NOTES FROM THE ACADEMIC SENATE CHAIR
Over the past several months, hundreds of individual faculty members have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours engaged in discussion through systemwide and divisional committees to produce nearly 300 pages of in-depth commentary on the 29 first round recommendations from the UC Commission on the Future Working Groups. The Commission discussed a subset of those recommendations at its June 14 meeting, which marked an important turning point, because it was the first time the Commission moved from a listening role to active deliberation. Because the divisional faculty worked so hard to analyze the Working Group recommendations, the Senate representatives were able to play a critical role in the discussion. I am comfortable that as the Commission continues its second round deliberations, discussion will be driven largely by the Senate’s analysis.
Vice Chair Dan Simmons and I also presented the Commission with a recommendation from the Academic Council that maintaining competitive remuneration for faculty should be UC’s highest priority. To that end, the recommendation proposes three things: downsizing the university by reducing the number of employees, including faculty, though attrition; instituting a moratorium on non-essential construction projects; and requiring Chancellors to identify specific offsetting FTE cuts in other programs when they propose a new academic program.
The Academic Assembly considered Council’s recommendation at its June 16 meeting, along with an alternative statement drafted by the UCLA Senate division. The Assembly voted to release both the UCLA statement and Council’s recommendation for formal systemwide review and comment in the fall. I encourage you to consider both in light of their implications for the campuses. Your input will help provide guidance to next year’s Council.
The purpose of the Council recommendation, more than anything else, is to provoke a conversation within the UC community about our priorities and financial commitments, and to challenge the Commission, which has been looking at smaller, piecemeal improvements, to take on bigger issues that more closely match the size of the problems facing UC.
Another important issue before the University is the future of Post-Employment Benefits. Vice Chair Simmons and I recently completed a tour of the campuses to brief faculty on the work of the President’s Task Force on Post Employment Benefits. This task force is studying the sustainability of the University’s retirement programs and the urgent problem facing the University with regard to the growing unfunded liability of the UCRP. The Senate wants very much to protect and preserve this very important benefit that has been in many ways the anchor of our recruitment and retention efforts. So far, I think the Senate has been successful in persuading the administration that a defined benefit plan is the only viable UC faculty plan, and we will continue to stress the importance of preserving total remuneration for faculty as much as possible.
Although the timeline is still flexible, it is expected that the Task Force will release a report in late July with options and recommendations for the future of retiree health and pension benefits, which will be circulated for Senate review in early August. These options will be introduced to the Regents in September, with the President recommending a specific plan to them in November. The Regents will hold a special December meeting to discuss and act on these options. The Academic Assembly will focus on the options at its December 1 meeting.
It is important that the Council and divisional senates be kept as well informed as possible about the PEB issues. Our office will do its very best ensure that the Senate is as deeply engaged and informed as possible over the summer and into the fall. Once the work of the President’s Task Force is transmitted to President Yudof, it is our goal to get it out to the Senate as soon as possible. The Senate will be challenged to give expert, timely advice.
I understand that some faculty are troubled by what seems to be a chaotic process. It is indeed appropriate for faculty to demand adequate time to review these items before they go to the Regents. We will make every effort to engage the Senate in that effort. At the same time, I want to acknowledge that the administration has been very flexible in involving the Senate in early, continuous, and considerable consultation with faculty on these issues. The Senate must also be flexible and responsive.
There is growing support in Sacramento for restoring the UC budget and preserving the quality of higher education in California, which gives me hope, but I won’t sleep easily at night until I know a budget is signed that restores funding. The California gubernatorial candidates should know that UC is good for sustained economic recovery and growth, as well as for the public good. We are the key to jumpstarting the economy, stimulating discovery, and meeting the needs of a rising generation of young people who are looking to higher education for an affordable, accessible education of high quality.
Historically, the Senate has been reluctant to engage in political advocacy, but it has become necessary if the state is to understand the educational needs of its citizens at a time when competing countries are creating educational strategies that include California-style higher education systems, while California is dismantling its own. I recommend that advocacy continue to be a faculty priority.
I encourage you to read the University Committee on Planning and Budget’s Choices Report and the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools’ Report on Comprehensive Review. Both efforts represent the Senate at its best. BOARS Chair Sylvia Hurtado will present the Comprehensive Review report at the July Regents meeting. It is a thorough and valuable review of admissions practices on all of the campuses and projects a way forward for our undergraduate admission processes to can help implement and fulfill the goals of the new eligibility reform policy taking effect in 2012.
Similarly, the Council of UC Emeriti Associations has completed its biannual survey of emeriti activities. The work done by this arm of the faculty is inspiring: from continued teaching and research to administrative leadership, our emeriti demonstrate faculty commitment to UC and deserve continued plaudits. They also underscore the need for you to become involved in and aware of potential changes to your retirement benefits since working for UC is not just a short-term job.