New UW provost sees a glass half-full

SEATTLE — The University of Washington’s new provost said she sees the school’s cup as half-full — despite budget cuts and the economy.

“Budget cuts do bring out the creativity in people, and we are doing amazing, creative work here that will position us well for the future,” Ana Mari Cauce told The Seattle Times.

Cauce left her job as dean of the UW College of Arts and Sciences to take over as provost on Monday. As second in command at the university, she’ll run the school from day to day, making academic and budget decisions.

The Cuban-born academic says the economic downturn is good for UW in some ways. For example, every job posting draws hundreds of applicants. And since Seattle housing is more affordable now, many good academics are now considering the university.

The university says its state funding has been cut in half during the economic downturn, but much of those cuts have been made up for with more tuition dollars from students. The governor is talking about another cut of up to 17 percent to help cover a state budget gap.

Cauce sees the school as if it’s a patient going through a crisis.

“When you’re in periods of flux and turmoil and crisis, there’s real possibility for change,” said Cauce, who was trained as a clinical psychologist.

She said a joke among academics describes a provost as someone who follows the college president and says, “What he really means is, ‘No.’ “

She says she will have to say “no” a lot, but that’s not the whole picture. Someday people will see how well-positioned the state was to embrace the economic recovery when it comes, she said.

Cauce, 55, is expected to be approved by the university Board of Regents this month, but it’s just a formality. She started the new job Monday, with a $405,000-a-year salary.

“She is very clearheaded and open and sincere,” said Susan Astley, president of the UW Faculty Senate, adding that the faculty was pleased by her nomination. “It just seemed unanimous the faculty were quite thrilled.”

UW President Michael Young has called Cauce “very smart and extremely knowledgeable” about the university and much of its workings.

As dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, she ran the UW’s largest and oldest college, with 25,000 students.

Young said Cauce has done good job of managing budgets and deploying money in a way that realizes a larger vision.

Like most university presidents, Young spends much of his time fundraising, promoting the university and lobbying the Legislature. Because he’s only been UW president since July, Young expects Cauce’s institutional knowledge to be especially valuable.

Cauce was born in Cuba and grew up in Miami. Her family fled Cuba during the revolution, when Cauce was 3. Both her parents took jobs in shoe factories, hoping Castro would eventually be deposed and they could return to Cuba.

Cauce said she grew up in a family that was “pretty close to dirt poor,” which has made her cautious about spending money. She also noted her father was a Cuban minister of education.

For recreation, Cauce likes to take long, meditative walks, and she considers herself an amateur birder.

On vacation last year, she helped count penguins in Australia, It was hard work that included pulling baby penguins out of their burrows so they could be weighed and tagged.

Cauce pulled up her sleeve to show a scar on her bicep. That, she said proudly, is a penguin bite.

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