NOTES FROM THE ACADEMIC SENATE CHAIR
Welcome to the start of a new academic year. This is a challenging time for me, as I step into a new position after a year as Senate vice chair, and for the University, as it embarks on a major leadership transition. I am eager to take on the challenges and look forward to working with President Napolitano, the Academic Council, the administration, and the Regents on the most important issues facing the University.
Clearly, many of the most critical issues are financial, and the Senate will be working this year to ensure that fiscal health, competitive total remuneration for faculty, and adequate support and infrastructure for faculty research are among the University’s highest priorities.
In August, the systemwide Senate office prepared a briefing booklet for President Napolitano that includes a primer on UC shared governance and a summary of Senate views, including disagreements with the administration, on topics such as total remuneration, graduate education, research, admissions, UCRP, and rebenching. I have emphasized to President Napolitano that the Senate is a source of enormous brainpower and analytical expertise, that we take our consulting role seriously, and that we want to collaborate closely with the administration to tackle thorny issues. I noted that while the Senate’s deliberative process can be lengthy, it is able to address critical issues from multiple perspectives and produce quality results in part because we take the time to deliberate and consult broadly through an established committee structure.
I have been following the ongoing conversations occurring in California and nationally about the purpose of higher education. Over the past year, we have seen new legislative pressures to standardize undergraduate education across UC campuses and across the public higher education segments, including through online education. The focus of these conversations is usually access, affordability, and accountability, defined narrowly. The national media regularly produces articles about the growing cost of higher education, and state legislatures propose metrics and benchmarks intended to ascertain whether public universities are spending taxpayers’ dollars wisely. In California, the metrics typically mentioned relate to undergraduate graduation and time to degree rates for freshmen and transfers, tuition, and student debt. Undergraduate education and “efficiencies” receive nearly all the attention, often to the exclusion of UC’s role as the state’s premier public research and graduate education institution.
In fact, UC has an outstanding record of achievement in undergraduate education, according to any metric. UC’s four and six year graduation rates have been improving steadily over time and are now among the best among UC’s Comparison 8 and other AAU universities. Additionally, it has expanded access so that over 42% of our students come from Pell grant-eligible families.
But what we hear less often is that UC is also internationally recognized for the quality and strength of its graduate programs; that the National Research Council ranks 140 of UC’s 700 doctoral programs in the top ten nationally in their respective fields; that UC has produced up to 25% of the faculty in the UC and California State University systems; and that the bulk of our $5 billion in extramural funding is possible through the engagement of graduate students.
All of us in the UC community should think about how we can better communicate the extent to which UC is made great through research and graduate education, and how graduate education and research directly impact the undergraduate education experience.
All educational activity at UC is nurtured in the context of the scholarship and creative work that is central to our research and service missions. UC faculty are deeply engaged in undergraduate education—but our research also informs our teaching, and enables us to bring new knowledge directly to undergraduate classrooms. Graduate students also advance undergraduate education as teaching assistants. Many are great teachers, but it is their engagement in the scholarly research enterprise that inspires our undergraduates. New scholarship is developed, validated, and disseminated in graduate seminars, laboratories and studios. Graduate students are immersed in these environments and model their experiences when they interact with undergraduates. They raise the bar we set for undergraduate education significantly.
One of my main goals this year is to incorporate these perspectives into policy conversations to ensure that higher education metrics are not drawn too narrowly. It is not that we haven’t tried this already – UC has advertised its research and graduate education missions consistently over the last two decades – but we need a new strategy for getting the story out. I hope the Senate and President can work together on that project. Provost Dorr and I discussed graduate education at the November Regents meeting, and I hope this will also help open a new and vigorous discussion among the Regents.
I expect enrollment management to be a major topic of discussion in the Senate this year, as UCOP develops a long-range enrollment plan for the system. An informal working group composed of Senate members and administrators from UCOP and the campuses has been sharing information and perspectives on enrollment issues in the context of the current systemwide enrollment planning process and competing demands related to academic, financial, access, diversity, space, political, and other pressures. As an informal body, the group will not issue a report or recommendations, but its notes and ideas will be shared. Its discussions have helped inform a broad spectrum of stakeholders, and will continue to inform the enrollment planning process.
I am pleased to report that UCOP has agreed to conduct an updated study of faculty total remuneration to clarify where UC faculty stand against UC’s competitors. Former Senate Chair Bob Anderson, UCFW Chair Dan Hare, and former UCFW/UCPB Chair Jim Chalfant are working with the administration to develop an evaluation methodology that will accurately portray the full scope of faculty compensation and replicate the methodology of the 2009 study as closely as possible. I expect the methodology plan to be completed by the end of the calendar year and the final study to be done by summer 2014.
The Senate continues to engage the administration on the Composite Benefit Rates project discussed extensively last year. The administration recently proposed a new rate structure that is controversial among Senate bodies that have reviewed it. Senate objections are grounded on the principle that any charges assessed against a funding source be based on an actual benefit received by the employee. UCOP has modeled the effect of four new composite benefit rate scenarios on various fund sources at each campus and provided the results to the campus budget directors. The Academic Council will be sharing its concerns with President Napolitano about the impact of the proposed rates on research grants, and I have asked divisional Senate chairs to engage their campus administrations in discussions about the models.
An RFP for online course proposals funded through the Innovative Learning Technology Initiative (ILTI) has been released to UC Senate faculty. ILTI is UC’s plan to use the $10 million the Governor has asked UC to set aside for online learning technologies. It will fund online and hybrid course development and a systemwide pilot effort to facilitate cross-campus enrollment in online courses. ILTI will not provide any funding for non-matriculated student enrollment in online courses, a Senate concern in past years.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to ask every Senate faculty member to seriously consider Senate service. Every faculty member has at least one issue about which they care deeply. I urge you to find out what Senate committee is involved with your issue and serve on the committee. Your analytic skill and expertise could be an invaluable resource to the University and to your colleagues. Senate service represents an opportunity to share in the governance of the University and shape its future. It has been an absolute pleasure to work on BOARS and the Academic Council with likeminded people and fascinating colleagues who care deeply about the University, even when they disagree.
My sons are third generation Cal alumni. The University has given me and my family so much over the years that I felt obliged to give back in many ways. When we contribute through Senate service, we help advance the goals of the faculty, but we also advance this great institution.
Fiat Lux, Bill