NOTES FROM THE ACADEMIC SENATE CHAIR
At the end of a challenging year, I write to remind you of the Academic Senate’s many positive achievements. Keeping these accomplishments in mind as we move forward into another difficult year will hold us in good stead by reminding us that every cloud has a silver lining and that no action is taken in isolation—lessons that we all need to relearn every now and then.
First, let me express my deepest appreciation to you for your the hard work and patience during this tumultuous year. Although the furlough plan is painful and we would all prefer that such actions were not necessary, I think this plan is better than layoffs. It is fair and it allows us time to examine how UC can be restructured to maintain quality, access, and affordability under a different budget model.
The Senate was asked to expedite a number of reviews this year, and in particular, I want to commend your heroic efforts in responding so quickly and thoughtfully to Standing Order 100.4 and the three options for furloughs and salary reductions. The Senate should be proud that its comments were taken into consideration and addressed in revising the policy. I have been questioned by faculty as to the actual degree of Senate consultation in the development and review of SOR100.4 and the furlough options. I want to be clear: The Senate’s views and comments were taken into consideration and addressed in a serious and respected manner.
When I began as Chair of the Academic Senate, President Yudof had been on board for only two months, and coming from outside the UC system, he had an especially steep learning curve. To his credit, he was receptive to learning about Senate practices and procedures, and over time, I believe that he has truly come to appreciate and value UC’s shared governance tradition. There is trust, open communication, and respect, and as a result, the decision making process is better as a whole. From the start, he worked closely and for considerable time with the Senate and student affairs staff to examine the eligibility reform proposal and its potential effects, and he ultimately determined that it was the best thing for the University to undertake. Eligibility reform was a major victory for the Senate and for California students, and an amazing way to begin collaborating with a new President. In fact, President Yudof told me that not only does he value the Senate’s input, but he couldn’t possibly afford the kind of expertise the faculty provide. He doesn’t just read the Council summary memo; he reads every single comment that we submit to him as part of our systemwide reviews. We are listened to – and heard – and changes are made based on our reviews.
2008-09 Academic Council Chair Mary Croughan with Vice Chair Henry Powell
But clearly, we are not out of the woods yet; much remains to be done. As we contemplate the University’s next steps, I note the creation of the UC Commission on the Future, as authorized by The Regents at their July meeting. The UCPB-drafted budget planning principles and UCFW’s memo on the Coordination of Budget Planning and UC’s Future both made the point that UC must now make hard choices about core priorities in an effort to put the University on better long-term footing, and I believe they were both instrumental in facilitating the development of the Commission. Moreover, the Senate will continue to have a key role on the Commission. The incoming Chair and Vice Chair of the Senate will be members of the Commission’s steering committee, but the majority of the work will be accomplished in working groups, which will include both Senate and non-Senate faculty, students, staff, alumni, higher education experts, and partners from CSU and CCC. These working groups will address topics including, but not limited to, education, research, access and affordability, finance, and revenue streams. The goal is to articulate a new and creative strategic vision for UC’s future while maintaining our hallmark characteristics: academic excellence, research leadership, and accessibility and affordability. And please note that everything that comes out of the working groups that falls under the direct authority or advisory role of the Senate will come to the Senate for full review.
Some may question the wisdom of moving ahead with such a critical project during these times of uncertainty, but I contend that the harms of inaction are greater than the harms of investigation and planning. UC is no longer able to absorb and defray state-mandated cuts, and the state’s fiscal projections are not reassuring. We must plan short-term contingencies and long-term revitalization, and we must do so now.
One of my biggest fears is that the University will begin to lose its ability to recruit and retain exceptional faculty, and I think it will be tempting for some discouraged faculty and staff to look outside UC for opportunities. At the same time, budget cuts to higher education are a national trend, and many of our competitor institutions are not in a position to recruit faculty away from us the way they normally would be. It may be a bromide to state that faculty are the heart of a university, but in our case, it is also true. Your creativity, passion, and faith are needed to keep UC at the apex of higher education. By engaging in Senate work, you have a real opportunity to help shape our University and determine our future. At this time, perhaps more so than ever before, tangible, demonstrable changes result from our words and actions; do not squander this opportunity through cynicism and inaction.
One issue that frustrated me this year was the introduction of two bills in the California legislature – ACA 24 and SCA 21 – which would have repealed the historic constitutional autonomy of the University and The Regents. This legislation proposed a politicization of UC that would be detrimental to UC’s excellence and to its teaching, research, and service missions. I cannot conceive of a more harmful piece of legislation affecting higher education in the state. The University and State have both received inestimable benefits from UC’s autonomy from the legislature and from political influences.
Here in the Office of the President, there are still obstacles to overcome. But the people at UCOP are extremely committed to the University and to the mission of UC, and they are working hard with reduced staff and resources to do everything they can to increase efficiency and maintain quality. I know some faculty are concerned that UC is not doing enough to improve its public image, but the new External Relations team has a paradigmatically different approach and temperament than its predecessor. The new team is pro-active, and a happy side-effect of the downturn in the print newspaper business is our ability to recruit highly talented people from that industry to aid us, rather than to oppose us.
I also want to thank and congratulate our systemwide Academic Senate Executive Director, Martha Winnacker, for a successful and bold first year. Filling María Bertero-Barceló’s shoes could only have been daunting, but Martha surpassed our expectations. Her previous UCOP experience and her legal and analytic training have enabled her to learn Senate processes and to guide complicated issues from inception to completion, all while providing thoughtful and careful perspective. Her professionalism is exemplary, and we are lucky to have her assistance, which I hope will continue to benefit the Senate for years to come.
I know that incoming Chair Harry Powell and incoming Vice Chair Dan Simmons look forward to hearing your voices, however critical, because they know that criticism is born of caring. I also know that Harry and Dan will work to keep the communication lines open with the Office of the President and maintain the excellent working relationships the Senate has with OP and with The Regents—both of which are at relative zeniths, yet both of which can be strengthened still further.
As for me, I’m not sure what the next year holds. My eldest will soon matriculate at the Davis campus, and I will still have my research to help occupy my time. But believe it or not, I will miss serving as your Chair. I have met exceptional new friends and colleagues, and have had the time of my life. I have learned so much about this wonderful University. Perhaps most importantly, though, I have had the opportunity to witness firsthand the excellence embodied in my peers, in you. I am both grateful and humbled.
Members of the 2008-09 Academic Council pose with UCOP Senior Leadership