Share story

Two weeks ago, University of Washington President Michael Young caused a small uproar on the Seattle campus when he took President Obama to task for calling on universities to stop raising tuition.

But the UW president’s tone was quite complimentary on Monday, when he praised two items in Obama’s 2012 budget: An increase in research funding, and continued support for Pell grants and federal work-study programs.

Reached by phone late Monday, Young said he still felt the president’s proposal to punish universities that raise tuition was “bad policy,” and that it may also be dead: “I think he got enough feedback that the policy is off the table.”

Of the research money, Young said:  “We warmly applaud the president’s initiatives in this regard.” (The UW is one of the largest recipients of federal research money in the country.) And of the Pell grants, he wrote  “We are grateful for the president’s recognition of this reality and his support of students, especially in these difficult times.”

In January, Young was widely quoted in the national media for describing Obama’s call for universities to stop raising tuition as  “nonsense on stilts.”

In January — and again on Monday — he  said Obama’s comments showed he doesn’t understand how the budgets of public universities work.

“They really should know better,” Young said in January. “This really is political theater of the worst sort.” (The UW’s escalation in tuition is largely fueled by state cutbacks in higher education funding.)

Young’s sharp comments about Obama elicited a heated discussion on an email list that is used by about 1,600 UW professors. Some critiqued Young’s tone and his criticism of the president; others defended him.

Young’s political roots appear to be decidedly more conservative than those of the faculty at the UW. Young clerked for the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, and he was tapped by President George H.W. Bush to serve as an ambassador for trade and environmental affairs.

But on Monday, he said he voted for Obama in 2008. “I thought he made a very compelling case,” Young said.

Obama has historically received overwhelming support from UW professors and staff.

Just before the 2008 election, Obama had received 591 campaign contributions from the UW community. His Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, had received seven.