Notice, November 1996

Notes from the Chair: Budget Oversight

This last year many faculty have worried a good deal about the concept of shared governance. The emphasis in their consideration often has been on the principles involved. I share these concerns, but I also want to take a fully pragmatic look at the issue. Here a key question is: what influence does the faculty exert in practice on the governance of the University? This perspective is particularly important now, as a Senate Task Force on Governance begins to study whether our universitywide organization, essentially unchanged for more than 30 years, remains effective for these times.

At the October Board of Regents meeting, a discussion revealed a clear undercurrent of frustration among some board members regarding budgeting and policy-setting at UC. The Regents were presented with the proposed budget for next year (1997-98) in the usual form _ a proposed set of incremental increases over 1996-97 lumped into several broad categories. In this format, the actual allocation of funds to and within each campus is not revealed, even for major academic program areas such as libraries. Nor are there important issues covered, such as how much will be allocated to temporary faculty as opposed to ladder-rank faculty, a ratio that affects faculty workloads and the quality of the students' educational experience. In October, some of the Regents seemed to want details on these kinds of educational issues.

For its part, the Senate historically has been given responsibility by the Regents for academic "quality control," which means jurisdiction over admissions, courses, curricula, and graduation requirements. In line with these responsibilities, Regents Standing Order 105.2 also gives the Senate the right "to advise the President concerning the University budget." In the past, this prerogative has included some meaningful ability to confer at the systemwide level about academic characteristics of the campuses before the administration decided how to make allocations.

UC's new budget initiative has changed that: funds are now allocated to campuses almost completely on the basis of fixed formulae. This decentralized budgeting method brings many potential benefits to campuses, but it also appears to change the linkages between campuses on the one hand, and the Office of the President, the Universitywide Senate, and the Regents on the other. On the surface at least, the last three groups appear to have been dealt out of the oversight game. What they have been left with are a few, basic "accountability" measures regarding the academic and budgetary performance of the campuses. It may be, however, that these measures will increase in number and quality in the months ahead. (See "New Budget Initiative's . . ." on page 1 of this issue.)

In practice, UCOP, the Regents, and the Senate are differentially affected by these events. The Office of the President will continue to receive information on campus academic programs through many administrative links _ the Council of Chancellors, the Council of Academic Vice Chancellors, standing interactions with campus budget officers, etc. For their part, Regents may decide that they want to be included in a broader budget conversation. They do hold the ultimate control levers as SP-1 and SP-2 remind us. Thus even without independent access to information, they actually are not so badly situated.

The Senate, in this new budgeting era, must ask two questions at minimum: By what mechanisms can we provide substantive advice on the budget at the systemwide level, and how are we to develop information that will allow us to do this? Absent accountability measures that detail campus activities on issues important to faculty, the Universitywide Senate has to rely on divisional representatives to its systemwide Planning and Budget Committee to develop an information base that can inform its advising.

The University annually must make the case that the public's support dollars are being used wisely. The best arguments that this is happening are based on the quality of UC's education and research programs, arguments that address the core of faculty's professional activities. At the universitywide level, we continue to push for effective means to advise on the budget and to influence academics from the perspective of practitioners. In these efforts, a broad-spectrum view of the institution is in the Senate's best interests . . . for that matter, in everyone's best interests.

--Duncan Mellichamp
Chair, Academic Council