NOTES FROM THE ACADEMIC SENATE CHAIR
The Senate’s top priority this year has become, by necessity, ensuring the long-term health of the University, and indeed, its very survival as a public institution. Over the coming months, I hope to engage, as deeply as possible, with the Academic Council, systemwide standing committees, divisions, and the administration to ensure that we maintain the atmosphere of collegiality and shared governance that will protect this great institution. I also plan to visit each division at least once to meet with its executive council and faculty, and I want to hear your views about the challenges and choices confronting UC during this difficult time. In addition, I will be thinking about how the Senate can help a downsized UCOP serve the divisions in a way that preserves the University as a ten campus entity.
I do not believe there will be a second year of furloughs and pay cuts, which I think everyone realizes would demoralize faculty to the extent that many would consider leaving the University. UC would need decades to recover from such an exodus of talent. But at the same time, I worry that the state will not live up to its promise to restore last years’ one-time cut of $305m, and come spring, we may find ourselves back at square one. Unfortunately, in an uncertain budget climate, all options, including additional campus cuts and layoffs, higher student fees, and furloughs will have to remain on the table and be considered in a worst case scenario.
So I will be re-doubling my efforts to persuade UC faculty, staff, students and alumni that advocacy is not only the business of President Yudof and his team, but everyone’s business as members of the UC community and as citizens of the State of California. I want faculty to do more to convince legislators that investing in higher education is fundamental to sustaining the California economy, but we have to demonstrate to Sacramento that we are not advocating out of self-interest. The budget cuts hurt students and their future, and by shutting the door of opportunity in students’ faces, we are foreclosing on the future of the State.
The Senate has not tended to engage in public advocacy, but I believe this has to become a larger piece of what we do. UCOP also wants to increase its engagement with Sacramento and will be looking at ways Senate members with connections to lawmakers can use their existing relationships to advance UC’s case at the local and state level. Toward that end, the Intersegmental Committee of Academic Senates is planning a new effort to coordinate the advocacy efforts of the three segments of higher education across the state; President Yudof also has proposed making UC a central part of the 2010 campaign for governor by inviting the candidates to detail their plan for higher education in a time of crisis.
Both Vice Chair Daniel Simmons and I believe that one of the most important issues before the Senate this year will be our response to the UC Commission on the Future and its recommendations. I always think it is helpful to look inward in a time of crisis, and the Gould Commission is an opportunity for UC to do just that. Senate faculty are well-represented on the Commission, which will be addressing big issues in a relatively compressed timeframe, and I believe the Commission’s work will provide food for thought for the Senate, which ultimately is responsible for all of the topics the Commission has been charged to address. We will monitor and participate in all aspects of the Commission’s work to make our formal review in the spring as expeditious as possible. Chairman Gould and President Yudof expect that the Commission’s ultimate product will be something that faculty have analyzed, examined, engaged with, and modified in the best interest of public higher education.
My experience as a former UC San Diego divisional chair taught me that the faculty have to address shared governance every day. At the same time, one of the things I love most about UC is something I did not find at universities in my native Ireland: a willingness of the people in power to listen to and respect the views and opinions of the faculty. President Yudof has shown an authentic interest in shared governance and has been willing to consider virtually any Senate proposal. Understandably, his decisions to implement furloughs and disallow them on instructional days are unpopular, but I don’t think it is fair for faculty to claim that shared governance was not respected in these decisions when the input of the Senate, and indeed of the staff and students, was solicited and taken seriously. It is not a failure of shared governance when the administration disagrees with the Senate on something for which the administration has oversight; it is the President exercising his authority. I have enjoyed working with President Yudof because I know that he is driven by a personal commitment both to higher education in general, and preserving the excellence of the University in particular. Furthermore, I would ask the President’s most vocal critics to remember that the state budget crisis is not of his making and to re-direct your anger and energy to higher education advocacy, and local Senate involvement.
The September 24 walk-out reflected a tremendous and understandable sense of dismay. The subsequent Berkeley “teach-in” I attended that day reminded me of my work organizing the first sit-in at an Irish university in 1968. It was heartening to witness such an obvious passion for higher education among the speakers and participants who also recognize the global problem of insufficient support. I hope that faculty, students, and staff will capitalize on this momentum and remain positively engaged in educating a wider audience about this crisis and its consequences. This is not the time to give up on the University.
Indeed, now is the perfect time to get involved in the Academic Senate. Two-thirds of the faculty at my campus are not involved in Senate service, but the one-third who are know that they really have a meaningful voice in running the University. The atmosphere of collegiality and the diversity of scholarly disciplines represented on Senate committees make service an incredibly rich experience. It helps you step outside your own field and experience the totality of the University, and I think within the Senate you find some of the richest veins of information about policy that ultimately guides the University.
UC is a remarkable institution. It is ranked as the greatest public university in the country, if not the world, and has sustained itself through very difficult times. We can weather this storm, too, but only as one faculty, one community, One University. Please contact your local Senate office to find out how to help.