Cauce did not announce any sweeping new initiatives, or big changes, but pledged not to be complacent — and to try to raise faculty salaries.
The University of Washington’s new president vowed Wednesday to promote both “access and excellence” at the state’s flagship school — and to push for higher faculty salaries.
On her first full day on the job without the “interim” title attached to her name, Ana Mari Cauce delivered the annual UW president’s address to an enthusiastic crowd of nearly 500 students, faculty and staff.
She praised the Legislature for improving access to the UW with a tuition cut this year but said lawmakers must now focus on improving conditions for faculty. That, she said, will mean giving them a raise to ensure that the university remains competitive with other schools.
“It’s top faculty that make us excellent and that make our promising students want to come here,” she said, adding that salaries have fallen “too far behind.”
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The UW Board of Regents appointed Cauce, a longtime professor and administrator, as the university’s newest president on Tuesday. She had been serving as interim president since March, when the school launched a nationwide search to replace former president Michael Young.
“I’m here today, humbled by a responsibility and privilege that’s greater than I ever imagined, on behalf of the university that I really love, that I grew up in,” Cauce said. “And it just feels right.”
Cauce started her UW career 29 years ago as an assistant professor of psychology and has worked her way up through the ranks.
She didn’t announce any sweeping new initiatives and said she did not envision fundamentally changing the course of the university. But she promised not to be complacent.
“I see the role of public education as one of breaking down boundaries and breaking through barriers,” she said.
The school admitted its largest freshman class ever this year, she pointed out, adding that she would not be “chasing ever-higher GPAs or test scores” in order to become more selective.
“We already turn down more than I’d like, and turning down more will never be one of my pride points,” she said. “That’s not who we are. We want to be a place sought out by do-gooders, change-makers and innovators.”
In a question-and-answer session after her speech, Cauce was asked about her position on faculty unionization, a subject that has been under discussion at the UW.
Cauce described herself as strongly pro-labor but said she has serious reservations about the idea, given the size and complexity of the faculty.
“I don’t think that one faculty union, representing us all, can really honor that incredible diversity that we have,” she said.
Issues of salary and workload vary greatly across departments as different as radiology, psychology, dentistry and English, she said.
Cauce’s selection Tuesday came with a unanimous vote and a standing ovation inside a packed boardroom in the UW’s Suzzallo Library.
Amanda Pirog, 28, a new library employee, heard the euphoric response and decided to come hear Cauce’s speech.
“If people were that excited and enthusiastic, I figure she must be a good choice,” Pirog said.
Christina Tran, a university sophomore studying biochemistry, agreed that Cauce was the right person for the job. “She knows this place, she knows this faculty. She knows how the UW works.”