Binion, Pitts Honored with 2008 Oliver Johnson Award
UC Santa Barbara Professor of Political Science Gayle Binion and UC San Francisco Professor of Neurosurgery Lawrence “Larry” Pitts are the recipients of the 2008 Oliver Johnson Award for Distinguished Service to the Academic Senate.
Professors Binion and Pitts served consecutively as systemwide Senate chairs in 2002-2003 and 2003-2004. Both are veteran faculty members with distinguished academic careers who have advocated strongly for faculty issues throughout their careers.
The UC Santa Barbara Oliver Johnson Award nominating committee calls Gayle Binion “a humbling example of successful dedication to the advancement and improvement of the University of California.” Professor Binion first became involved in the Santa Barbara Academic Senate in 1996, when she joined the UCSB Committee on Educational Policy and Academic Planning (CEPAP). She served as chair of CEPAP in 1998-99 and then moved on to systemwide service as a member (1999-2001) and then chair (2001-2002) of the University Committee on Planning and Budget. She was also a member of the University Committee on Educational Policy in 1997-98.
Professor Binion says she expressed interest in the position of systemwide Senate chair because she wanted to help create more balance in University policies. She was particularly interested in the division of authority between systemwide entities and the campuses, between administration and faculty, and in the distribution of funding among academic divisions.
Professor Binion cites the Senate’s role in defeating the 2003 California ballot initiative Proposition 54, Classification by Race, Ethnicity, Color and National Origin, also known as “The Racial Privacy Initiative” as the most important public policy accomplishment during her tenure as chair. She helped publicize the potential social and economic effects of Proposition 54, which would have prevented the use of state funds for gathering data on race, ethnicity, or national origin. “CRECNO would have seriously limited any faculty research about race, ethnicity or national origin,” she says. “It would have been potentially devastating to academic freedom and to the delivery of health care and public education – all core missions of the University.”
While chair, Binion also led the Senate through the review of a proposed amendment to the Faculty Code of Conduct that would have established an excessively strict ban on faculty-student sexual relationships; worked closely with UC Berkeley Law Professor Robert Post to develop a new statement of academic freedom that became policy as APM 010; and established the Academic Senate Special Committee on the National Labs (ACSCONL) to promote more Senate involvement in the discussion of issues regarding the UC-managed Department of Energy national laboratories. As chair of the Academic Assembly, she oversaw changes to Senate Bylaws proposed by the Ad Hoc Committee on Bylaw Revisions and the approval of proposed Regents Standing Orders for a new campus, UC Merced.
Binion was and remains a tireless advocate for student issues, and she is particularly interested in policies concerning educational affordability and access. In March 2003, as the representative of the Academic Senate, she testified before the California State Assembly Committee on Higher Education about the potential pitfalls of long-term fee increases, noting that while the predictability of fee increases is important for planning, the more critical issue is keeping UC affordable.
She says the necessity of maintaining sufficient state support is the biggest challenge facing the University now and into the future. “The major consequence of funding shortfalls is the increase in student fees, which despite the UC student aid formulae, undermines access for so many UC-hopefuls,” says Professor Binion. She adds that “If I were advising now, I would suggest that UC look into affordability models being used by some of the most prestigious private universities, which “cap” costs based on familial income. While UC would not be able to afford the level of support offered by Stanford or the Ivies, the approach is worth considering.”
As Senate chair, Professor Binion worked with the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) to evaluate UC eligibility criteria and campus admissions processes and to approve and implement new policies on admissions tests. She also helped BOARS present reports to the Board of Regents about the first-year implementation of Comprehensive Review and on the Senate’s recommendations for modifications to freshman eligibility and admissions testing policy.
Later, she chaired the Academic Senate Task Force on the Honors/AP/IB/CC “Grade Bump,” which was charged with reviewing UC’s policy of automatically increasing the GPA of prospective freshmen who had been enrolled in honors or other advanced high school courses. Binion wrote the June 2005 Report of the Task Force, which argued that this practice reduced UC’s ability to predict the future performance of incoming freshmen, and therefore did not enhance efforts to identify the most promising students. Although Council did not formally accept the Task Force’s recommendation, the issue is still being discussed.
She also chaired the Academic Advisory Committee that helped select Robert Dynes as president and served on the advisory committee that selected MRC Greenwood as provost. She was also a member of the selection committees for the UC Riverside chancellor and the UC Press executive director.
More recently, Binion served for two years as director of the Education Abroad Program’s (EAP) California House Study Center in London. She also served on the Expanded ad hoc Committee on International Education, charged in 2006 with making recommendations to UCOP about the future of international education.
She says EAP and other international education programs should be central to the UC curriculum. “I think that the opportunities abroad in EAP are a jewel in the UC crown,” she says. “The intellectual and personal growth the students experience is so impressive that I wish that every student had the opportunity to spend 6-12 months immersed in a ‘foreign’ educational institution and culture. These programs ought to be core opportunities as fully supported by UC as is possible in these lean financial times.”
Her Expanded ad hoc Committee minority report questioned several of the Committee’s recommendations and had a significant influence on the Senate review. She says that increasing UC faculty involvement in international education will help maximize the academic quality of the programs as well as their economic feasibility, which, in turn, will lead to more student involvement. “I believe what is needed are administrative realignments with respect to systemwide and campus responsibilities (favoring the former, more economically, with respect to all academic matters), functional streamlining within EAP, and a new funding model based on these changes. With these changes, and the infusion of greater resources to the campus, via systemwide economies and more robust fundraising for student financial support, it is likely that participation in these programs would increase substantially. The intellectual and personal growth opportunities for students, as well as the fostering of greater internationalism among UC’s graduates, are well worth the investment.”
Binion first became involved in the Senate because, she says, “It became clear to me that solutions to the issues we deal with in the Senate are essential to the health of the University and its ability to serve its missions. From the time of my selection as chair of CEPAP and my attendant service on UCPB, the die was cast. It takes a year or more to learn enough about UC policies and funding streams to be an effective participant in decision-making – but once you join up, you stay!”
She advises younger faculty to wait until after tenure to undertake more intensive Senate service, but she says that Senate service will make faculty feel far more involved in and committed to their UC careers.
“I can still not think of a career that is more rewarding than that of faculty member,” she says. “Not only have I enjoyed teaching inquiring minds and conducting research on courts and politics, but I have especially believed that ‘ruling and being ruled in turn’ is how a great university ought to function. Given that there is no ‘bright line’ between faculty and administration, UC’s highly developed, highly respected shared governance ensures that life as a faculty member, despite what has been and ever-growing financial sacrifice for many, is still as good as it gets.”
Lawrence “Larry” Pitts succeeded Gayle Binion as Academic Senate chair in 2003-04. At UCSF he was a member (1992-96) then chair (1996-97) of the UCSF Committee on Faculty Welfare, as well as a member of the Committee on Committees and the School of Medicine Faculty Council. Professor Pitts also served as chair of UCSF Divisional Senate between 1999 and 2001.
Pitts first joined the UCSF Faculty Welfare Committee to help design and shape the Health Sciences Compensation Plan during its original inception in the mid-1990s. Later, while he was UCSF division vice chair and the UCSF medical center attempted a merger with Stanford, Pitts became alarmed at the faculty’s lack of involvement and access to information, which he believes ultimately contributed to the failure of the merger. As a result of this experience, he was able to advocate successfully for greater Senate involvement in many UCSF campus planning activities that had previously been the sole domain of the administration.
“I tried very hard during my time as divisional chair to ensure that the UCSF Senate became more involved in campus planning and in efforts to assess the well-being of the faculty,” he says. “Since then, many more UCSF faculty have been willing to serve in important Senate roles, both on the UCSF campus and at the systemwide level. I was pleased to learn that next year there are five statewide committee Chairs from UCSF – a tribute to the energy of the UCSF Academic Senate and its faculty’s willingness to serve the University.”
Professor Pitts’ interest and dedication carried over into systemwide service where he served as a member (1993-1995), then chair (1995-96) of the University Committee on Faculty Welfare, his first experience working with faculty from other campuses. He was fascinated by the range of topics UCFW discussed – health benefits, retirement, compensation, and an ever-present concern over parking – and was stimulated by the other bright, imaginative, hard-working faculty and administrators on the committee.
After serving on Council a second time as chair of the UCSF Division, he decided to put his name forward for Academic Council vice chair. “I came to appreciate how much input the faculty had in shared governance, and how significantly the problems Council was addressing impacted the future of the University – budgets, admissions, faculty (and other employee) welfare. I also found the Council members to be really dedicated to the University, and I wanted to continue working with them.”
As Council Chair, Professor Pitts initiated the first meetings of the Academic Council’s Special Committee on the National Labs (ACSCONL), which was established to help increase UC faculty awareness of and involvement in issues affecting the UC-managed Department of Energy National Laboratories. In May 2004, ACSCONL conducted a systemwide survey of faculty to glean their attitudes about UCs engagement with the DOE labs, particularly on the issue of whether UC should compete for the contracts to continue management.
Pitts says the DOE labs have played a vital role in the nation’s security and continue to conduct excellent research in many areas of national security and basic science. This work also benefits UC faculty and graduate students who collaborate with lab scientists and engineers. He warns that the joint management contracts between UC and its industrial partners could cause faculty discontent in the future if they are not properly managed. “UC is only one partner, albeit a critical one, in this arrangement so it remains to be seen whether UC can exert enough influence in and beyond the Labs to ensure that they continue to produce world-class research in addition to their service to national security.” Pitts continues to serve as a member of ACSCONL’s successor committee, ACSCOLI, to this day.
While Pitts was Senate chair, he encouraged Council to establish a Special Committee on Scholarly Communication (SCSC) to evaluate the most effective and affordable ways to distribute faculty scholarly work, in part to address unsustainable pricing practices by prominent academic publishers, which resulted in a series of white papers , including a proposed Scholarly Work Copyright Rights Policy . While SCSC did not reach its goal of “open access” publication for UC faculty research work, it did help inform faculty about the topic, and contributed to an important national and international dialog about scholarly publishing, which has now resulted in Harvard University and the NIH adopting open access models.
“I was disappointed that the SCSC couldn’t convince faculty generally that open access would actually improve dissemination of their work without compromising their freedom to publish. Despite the stated fears of some publishers and scholarly societies that open access will decrease subscriptions and income, there is actually no data to support this contention. Rather, a wealth of data shows there are greater access and usages of scholarly work that is made freely available immediately or soon after publication.”
Professor Pitts says UC faculty can have a major impact on the evolution of current scholarly communication models. He encourages the University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication and the UC librarians to continue discussing and advocating for open access, and he hopes the UC faculty will adopt open access policies for their scholarly work in the next few years. “Publishers generally have done very well financially publishing what is actually the faculty’s scholarly work,” he says. “The UC faculty is so large and prominent in virtually all scholarly fields that their weighing into open access discussions will certainly facilitate change in scholarly publication. Many UC faculty are already availing themselves of open access possibilities that many journals allow right now, and I think all faculty should consider this strongly.”
While Pitts was Council chair, UC faced a round of budget cuts that eventually led to the current Compact agreement. He says he realizes many faculty feel UC should never have entered into the Compact, but he believes UC had few alternatives that would have been more effective in garnering greater state financial support. “The Compact was envisioned as a ‘floor’ to state support, but there is no way to guarantee this minimal level of funding,” he says. “Obviously the legislature and Governor don’t have to honor the Compact in any given budget-challenged year, but this reality is more dependent on state resources than the existence of the Compact. Certainly the state’s budget woes continue and UC’s quality and diversity is jeopardized unless state funding increases, substantially and soon.”
He says it is vital for California to reinvigorate public investment in higher education to maintain one of the world’s great faculties. If the quality of UC faculty should diminish, it will be very hard to restore in the future.
Professor Pitts currently serves on three UCSF committees and several systemwide committees. He was also a member of the Regents’ Study Group on University Diversity in 2006-2007 and notes that in addition to the budget, achieving greater diversity in UC faculty, staff and students is one of the most significant challenges facing the University. “Our students will face a more diverse world, and UC needs to make sure their education prepares them for a wide variety of situations and people,” he says.
Pitts says he opposes any move away from a conception of UC as “one university” and believes treating all campuses with relative equality has allowed newer campuses to rapidly ascend to pre-eminent status. He notes that four new campuses – UCD, UCI, UCSB, UCSD – are now members of the American Association of Universities in addition to UCB and UCLA, and those UC campuses not yet AAU members are steadily improving their status and will likely join the AAU in the near future. “Allowing a ‘stratification’ of campuses and providing different levels of support (as has been proposed for some senior management administrators’ salaries) within a ‘federation’ of campuses is the wrong direction, and I believe that such a course will harm UC, perhaps irreparably,” he says.
Pitts says Senate service has been an excellent compliment to his neurosurgery practice and has helped him satisfy his interest in “systems” and the “bigger picture,” an inclination that has also led him to be involved in trauma system planning, medical staff management, medical care cost considerations and many other topics well outside of clinical medicine.
“Senate service has given me considerable latitude to learn about university education and service, well beyond medicine, and it has introduced me to many outstanding people both on and outside the faculty,” he says. “The richness of UC’s atmosphere is hard for outsiders to appreciate, but it’s been a source of pleasure and satisfaction for me.”
Professor Pitts says shared governance is alive and well at the highest levels of the University administration, but he is disappointed that at middle levels of administration, the faculty are often not invited to help provide solutions to the University’s problems. “While administrators certainly don’t have to take all ideas from the faculty, I believe that when they neglect the faculty’s voice, they miss great suggestions from brilliant people – to their and the University’s loss.”
Pitts also has a concern, shared by others at UCSF in particular, that Academic Senate regulations exclude some faculty from participation in shared governance – specifically, many health sciences faculty whose primary job is clinical care, and adjunct faculty whose main work is research. “By all accounts these faculty are outstanding at the jobs that the University asks them to do and I am hopeful that what I perceive as an inequity can be corrected,” he says.
Pitts says that while he understands it may not be appropriate or practical for many junior or even more senior faculty focused on academic pursuits to consider Senate service, there are many outstanding academics who do choose to bring their energy and expertise to broader issues addressed in the Academic Senate. “I can guarantee any faculty member who might want to spend time on some of these wider campus or university problems that they will have excellent faculty company to help them.”
Oliver Johnson, who passed away in 2000, was a UC Riverside professor of philosophy and longtime Senate activist. He served as the chair of the Assembly and Academic Council in 1981-82; as vice chair of the Assembly and Council in 1980-81; and as chair of the Riverside Senate Division from 1963 to 1966, performing with great distinction in all those posts. In 1996, Professor Johnson made a substantial gift to the systemwide Senate, the earnings from which are used to fund the award that bears his name. The Oliver Johnson Award is given every other year to honor a University of California faculty member or members who have demonstrated outstanding and creative contributions to shared governance at the divisional and systemwide level.
Professors Binion and Pitts will be honored at the Academic Council Chair’s dinner in July.
-- Michael LaBriola