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Monday, November 15, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Kate Riley / Times staff columnist

In this arena, they're not fighting like cats and dogs

Seattle Times editorial columnist

Did you hear the one about the University of Washington student who transferred to Washington State University and ... ?

Wait! Before I dive into the delicious custom of trash-talk leading up to Saturday's annual meeting of the cross-state rival football teams, consider that the presidents of the two universities actually are working hard to temper that feisty rivalry with a just-as-spirited partnership.

WSU President Lane Rawlins confesses he actually has started pulling for the Huskies — only when they're not facing the Cougars. And new UW President Mark Emmert, an alumnus with a standing bet on the Apple Cup, is embracing the two universities' relatively young tradition of presenting a united front in the ongoing battle for adequate state funding. Get this: The two presidents are submitting their first-ever joint budget request to the Legislature.

"We can have fun with our sporting events," says Emmert, on the job since July. "But on every other working day, we need to be linked at the elbows. We both have statewide missions."

Two years ago, prompted by a 10-year decline in state higher-education support, Rawlins and Emmert's predecessor toured the state under the auspices of "Cougars and Huskies for our Economic Future." Their goal was to drive home the economic importance of the state's two research universities to the entire state.

Although that message is embedded in the state's higher-education master plan, the state's four-year universities and community colleges have had limited success in reversing the trend of higher-education funding. Recession and massive Boeing layoffs helped to depress state revenues, and voters recently rejected a sales-tax increase that would have boosted funding for education at all levels. Complicating the matter is the burgeoning number of would-be students, expected to peak in 2008 with the graduation of the state's largest-ever high-school graduating class.

Universities have been making do. But officials have pushed back — necessarily. At a joint meeting before last year's Apple Cup in Seattle, the UW and WSU regents announced they would gradually cut back on the number of students the state does not fund — that meant 1,200 fewer spots at the UW and 700 at WSU.

Part of the problem, both Emmert and Rawlins concede, is the universities have not done the best job of advertising their considerable impact on the region.

For WSU, that comes more naturally because of its land-grant tradition where community connection is a high priority. Created by the Morrill Act of 1862, land-grant colleges were intended to push higher education out to the citizens, push research and expertise out into industry through extension programs and tailor programs to what industry needs.

For instance, as Washington's wine industry has boomed from 19 wineries in 1981 to more than 240 today, WSU has worked with the industry through research, development of a mother block of disease-free plants to help maintain high standards and of a degree program in grape growing and wine making.

UW in some ways has been more aloof, though its accomplishments are no less transforming. Emmert quickly ticks off examples, including the 1 billion people who have received the UW-developed Hepatitis B vaccine. For the state's $330 million biennial investment, he notes the university's total budget is $3 billion, thanks to grants and other sources — a 10-1 return.

The former Louisiana State University chancellor also hails from the land-grant tradition. That should serve the UW well as it bolsters its branch campuses, makes the case to lawmakers for more state investment and to the greater community for the UW Foundation's $2 billion fund-raising campaign.

Together, the UW and WSU make an even more compelling case. Besides their joint budget request, they are angling for more management flexibility by pressing for longer-term performance contracts with the state. And the UW's Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs and Washington State University Extension have established a joint Policy Consensus Center, intended to be a nonpolitical resource for helping the region solve prickly policy issues.

Like other chauvinistic UW and WSU types, Emmert and Rawlins will probably be trading barbs at the Apple Cup in Martin Stadium.

But after Wazzu "Cougs" the game — Oops! Can't help myself — rest assured they'll continue their strong alliance for the benefit of both institutions and the state.

Kate Riley's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is kriley@seattletimes.com. Look for more of her thoughts on the STOP blog, our editorial online journal at www.seattletimes.com/stop

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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