We were having a long midweek dinner at Le Pichet in Seattle, a sort of anticipatory wake for the Seattle P-I, where my friend Tom had worked as a reporter for 20-some years. Tom’s pretty crusty and tends to brush even the most irksome things off with a joke.

But being a fifty-something journalist facing a post-newspaper era in a town awash in laid-off reporters, reality had started to sink in. Even so, referring to the demise of his employer and the economic times in general, at one point Tom gestured outside to First Avenue and said, “But this is no crisis. Somalia has a crisis. We don’t.”

With sufficient perspective, of course, that’s true. Relatively speaking, Seattle has no crisis in spite of losing a daily newspaper, Washington has no crisis in spite of a $9 billion shortfall, and Washington State University has no crisis in spite of facing its worst budget cuts since the Depression. But that kind of perspective can admittedly be difficult to maintain in such times as these.

In the 1933–35 biennium, the state legislature hit Washington State College with a 36.5-percent budget cut. But that was following earlier cuts. Reading through the early 1930s minutes of the WSC regents meetings, it’s tough to follow and tabulate the continuous economic blows not just to WSC, but to the University of Washington and the “normal schools,” also. It’s actually a fascinating, if depressing, narrative. Unfortunately, it does not offer the balm of historical perspective that one might hope for. For we live in different times.

In 1932, a meeting of higher education representatives decided to meet legislative cuts with salary cuts, applied as equitably as possible. Those making $3,600 and up would take a 10-percent cut. Those making $2,600 and up would take a seven-percent cut. Those making $2,100 to $2,500 would take a five-percent cut. And those making less than $2,100 would suffer no cut.

President Holland, who earned $12,000 a year, had his salary reduced to $10,800. Ida Lou Anderson, mentor of Edward R. Murrow, continued to earn $1,600 for her nine-month appointment. (Only two people at WSC making more than $2,100 did not take a salary cut: football coach O.E. “Babe” Hollingbery, who made $8,000 a year, and assistant football coach and baseball coach A.B. “Buck” Bailey, who made $3,750 a year.)

By the fall of 1932, Holland and the Regents realized they would have to make further, more drastic, cuts. Those making $1,200–2,100 would take five-percent cuts. Campus janitors, who made $97.50 a month, took a $5 cut.

The following spring, 1933, everyone was hit with additional salary cuts with totals ranging from 15 to 25 percent. (Hollingbery and Bailey had mysteriously disappeared from the roster, if not from campus.)

What might we learn from our history? Maybe nothing. But it might be fruitful to ask how Holland managed to hold the campus together in spite of such hardship. How did he retain such eminent faculty members as Claudius Johnson, Hannah Aase, Herbert Kimbrough, and Edward Gaines in spite of slashing their salaries by 25 percent? Actually, the relevant question is more likely, “how did he maintain any morale whatsoever?”

For the Depression offered the retention solution. They had nowhere better to go.

Tim Steury, Editor