departure, were the solutions proposed by the Provost to the now thirty-six million dollar Dental School deficit. These solutions entailed not simply closing the Pediatric Dentistry Center, but also discontinuing four residency programs and one degree-granting program; several of these represent the only training programs in that specialty in the state, so that the closure of the programs threatens to impact the availability of specialized dental care in the region. While the closure of these programs has been tabled for the moment, cutting them remains an option moving forward. Moreover, the Provost is actively considering significant cuts to Dental School staff and faculty, which jeopardize both the quality of education and of patient care.
As we write, Dental School faculty are asking that the administration heed faculty recommendations on revenue generation and, more broadly, that they give faculty a meaningful voice in identifying workable solutions to the current financial challenges. They argue that to impose top-down solutions is to continue the very approach that created the crisis in the first place. Faculty seek a recommitment to shared governance and the opportunity to identify solutions to the fiscal emergency that do not undermine the reputation of the Dental School, its ability to realize its core educational mission, or to provide specialized care. This means hiring faculty and staff to fill existing unfilled positions and agreeing to the principle that the staffing levels must ensure quality of patient care and of graduate education.
Dental School faculty also aim to open a discussion on the distribution of the tuition dollars that the school generates. Presently, the school generates approximately $15.8 million dollars in pre-doctoral and graduate tuition revenue, but in FY 2017, it retained only $7.7 million (less than half) of this amount. Faculty are asking, too, that they receive a reasonable allocation of summer tuition dollars. In Summer 2017, around $3 million was paid in student tuition, yet UW SOD received only $180,000 of this revenue. This last issue, in particular, connects the crisis in the Dental School to crisis situations and the prevailing climate of austerity across the UW system. It is vital that we understand the allocation of tuition revenues and ensure that this process does not undermine the educational mission of the units where this revenue is created.
Eva Cherniavsky – Professor of English, UW Seattle and UWFF President
Stuart Taylor – Acting Assistant Professor of Oral Medicine, UW Seattle
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