NOTES FROM THE ACADEMIC SENATE CHAIR
2012-13 promises to be another difficult and demanding year for the University of California and the Academic Senate as we confront momentous fiscal challenges and lingering uncertainty. We begin the academic year in a holding pattern, waiting for the outcome of Proposition 30 to give us cues not only about how we should approach the next few months, but also about how we should think about the long-term future of the University.
The day after the election, the Academic Council will hold a teleconference to discuss the outcome. I hope that meeting is short, and we congratulate ourselves on a job well-done in educating the public and getting out the vote. If the news is bad, I will be prepared to engage the Council in a discussion that may lead to a recommendation from the Senate leadership for a significant tuition increase. During my six years in leadership roles in the UC Davis and systemwide Senates, I have participated in countless conversations about budget cuts, and I am convinced that there are no fixes that can bring our expenditures down to the reduced level of our revenues. At the September Regents retreat, several Regents asked whether UC is on the edge of the precipice or over the cliff. If Proposition 30 fails and we do not find corresponding revenue increases to make up for the resulting shortfalls, we will be, indeed, over the cliff. Although faculty are very concerned about maintaining affordability and access, we cannot sacrifice quality further without endangering UC’s status as the nation’s premier public university.
Regardless of the election outcome, I will ask the Council to identify its funding priorities for the future. It is absolutely clear that maintaining quality and excellence has been the core concern of the Academic Senate, and I believe the overarching issue for the next five years will continue to be quality.
At the Regents retreat, we heard many examples of how UC campuses are dealing with the budget cuts and the harmful consequences of those cuts at the campus level. I gave the Regents my own perspective on the effect of cuts at the departmental level, and what additional cuts will mean for the quality of the academic enterprise.
I focused on the departmental level because departments are the core academic unit of the University. Great universities are born of many great departments. They are the “villages” where faculty pool their intellectual strengths to create new knowledge. They are incubators where senior faculty nurture young colleagues to become nationally and internationally recognized scholars, and where faculty “raise” students by mentoring them and monitoring their progress through a major and by constantly renewing the curriculum. The departments are where we most directly measure quality, and where we most immediately experience the effects of cuts.
Over the last decade, I have watched my UC Davis departmental colleagues institute reforms that have streamlined the curriculum, attracted enough undergraduate applications to increase our enrollments four-fold, and decreased degree completion times by one year. We did this by ensuring that no impediment, such as course availability, halted student progress. The result was substantial savings for students and their families. A graduating class of 100 students with reduced time to degree saved their parents about $1.3 million. I am certain there are comparable examples on each of the campuses.
Budget cuts threaten this progress. We only need to look at what has already occurred to predict what is to come if Proposition 30 fails. The appendix to Item F1 in the July 2012 Regents agenda listing measures campuses have already taken in response to budget cuts dramatically illustrates their impact. Campuses cannot afford to retain or replace faculty, which increases class size, limits offerings in the major, extends time-to-degree, and increases the overall cost of education. One campus has eliminated 200 teaching assistants, calling into question departments’ ability to offer a full sequence of capstone laboratory courses. Programs on several campuses have eliminated elective courses—reducing the number of paths to graduation, forcing students to wait for space to open in a limited number of required classes, and diminishing their ability to tailor their education to their interests and opportunities. Summer course offerings, a key element in decreasing time to degree, are being reduced or eliminated. Staff advising has been reduced on several campuses, and one campus reports that students can see an advisor for 15 minutes each quarter, at most. This is not the future any of us want, yet it is a future that is entirely predictable.
There is a different future, one with adequate resources to ensure excellence in all aspects of university life, in which we can afford to attract and retain outstanding faculty and staff and recruit the best students. This future is only possible with increased state revenues and a renewed commitment to public higher education.
One of our biggest challenges is inadequate graduate student support. A recent report authored by the Academic Senate’s Task Force on Competitiveness in Graduate Student Support outlines some of the biggest impediments to the University in competing for the best graduate students in the world.
Enrollment management in the context of the budget rebenching project will be an important topic this year. The Senate will continue to discuss principles for an enrollment management plan that produces equitable rebenching outcomes, addresses the financial incentive campuses have to enroll nonresident undergraduates, and ensures that UC meets its Master Plan obligations to resident undergraduates.
UC Merced is approaching capacity, which means that UC may not be able to guarantee a referral offer of admission to every eligible student in the near future. I have asked BOARS to consider whether UC’s historic Master Plan commitment to guaranteed access for the top 12.5% should remain one of its priorities and whether it is practical and feasible to do so without state funding for all qualified students.
The Senate is working with UC’s State Governmental Relations office to schedule one meeting each in Sacramento for CCGA, BOARS, and UCORP in the early spring to give policymakers and faculty a chance to interact and discuss issues and policies of common interest. I also plan to invite several Regents to attend meetings of the Academic Council to expose the Regents directly to faculty views on challenges facing the University.
I am urging the Academic Council to set campus differences aside and work closely together in the interest of the entire University to help solve its enormous problems and challenges. I believe the Senate is strongest and works most effectively when we view UC as one University with ten campuses.
UC is still the greatest public university in the world in a state that is the envy of the world. I am concerned about the problems we face now, but I am also reassured that throughout the history of the University we have always been able to find solutions for ensuring an affordable, accessible, quality education to new generations of Californians.
Clark Kerr attributed the success of UC departments to, “a close working relationship between the Academic Senate and the administration, and also within the campus administration.” His words remain relevant today. By working together for the good of the whole University, I believe the Senate and administration can protect our faculty and departments—the foundation of UC’s quality—and sustain UC’s prominence in service to the people of California.
The brilliance of the UC faculty and their commitment to shared governance continues to amaze and inspire me. I look forward to working with each of you this year, and urge those of you thinking about Senate service to get involved. And please, do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or concerns about the Senate, policy issues, or shared governance.
Fiat Lux, Bob