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The Washington Technology Industry Association and the Technology Alliance — two of the largest technology member organizations in the state — have joined the fight to preserve the computer science department at Western Washington University.  In a letter to Western Washington University president Bruce Shepard, WTIA president Susan Sigl makes the case that computer science and other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs are critical to the state’s future.

Sigl writes:

We are writing to you to encourage you to preserve STEM degree programs at WWU.  We know you have difficult decisions to make and that you have a number of diverse constituencies to accommodate as you make these budget decisions.  We want to make the point that STEM graduates are among the best suited to become and stay employed, under almost any economic conditions.  STEM graduates, particularly Computer Science are needed by technology companies both now and in the future.  STEM graduates command higher salaries and usually have excellent benefits along with higher than average salaries.

Sigl concludes: “We hope that you will preserve WWU’s excellent Computer Science program and limit budget cuts to STEM degree programs as much as possible.” Full letter here.

A similar letter is being crafted by the Technology Alliance, which hosted its annual luncheon in downtown Seattle this week in which higher education was discussed as a top priority.

Meanwhile, several professors at WWU have released a statement following a meeting with the Dean of the College of Science and Technology and the Provost on Tuesday.

Here is that message, some of which was covered in our interview earlier this week with WWU computer science chair Geoffrey Matthews:

1. The President feels that budget cuts, at whatever level, are to be used to redirect funding away from low quality, low need programs and toward high quality, high need programs (“rebasing”).

2. The Provost feels that some budget cuts must take place within the College of Science and Technology.

3. The Dean of the College of Science and Technology feels that within our college, the Computer Science Department should be the target for any large cuts.

We disagree with point 2: Cutting science and technology in favor of other disciplines in a time of recession is bad for the university, the economy, and the state of Washington. The only way Washington is going to lift itself out of the budget crisis it is in is through high-paying, high-productivity, high-tech jobs. Without the training for those jobs, the recession will be deepened and prolonged.

We disagree with point 3: Our graduates are among the most highly regarded in the state. In standardized, national exams, our students consistently score in the 90th percentile among peer institutions. We obtain this result because, individually, every faculty member in the Computer Science Department works hard to stay current, and holds their students to extremely high standards. A Computer Science Baccalaureate from Western Washington University is highly prized by all tech employers in the state, and aggressively recruited every year.

According to the Mission Statement for Western, our number one Strategic Goal is: “Build upon Western’s strengths to address critical needs in the State of Washington.” It is an established fact that computer science will be the most pressing need from higher education for the State of Washington in the foreseeable future. This indicates to us that the Administration of Western has made some mistakes in judgment, and we only hope they can be persuaded to change their minds before they do irreparable harm to WWU, and to the businesses and people of the State of Washington.

Previously on GeekWire: Western Washington Provost: Computer science department needs to step up to the future

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