Senate Source

February 2011

Regents Hear Competitiveness Triumphs (& Woes)


The University of California has not yet suffered a serious decline in the quality of its faculty in the face of dire budget challenges, but there is a growing crisis of faculty confidence in the ability of the University to preserve its place as the preeminent public institution of higher education, Academic Senate Chair Dan Simmons told the Board of Regents on January 19. Simmons joined Vice Provost for Academic Personnel Susan Carlson in presenting the Biennial Accountability Sub-Report on Faculty Competitiveness.


Simmons cites lagging salaries, increased teaching load, and overcrowded classrooms as some of the main factors contributing to a decline in morale that could signal a shift in UC’s overall competitiveness. “UC’s quality and prestige depends on the work of its faculty, and I believe that the University has to be extra vigilant to protect the policies and ethos that has allowed it to become the world’s preeminent public institution of research and teaching,” he said.


As a part of the Accountability Framework, the Regents have asked UCOP for periodic updates on faculty competitiveness. The Sub-Report attempts to capture the quality of UC faculty and UC’s competitiveness in attracting and retaining them. It also notes changes in the composition of UC faculty, as well as challenges in recruitment and retention.


The Sub-report discloses some key trends:  


What do these numbers tell us? Simmons says that they show that UC’s growth in health sciences has focused on the expansion of clinical services relative to teaching and research activities. He says data indicate that Senate faculty are more likely to teach complex subject matter and that Senate faculty, who have the greatest expertise, are responsible for a large proportion of the teaching of graduate and professional courses. The University is also very dependent on an excellent group of lecturers who, while not generally required to engage in research, provide high quality instruction in a variety of contexts, including the bulk of composition courses, introductory language training and remedial mathematics. 


Simmons says the increasing student-faculty ratio means faculty are less able to assign papers to students or to teach writing and critical thinking skills on an individual basis.  “More importantly, if we move faculty out of the research environment that distinguishes UC from CSU and from many of the California privates, we destroy the very thing that that defines the University of California. UC is one of the best universities in the world. We must remain vigilant not to sacrifice that standing in pursuit of the golden calf of efficiency and productivity.” Simmons also cites the University's large revenue streams derived from faculty research grants and notes that these would be at risk if faculty reduce their commitment to research.


The Sub-Report notes that compensation remains UC’s biggest challenge in maintaining a competitive environment for faculty. As of fall 2010, average UC faculty salaries were lagging the Comparison Eight by 11.2%, a problem compounded by the fact that private institutions, against whom the lag is even greater, are UC’s main competitors. (40% of UC faculty recruited to other institutions leave to join 20 top institutions, three quarters of them private.) In terms of total remuneration, UC is 4 to 7% below the market average, figures that do not reflect furloughs or the restart of contributions to UCRP. And while current compensation has remained relatively flat over the past few years for UC faculty, the current compensation of both public and private comparators has increased.


The Academic Senate has spoken frequently about the need to raise faculty salaries to competitive levels in a manner that strengthens the integrity of the salary scales and the merit system. While the possibility of a salary increase looks less likely in the current budget environment, the President included a salary provision in the University’s 2011-12 operating budget. Council communicated its views to the President in late December about the use of any funds for faculty salary increases now or when budget conditions improve. The administration prefers a plan that rewards merit. Council believes that the salary scales should meet market conditions, but agreed for 2011-12 to support an increment restricted to faculty who received a favorable merit review sometime in the past five years, applied to the salary scales but not to the off-scale component.


“I understand that the politics of such an increase is difficult, and I sympathize with faculty who wonder whether raises can be morally justified in such difficult times,” said Chair Simmons. “Faculty salaries remain a vital issue, however, not only in light of the restart of UCRP contributions, but also because lagging faculty salaries have the potential to undermine excellence. Weakening the published salary scales will also undermine our peer review system. UC should do everything it can to restore the integrity of the merit system by bringing the scales up to competitive levels.


New faculty appointments dropped significantly last year due to budget cutbacks. Although there is no evidence of an unusual increase in retirements or resignations, UC’s ability to retain faculty could weaken as the economy recovers. In addition, UC could see high rates of retirement in the near future, given the large number of faculty who are between 56 and 65 years old. This could hurt UC, but it is also an opportunity for renewal.


The University also seeks to draw from an increasingly diverse pool of potential new faculty. The Sub-Report shows uneven achievements in this area, with hiring of women and under-represented minorities lagging the availability pool in many fields, but exceeding it in others.


UC faculty continue to receive an extraordinary number of prestigious national awards and national and international recognition as leaders in their disciplines. UC’s campuses remain highly ranked in both national and international ratings. 41% of faculty received their degrees from 20 top universities (all AAU) and another 23% are UC graduates. Two faculty received MacArthur “Genius” awards this year and others have succeeded in four highly competitive foundation awards.


It remains to be seen whether UC can maintain its world class teaching and research faculty in an era when budget cuts, lagging salaries, and overcrowded classrooms present a growing burden for them, their teaching assistants, and graduate students.


“The University rests on a three-legged stool of quality, access, and affordability,” said Simmons. “Those legs are wobbly and precarious now, and if any one of them, but especially quality, is permitted to collapse, we no longer have the University of California as we know it.”