UC Commission on the Future Shifts into Drive
The UC Commission on the Future has begun work on its charge to explore how UC can continue to serve California and maintain quality, access, and affordability in a time of diminishing State resources.
The 20-member “Gould Commission,” named for co-chair Regent Russell Gould, includes Senate faculty, administrators, regents, students, staff, and California business and labor leaders. Its five working groups—Size and Shape, Access and Affordability, Education and Curriculum, Finance, and Research Strategies—are also populated by a mix of constituencies, though Senate faculty comprise the largest contingent on each group.
Senate faculty on the Commission include Academic Senate Chair Henry Powell; Senate Immediate Past Chair Mary Croughan, who also co-chairs the Research Strategies Working Group; UCSB Professor of Italian and French Cynthia Brown, who co-chairs the Size and Shape of UC Working Group; and UCR Professor of Economics Anil Deolalikar. In addition, UC Davis Professor Keith Williams co-chairs the Education and Curriculum Working Group, and Senate Vice Chair Daniel Simmons sits on the Commission ex-officio.
The Commission has met twice, most recently in Oakland on November 12, and Working Group co-chairs are conducting “Listening Tours” of the campuses, with visits to Santa Barbara, Merced, Santa Cruz, Irvine, Riverside, and San Diego completed.
The Commission has been asked to complete its work by March 2010, but President Yudof has promised the Academic Senate that any recommendations will undergo full systemwide Senate review before Regental action. Nevertheless, the Senate is cautious because the work of the Commission overlaps considerably with areas for which the Senate has delegated authority.
“The Senate wants to ensure that the Commission’s work proceeds according to principles of shared governance and respect for the authority and review processes of the Senate,” said Chair Powell. “We want the Senate to be involved earlier rather than later, and we want to encourage interaction between the working groups and standing Senate committees. That way, when the Commission finishes and delivers a set of recommendations to the Senate for a 60-day review, it is already familiar with the thinking and can respond quickly and effectively.
“The Senate should not wait for UCOP to give us a direction out of this financial crisis,” he adds. “We should take responsibility and come up with ideas ourselves. I think we can make the effort be forward-thinking and more proactive than reactive.”
Senate Vice Chair Dan Simmons agrees that the Senate should not remain on the sidelines. He wants the Senate to prepare itself to respond to the Commission’s recommendations by developing a clear sense of the faculty’s positions and priorities for the future direction of UC. “If the Senate wants to influence the work of the Commission,” he says, “committees should insert themselves actively into the process and opine on, for example, the viability of new and existing revenue sources; the extent to which UC can rely on student fees and increased non-resident enrollment to generate revenue; and the viability of President Yudof’s recent white paper proposing an expanded federal role in supporting higher education.”
He adds that UC’s biggest priority must be protecting its faculty. “It would take much longer—perhaps decades—for UC to recover from a significant loss of faculty, than from the damage to affordability and access brought by higher fees and reduced enrollment,” he said.
When the Commission roster was first announced, the Academic Council recommended that the President add faculty members from colleges of letters and science to help balance an overrepresentation of professional schools that was an unintended consequence of the disciplines of the Senate leadership. Regent Gould agreed, and the divisional and University Committees on Committees worked diligently to produce nominations for the five Working Groups; those rosters are now filled with faculty from all ten campuses and a variety of disciplines, but this extended process contributed to the delayed kick-off of the Commission.
Working Group Goals
UC Santa Cruz Chancellor and former Academic Senate Chair George Blumenthal is co-chair of the Size and Shape of UC Working Group, which he says will focus on how UC relates to the external world—its relationship to the Master Plan and the other segments of higher education, the optimal size of the University, and the best possible enrollment mix to meet the needs of California. The Group also will examine how UC organizes itself internally— the role of the campuses relative to each other, new opportunities for campuses to work together academically or to achieve savings, and the role of the Office of the President. He said the underlying goal is maintaining UC’s quality and access to higher education for California students.
“A successful outcome for the Working Groups and the Commission will be to provide a vision for how the University can operate in the new environment—a vision that can be supported by the administration, the Senate and the people of California,” he said. “I also think it is necessary that the Working Groups come up with recommendations that are not obvious, but that take us in new directions. It is clear that UC will need to change and adapt to the realities of the world we live in, so my hope and expectation is that the Working Groups generate interesting, stimulating, and innovative recommendations.”
He said the Commission will not be providing a blueprint for privatization. “I can tell you that I am not for privatization, and nobody was asked for their opinions on privatization or any other topic before they were appointed. On the other hand, UC has been going down the road to privatization for 20 years. The funding we get from the state today is half of what it was in 1990. Our challenge is either to find a way to deal with it or to find a way to reverse ourselves on that path and go back to a model that has been very successful for California—free or extremely cheap, but first-rate public education.”
Professor Williams, who also is chairing the University Committee on Educational Policy this year, says that his Education and Curriculum Working Group will consider the current mix of curricular offerings on the campuses, a three-year degree as a possible path for some students, and alternative models for educational delivery, including how online education might help UC address its immediate problems, expand and enhance educational access, and allow UC to make more effective use of the available offerings. For example, new multi-campus programs may allow UC to take advantage of systemwide resources for the benefit of the whole.
“We know that faculty have many questions about quality and there will be a lot of skepticism,” he said. “We will need to show if quality can be maintained if these new modes allow us to do things more effectively.”
The Access and Affordability Working Group will discuss undergraduate and graduate enrollment issues, including the scope and duration of UC’s enrollment reduction plan and the appropriate mix of resident, out-of-state, and transfer students; fee and financial aid issues; different models of educational delivery as a means to broaden access; intersegmental partnerships and collaborations; the role of the K-12 system; and the California Master Plan for Higher Education. Faculty on the roster include Sylvia Hurtado, the current chair of the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS), and two past BOARS chairs, Michael Brown and Mark Rashid.
Student Regent Jesse Bernal, one of the co-chairs of the Working Group, said that access and affordability are central components of the UC identity and help set UC apart from other universities, and he recognizes the desire for transparency and maximum input from the campuses.
Former Academic Senate and BOARS chair Michael Brown says while UC’s quality has been suffering, the “public” mission of UC has taken even greater hits and the combination is tragic. “We have a tremendous challenge to rearticulate, in compelling terms, what UC means to California and the nation in terms of the hope, opportunity, and prosperity that comes from making a world-class education democratically available. The UC idea means a great deal to the faculty I have talked to over the years. I hope we are all up to this huge challenge.”
UC Irvine Professor and University Committee on Planning and Budget Chair Peter Krapp is one of eight faculty representatives on the Funding Strategies Working Group. He says the latest state budget projections from the Legislative Analyst’s Office are a grim reminder of the pressure on public higher education funding. The Funding Strategies group will focus on ways to maximize and enhance traditional sources of revenue, ways to offset mandatory cost increases and reduced state support with alternative sources of revenue, and opportunities for new efficiencies. As UC redoubles its efforts to secure more stable support from the state, he says, it must also evaluate ways to optimize revenue-generating activities that fit with its academic profile.
“My goal as a faculty representative is to take some budgetary habits of the institution off auto-pilot, and re-evaluate capital planning needs, the scope of technology, and the administrative footprint of the UC. I expect the outcome of the work group discussions to be a series of recommendations to the UC administration and the Academic Senate in spring 2010 that can be implemented soon, either to enhance revenues or cut costs, without harming the academic core.”
Senate immediate past Chair Mary Croughan said the Research Strategies Working Group will be identifying high-priority recommendations for enhancing the research and productivity of UC faculty, staff, and students. Its recommendations likely will focus on the role and funding of graduate students, the staffing and resources needed to enhance UC’s research efforts, alternative funding models to support research, and strategies for stressing the importance of UC research to the State and the nation and its role in jumpstarting the California economic engine.
Professor Croughan says the most important goal for the Commission is to maintain and strengthen the excellence of the University of California, while identifying the means to address the reduced funding UC has been receiving from the state for over 20 years. “While our advocacy efforts with the legislature and the public must continue, we also need to determine how we will meet our mission of exceptional education, research, and service as a public research University,” she said.
November Commission Meeting
The second meeting of the Commission took place on November 12 in Oakland. Speakers included UC Presidents Emeritus Richard Atkinson and David Gardner, UCB Professor of Public Policy and Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, and Mark Baldassare, President and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).
Mr. Baldassare presented the results of a recent PPIC survey of Californians’ attitudes toward higher education and the research findings of PPIC Senior Fellow Hans Johnson, whose June 2009 paper Educating Californians: Choices for the Future, projects a gap between the number of college graduates in California and the number of jobs here requiring a college degree. Johnson says by 2025, California will face a shortage of almost one million college-educated workers, and while 41% of California jobs will require a bachelor’s degree, only 35% of adults will have one. Because the California economy is increasingly dependent on college educated workers, this “skills gap” threatens the very future of the state.
Professor Reich floated several provocative ideas for addressing the state funding crisis, noting that UC’s mission is based on an understanding of higher education as a public good—directing research to solve public problems, promoting widespread educational access, and advancing a public service ethos. He said that there may be a way to recapture some of the financial benefits UC brings to the state to help finance the source of the public good. Without endorsing any idea, he proposed levying a higher education surcharge on large California businesses, charging students a proportion of post-graduation earnings rather than tuition, modifying intellectual property laws and models to advantage UC, and building a “cyber-campus” based on a public good model of access combined with excellence.
Senate Chair Powell agrees that it is crucial to emphasize UC’s public good mission. “I think the Gould Commission will be a failure if it does not talk about the public good,” he says. “The charge to the Commission talks about ‘competing goods.’ I think we have to focus on how UC helps students transform themselves into competent citizens with useful knowledge, how state funding creates a tie between UC and California’s interest in agricultural research and other public interest areas, and how UC works to expand opportunity and access. How do you address the world’s problems without a strong notion of the public good?”
President Atkinson urged the Commission to protect faculty quality as its first priority. He said it will be critical to preserve the “one university/ten campus” model if UC wants to protect its stature as the world’s pre-eminent public university. He expressed support for enrolling more out-of-state undergraduates as long as UC maintains its Master Plan commitment to admitting all eligible Californian students, but said that differential fees by campus or major would be inconsistent with UC’s mission and history. He acknowledged the need to trim or eliminate academic programs that are not robust or that do not meet the needs of the state, encouraged the expansion of internet-based instruction, and recommended the development of high-fee part-time master’s programs designed by faculty and administered by University Extension.
“Where do we want to be when California recovers?” he asked. “We want to remain a great public research University united by common standards of admission, a single state budget, a single Board of Regents dedicated to a system of shared governance, a strong universitywide Academic Senate, a systemwide office of responsibility, oversight, and accountability, and a single voice in Sacramento.”
President Gardner also emphasized the importance of maintaining a commitment to the concept of UC as a single university operating on ten campuses, with a single set of personnel policies and salary schedules. He said UC should not be paralyzed by the present budget reality, and he warned about tampering too much with the pillars of excellence that have built the University. “Too much restructuring could undermine the very essence of what has given rise to the eminence of the institution and the respect it has worldwide,” he said.
Chair Powell agrees that UC needs to move cautiously and look at the long term. “In spite of the immediate need to address fiscal shortfalls, the Commission should think about the state’s real long-term educational and workforce needs,” he said. The Master Plan is still very relevant, he argues. “The Master Plan gives UC the concept of instruction and research being equally balanced. The greatness of UC is very much related to the Master Plan. The Master Plan is certainly not dead or outdated. It is the very fabric of our being, but it needs to be looked at again in terms of how well it’s working.”
“I agree that UC’s structures have worked fabulously well for 140 years, and we fool with them at our peril,” said President Yudof at the November 12 meeting. “But nonetheless, we are facing a very difficult set of circumstances. This is a long-term secular trend in terms of how higher education is treated in this country.”
UC leaders say the principles of educational quality, access and affordability need not be competing goals, and in fact, a critical piece of the Commission’s charge is explaining how they can continue to fit together.
Communication and Reporting
Working Group co-chairs acknowledge that some faculty are skeptical and even suspicious about the Commission and its plans, and that it may be tough at times to navigate the politically contentious issues so that faculty and other constituencies have faith in the effort.
Professor Croughan notes that it will be critical to establish trust in the work of the Commission by enhancing communication and transparency. She has already met with systemwide Senate committees, and says she is available to teleconference with interested divisional senates. “The campus listening forums have been helpful for us to hear the concerns of faculty, staff, and students, but there is much more that we can do. We will need to be proactive in sending out information and in soliciting comments and concerns. We can provide opportunities to blog or discuss the issues being addressed by the Commission and Working Groups, and we can post updates on the Commission website. In addition, we need to address directly misinformation and misunderstandings as they arise. Finally, the members of the Commission and the Working Groups need to go back to their campuses to discuss their activities and to receive input to take back to their respective committees.”
Vice Chair Simmons says the best way to ensure the credibility of the Commission is to give the Senate access to the same informational resources as the Commission. “We insist that the Senate have simultaneous access to the information and resources provided to the Commission in order to formulate Senate positions and evaluate the Commission’s recommendations,” he said.
Size and Shape Co-Chair Cynthia Brown agrees that communication will be a major concern. “We hope to share information with all campuses and constituencies throughout the process,” she said. “Members will teleconference with Senate committees, and we will share information in more informal ways with faculty at the department level. Since there are faculty from every campus on the working groups, we are hoping to create a local community of those people so their interactions can inform the process and foster communication.”
The Working Group co-chairs also hope to meet on a regular basis to share ideas, information, and proposals so that they can coordinate efforts in overlapping areas. UC is looking at additional opportunities for promoting public input, including blogs and other online discussion platforms.
The original deadline for the work of the Commission was March 2010, which was proposed in the hope of having plans in place for FY 2010-11 implementation on July 1. Some faculty, however, are concerned that this deadline is unrealistic and have requested an extension to accommodate more research and analysis. “The March deadline is directly tied to the credibility of the work we are doing and our need to comprehensively address the broad and critical issues we are considering,” said Professor Cynthia Brown. “Given the six week delay in getting the committees together, it’s important to think about extending the deadline to increase the feasibility of coming up with thoughtful recommendations in such a short timeframe.”
Mary Croughan agrees that more time may be needed. “One goal was to have this work completed in time to have measures in place by next year with the reduced budget. But this work is so important I think we need to look seriously at putting more time into this.”
Commission co-chairs President Yudof and Regent Gould have tentatively agreed to have the Working Groups submit final reports on their top 2 or 3 priorities in March. However, they will continue to assess additional priorities and strategies to submit in June or July.
At the November 12 meeting, Regent Gould noted that “There is an urgency, a real urgency to prove our case in Sacramento. It’s imperative that we come out with important ideas soon to shape the debate. I understand how complicated some of the issues are, but I think having concrete, tangible things is very important.”
“We need you to succeed,” said President Yudof. “The fact is that whatever this Commission comes up with will be examined closely, not only here, but around the nation.”