NOTES FROM THE ACADEMIC SENATE CHAIR
The good news from Sacramento is that California finally has a balanced budget and it appears there are more revenues than anticipated in the Governor’s budget. UC has a four year plan to increase state general funding. The bad news is that the plan does not make up for six years of budget cuts, provides less than what UC needs to maintain quality, fails to recognize UCRP as a priority on par with CalPERS, and is tied to a set of performance measures that do not work for UC. UCOP is doing everything it can to ensure that these metrics are not part of the final budget. As faculty, we need to lobby to make sure that higher education is a top priority and that UC receives a portion of the increased revenues. The current plan to increase the state budget by 5% in 2013-14, and by 5%, 4%, and 4% in successive years, without any tuition increases – simply does not work.
The other extremely troubling news relates to legislative efforts to increase the involvement of for-profit online education providers in a UC education. On March 11, Senator Steinberg introduced amendments to Senate Bill 520, which would require the three public higher education segments to develop online courses which could be offered for credit to students in all three segments. The proposed legislation offers the possibility of third party, for profit corporations offering for-credit courses to our students. This raised many red flags, and by Friday of that week, Vice Chair Jacob and I posted a letter detailing our opposition. On April 24, the Academic Council met in Sacramento. Your Senate leadership spoke in opposition to the bill at a hearing of the Senate Education Committee. I have not received one email or call from a faculty member questioning our position.
Faculty are sometimes accused of saying “no” to everything and I have been asked, if we do not support SB 520 and the performance measures, what is it that we do want? Let me offer some answers.
First, in terms of online education, the Senate has been collaborating with Provost Dorr to promote the UC Innovative Learning Technology Initiative (ILTI), a UC-wide effort to strategically deploy the $10 million earmarked for online instruction in the Governor’s 2013-14 budget. Our planning has involved hundreds of people at meetings in both the north and south of the state. We will soon issue a request for proposals challenging faculty to creatively use instructional technology to make high impact courses available across the system.
Online education is not new to UC faculty. In 1997, I attended an all-University conference at UCLA to discuss the Internet’s potential role in higher education, including what we now call hybrid courses and flipped classrooms. At that conference, our imaginations were ahead of the technological tools actually available. But I remember how one senior faculty member said that if the new technologies posed interesting questions that could be addressed through scholarship, UC faculty would embrace them and claw their way to the forefront. Indeed, since then faculty have increasingly incorporated digital resources into their teaching to achieve their educational objectives and a high-quality student experience, using existing peer-review based processes to ensure the quality and rigor of those courses. Our current challenge is to identify the role of technology in expanding teaching and learning across UC campus boundaries, and as we do, to ensure that our teaching remains grounded in cutting-edge research.
What are our other priorities? Three years ago, the University Committee on Planning and Budget issued the “Choices Report,” which made recommendations about the budget choices facing UC in perilous financial circumstances. The report is worth revisiting for its prescient predictions about the pressures we face today even as funding improves.
The Choices Report promoted important criteria that should be employed in budget decision-making and priority-setting. It identified maintaining academic quality as the most important of all.
The Report clearly stated that the student-faculty ratio is one of the most important indicators of quality, and suggested that maintaining the student-faculty ratio should be the crucial factor in budget decisions, even if that meant limiting enrollment and curbing construction projects. Today, however, we seem to have given up on the goal of restoring the student-faculty ratio, as the pressure increases to move students through UC more quickly and cheaply. We may not recover from the increase in the student-faculty ratio for many years; however, we cannot let it drift to even higher levels without consultation. Planning and Budget Committees on every campus should engage their administrations to develop plans for monitoring and controlling this crucial measure of quality.
I strongly support the concept of accountability and the goal of improving completion rates and time-to-degree. However, we need to identify measures and a path to those goals that are reasonable, consistent with our resources, and that maintain UC’s mission and commitment to quality. The Senate will continue to insist that that any initiatives that seek to incorporate new technologies into the learning experience or improve numerical outcomes remain consistent with our foremost goal—to enrich and deepen the quality of our students’ educational experience.
The Choices Report emphasized that maintaining teaching and research excellence depends on attracting and retaining the best faculty in the world, and providing those faculty with competitive total remuneration by protecting UCRP and sustaining competitive salaries.
UC has made UCRP funding a priority, honored its commitment to current employees by rewarding future service under current Plan terms, and taken on limited debt to maintain the health of UCRP. The Senate strongly supports these and additional efforts along these lines. Last month, Council endorsed a UCFW letter supporting UCOP’s plan to increase the employee and employer contribution rate to 8% and 14% beginning in July 2014, as long as the increase is accompanied by an offsetting across the board salary increase of at least 3%. Although the increases will be painful for both employees and departments, and the new 8% ceiling exceeds Council’s previous recommendation for an employee contribution no higher than 7%, we believe the plan is critical to meeting the goal of fully funding the Annual Required Contribution and addressing the unfunded liability.
The President is reviewing Council’s salary recommendation, and I am confident that there will be a faculty salary plan approved before the end of the year. The administration also has agreed to conduct a rigorous updated study of total remuneration for faculty and non-represented staff to clarify where we stand.
So what do UC faculty want?
- An institution that supports scholarship and learning as its highest priority
- A supportive environment to pursue scholarship and engage students in learning
- Transparent and equitable budgeting practices
- Competitive compensation and benefits underpinned by sound planning
- Diversity among the professoriate and admission practices that promote access
In sum, I suppose you could say that we want to continue to be part of the best public research university in the world.
Fiat Lux, Bob