Senate Source

May 2011

Dan Simmons




Dear Colleagues,


As you know, the University of California is in a period of extreme financial difficulty. The state government is asking the University to absorb continued reductions in public support while maintaining current enrollment levels and fees, and to do so with increased instructional efficiencies. Some say UC can solve its budget problems if faculty would cut their research load and teach more undergraduates. That argument is misleading and reveals a basic misunderstanding of the research mission and its role in UC’s excellence. The faculty generates significantly more funds for the University than the state provides. Moreover, the research excellence of the UC faculty is a principal driver of its educational program.


The London Times recently ranked the world’s universities based on reputation. UC has five campuses in the top fifty, and six in the top 100. This amazing achievement demonstrates the strength of the University of California system. But UC’s reputation is not the reputation of a physical place or a specific campus; it is due to its faculty’s tremendous research contributions. The University is not a factory producing widgets in the form of undergraduate baccalaureate degrees. UC is distinct from CSU and the community colleges because the UC faculty is devoted to world class research in addition to excellent teaching.


Faculty are working with the President and chancellors to guide the University through this budget turmoil, and we will respond as necessary. Faculty recognize that we must accommodate more students and manage the additional teaching assistants necessary to increase enrollments at reduced costs. But the goal of the Academic Senate, above all, is to protect the quality and prestige of the University. Cramming more students into classrooms and increasing the number of non-research faculty instructing them diminishes the quality of education we provide, the market value of a UC undergraduate degree, and ultimately, the prestige of the University of California. We will not serve the needs of the state by attenuating the research contributions of UC faculty.


The Board of Regents and President Yudof understand that UC faculty are competing with the world to be the best. I have urged them to protect our historic excellence as a research university—an environment in which research faculty convey their love of learning and discovery to the young minds who are the best of California’s students. The message I try to communicate at every Regents meeting is that, however the University moves forward, we have to maintain our educational excellence and research quality. We can restore lost measures of affordability and access when and if the people of California decide they are willing to fund their public institutions again, but if we lose faculty quality, we will have lost it for decades.


It is unclear whether the state will adopt an “all-cuts” budget or come to some resolution that increases taxes. If UC loses another $500M in the final budget, all bets are off. UC could face changes that would transform the University as we know it. It may be inevitable that we move to a high fee/high financial aid model with much greater nonresident enrollment.


Some chancellors are renewing their advocacy of differential fees across campuses as a way to increase revenue. The Senate has strongly opposed differential campus- and major-based fees in the past. In the near future, the Senate will have to reconsider whether individual campuses should be given the flexibility to determine faculty salaries and tuition. We must do everything we can to ensure every campus’s aspiration to succeed at the major research level and maintain a goal of gaining AAU membership for all nine general campuses without doing harm to the well-established campuses. At the same time, we must not lose sight of the great strength of the University of California as a system. The budget crisis must not become a vehicle for dismantling the powerful systemwide governance structure that produces the policies that make the institution great. The Senate must continue to advocate for UC as a system of ten campuses, each with its own strengths, but united by a common mission and policies, each benefiting from the reputation and service to the state of UC as a whole.


I also anticipate an increase in the number of proposals for Self-Supporting Programs (SSPs) and professional degree fees (PDFs) as a way to generate revenue. CCGA has issued guidelines for new proposals to ensure that core academic programs, and particularly graduate programs, are not negatively affected by new endeavors. The Senate will protect the quality of the educational experience for our students.


The Senate has developed a series of aspirational statements about the future direction of the University, most recently the final report of the Special Committee on a Plan for UC, led by former Senate Chair Harry Powell. A task force constituted by the chairs of three standing committees and four divisions is now developing its implementation plans for the Special Committee’s recommendations. Meanwhile, a joint Administration-Senate committee is beginning work on “rebenching” the allocation of state funds to the campuses. Council’s implementation task force has forwarded an initial recommendation for that body to consider. I hope to present this strategic look at the University to the Regents before my term ends.


The faculty is in the best position to inform the legislature and public about the importance of UC’s research mission. We all must pitch in to the effort to urge state leaders to end the state’s disinvestment in higher education and communicate to the public that UC is the state’s best economic and social investment. I urge faculty who have contacts with policymakers—particularly Republicans—whose districts benefit from UC research or the location of a campus to contact them and explain the importance of the University to their districts and the implications of refusing to adequately fund UC. Please add your voice to these efforts in your capacity as private citizens by writing letters to the editor or op-eds. See page 1 for more information on how to become an advocate for UC. I thank you in advance for your participation and commitment to the University.


Fiat Lux,