NOTES FROM THE ACADEMIC SENATE CHAIR
ROBERT A. ANDERSON
Welcome to what is sure to be an interesting and challenging year for the Academic Senate and the University of California. I consider it the highest honor to serve as systemwide Senate chair and represent your views in the governance of the University as it contends with a very difficult set of budget circumstances.
We are still assessing the damage done by the recent $650 million state cut, and we face the near certainty of an additional $100 million cut in January. We know that cutbacks on the campuses are making it more difficult for students to get into the classes they need, forcing staff layoffs, deferring faculty hiring, and of course, increasing the tuition burden on students, particularly those from middle income families.
One of the Senate’s most important tasks this year will be to help campuses and UCOP address the reality of the cuts—not only by doing our best to reverse them, but also by encouraging the development of a long-term plan for augmenting state support with other revenues. We must redouble our efforts to convince the legislature of the importance of higher education funding to California, but we cannot limit ourselves to advocacy. It is critical that we find other sources of revenue to maintain the excellence we have come to expect of UC. That is why I support the President’s efforts to establish a multi-year plan that will help define a sustainable and predictable fiscal path for the University.
The Senate will continue to advocate for closing the UC faculty salary and total remuneration competitiveness gap. The 3% faculty salary increase that took effect on October 1 is very welcome, certainly, but it barely enables us to tread water in the face of rising salaries at competing institutions. We have to do more.
Another important issue before the Senate will be the work underway at UCOP to implement the second phase of UC’s own internal budgetary reform—“rebenching” the allocation of state funding to the campuses in a more fair and transparent way. The President’s Budget Rebenching Task Force is reviewing Academic Council’s rebenching proposal, which proposes a methodology for ensuring that each campus has the support it needs to meet the mission and Master Plan obligation of educating all qualified, state-funded students. Council’s proposal is guided by the principle that all UC students of a particular type, regardless of campus (e.g., all undergraduates), should receive the identical level of support necessary to support a UC-quality education. It also includes a mechanism for funding Ph.D. students that recognizes the centrality of doctoral education to the UC mission and the interdependence of graduate and undergraduate education here.
In my remarks at the September Regents’ meeting, I emphasized that UC’s strength as a research institution lies in its ability to bring the best doctoral students to UC regardless of country of origin. Many faculty fear that UC’s excellence may be threatened by ever-rising tuition levels. Council has established a Task Force on Competitiveness in Graduate Student Support to analyze the assistance UC is able to offer and how it affects graduate student recruitment. The group will conduct its own study and will also work with the administration to prepare a report to the Regents on strategies to maintain UC’s graduate competitiveness.
The Senate will also be monitoring the effects of two significant changes in the undergraduate admissions process: 1) implementation of the new admissions policy, which is intended to broaden access to talented students who might not have been UC-eligible in the past by removing unnecessary barriers; and 2) a transition by many campuses to single score holistic ranking of applicants and away from more mechanical methods. As a result, the admissions process will be more complex than it has ever been, and BOARS will be assessing the initial outcomes closely to see if any adjustments are needed.
Despite these overwhelming challenges, I am still very hopeful. In my 28 years at Berkeley, UC has weathered many difficult times and always emerged stronger. The current budget problems are serious, however, and we need your help. I encourage faculty to call, write, email, or visit your elected representatives to communicate the critical impact the cuts are having on higher education, along with concrete examples of how they are affecting your classes, campuses, and students. You can also find specific action alerts at www.ucforcalifornia.org.
For my part, I will continue the advocacy efforts of past Senate chairs by working with my counterparts at CSU and the community colleges through ICAS, the Intersegmental Committee of the Academic Senates. ICAS plans to expand the role of the Senates in advocacy by having a faculty member and student from each of the three segments go together to visit legislators in their home district offices to convey the impact of the cuts to higher education.
Individual faculty can also influence the circumstances that affect the institution and their lives through Academic Senate service—in my view, the most interesting, effective, and rewarding way faculty can fulfill their service responsibility. Quite simply, the faculty makes the University of California great, and we need you to take an active role in thinking about solutions to the difficult problems facing the University. One of the defining characteristics of life on UC campuses is the extent to which faculty from a wide variety of disciplines interact and influence each other’s teaching and research. Many of these contacts arise initially from acquaintances faculty make on Senate committees.
The post-employment benefits discussion last year was a prime example of how the Academic Senate plays a key role on behalf of the faculty and for the good of the University. Some administrators wanted a drastic cutback in pension benefits offered to new employees, but the Senate was able to convince the President of the importance of good benefits in recruiting and retaining faculty and staff. This year, the Senate will remain vigilant to ensure that discussions about the rate of employee contributions to UCRP beyond July 2013 address UC’s overall competitive position in salaries and benefits. On October 27, Governor Brown released a proposal that would radically restructure California public sector pensions for future hires, while further raising the contributions of existing employees. The Senate and its Task Force on Investment and Retirement are closely monitoring the situation.
There will always be impatience with the Senate’s processes (and occasionally the positions we take), but it is important for the faculty take a long and broad view of UC’s welfare and assert our central role in University governance and decision-making. We must protect the legacy of shared governance and take advantage of the unique opportunity we have to influence the course of the University.
Things look very challenging right now, but I implore you to hang on. I firmly believe that as in the past, with the active engagement of its immensely talented faculty and staff, the University will persevere, our situation will improve, and UC will sustain its preeminence in higher education.