Senate Chair: Diversity and Access Key to Reinvigorating Public Investment in UC
The two biggest challenges facing the University of California are the need to re-invigorate public investment in higher education and UC’s own obligation to increase access and diversity, says Michael T. Brown, who began his term as leader of the systemwide Academic Senate on September 1. Professor Brown contends those issues are also closely intertwined. “Nobody questions the greatness of UC in terms of its global reputation,” he says. “The real issue is what makes UC publicly relevant. When people think of the University, they think first and foremost about who gets to participate directly in the benefits of higher education here – who gets admitted to UC; who gets to learn here; who gets to teach here; who gets to work here. All of these things tell people ‘This is My UC.’”
Professor Brown believes the University of California has entered a critical period in its history, as political and fiscal circumstances call into question the public nature of the institution, and a crisis in access and diversity threatens the University’s public mission to maintain a profile that reflects the State’s demographics. Brown points to “The Futures Report ,” prepared last year by the University Committee on Planning and Budget, which starkly details UC’s eroding state support and its implications for the University. In addition, he warns that UC’s response to an increasingly diverse California population could have important funding implications. “California citizens and legislators don’t want to fund ‘your UC’; they want to fund ‘my UC’. But we are steadily pricing people out of the University, and that closes the door on broad access. I can’t think of a more important issue in California than the state of unequal educational opportunity. If we open the doors to talent across the spectrum, I think we will repair, solidify and re-invigorate public investment in UC.”
Brown is a professor of Counseling/Clinical/School Psychology in the Graduate School of Education at UC Santa Barbara, where he has been a faculty member since 1993. His scholarship examines the psychological and social factors underlying the educational and career decision-making of racial and ethnic minorities and women. “I am particularly interested in those people whose advancement has been circumscribed by circumstance. I wanted to bring that interest into Senate service because I knew that educational attainment and access to the power of the UC experience can mean so much to people. I’ve always felt you could honor diversity and excellence simultaneously, and that it is a false conundrum that you can’t.”
Professor Brown received his B.A. in Psychology from UC Irvine and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Counseling Psychology from Southern Illinois University. Before he was elected Council vice chair, he served on various local Senate committees at UC Santa Barbara, including Admissions and Enrollment, Undergraduate Council, and Privilege and Tenure. He eventually spent six years on the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) as the UCSB representative and then chair.
Brown estimates that over the course of the 2007-08 academic year he will attend between 500 and 600 meetings, most of them committee and task force meetings that include faculty, regents, administrators, chancellors, and other constituency groups. He is the chief representative of nearly 16,000 UC Senate faculty, the chair of the Academic Council, and one of two faculty representatives to The Board of Regents. (Mary Croughan, 2007-08 Senate Vice Chair and UCSF Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology is the other.) The Senate chair and vice chair are also ex officio members of all systemwide Senate committees (except UCR&J), and they sit on all Standing and Special committees of the Regents as non-voting Advisory Members. They participate in many Regental task forces and working groups, university-wide search committees for senior managers, and several major academic and planning groups within the Office of the President.
Brown supports a ‘Ten Campuses, One University’ model for UC, as long as it does not adversely stratify campus ambitions or excellence, and envisions a future for the University in which it retains its traditional structure as a single system. He believes shared governance is strong and that the administration and faculty share a similar commitment to addressing the problems facing UC. “We want to capitalize on the strength of the ten divisions without constraining their autonomy and diversity,” he notes. “The challenge of shared governance is to appreciate differences, and to forge a unity by working out the challenges that come from being different. If shared governance is strong and working optimally – with a strong president, a strong Senate, and a strong Board of Regents who are all working at our appropriate levels – UC benefits, and the state does too.”
Professor Brown urges faculty to stay informed and involved in local budget issues – monitoring, for example, whether classrooms are an appropriate size, and whether staff, particularly those closest to the research and teaching enterprise, are well-supported. He says funding the academic enterprise should start at the “bottom” – in classrooms, labs, and training and service clinics – and move upward to high administration, not the reverse. He believes that in order for UC to maintain excellence, the faculty have to make sure those environments have sufficient resources.
Professor Brown says all Senate faculty should consider Senate service, because their involvement in University governance is critical in the goal of maintaining UC as the greatest public university in the world – a task that requires individual as well as collective effort. There has never been a time in recent history, he observes, when the faculty’s role in shared governance has been more important. “At a time when the University’s policies and operations are being challenged, the University needs the academic community to invest more time and energy in shared governance. Without that involvement, the research and teaching environment will begin to deteriorate. We need to reinvigorate a sense among the faculty that Senate service is important. If faculty don’t involve themselves in the policy-making apparatus, others, including those who don’t understand the enterprise as well as faculty, will do it for them.”
Paraphrasing Robert F. Kennedy, Chair Brown observes that “The best most of us can hope for is to be little ripples. But maybe those ripples will meet other little ripples and become tidal waves of hope and change.” Similarly, he says “When faculty members are sitting in a committee meeting they might not be thinking that they are doing all that much, but if they are working and contributing a Senate voice there, it can have huge ripples of productive change for UC. Yes, I am the Senate chair, but I’m still just looking to be a little ripple.”
- Michael LaBriola