Senate Grapples with ‘Future of UC’
“The Commission on the Future should adopt as a guiding priority the maintenance of the quality of the University of California research and teaching faculty, which is the driving force of the University of California’s contribution to the State of California.”
So says an Academic Council recommendation presented by Senate Chair Henry Powell and Vice Chair Dan Simmons at the June 14 meeting of the UC Commission on the Future. Specifically, the recommendation suggests that maintaining competitive remuneration for UC faculty should be the University’s highest priority. It also calls for downsizing UC by reducing the number of employees, including faculty, though attrition; instituting a moratorium on construction not essential to safety or the core academic needs of a campus; and requiring Chancellors to identify a stable source of funding for any new program and specify its impact on existing programs.
Council adopted the recommendation on May 26 by a narrow 8-7 vote (with 2 abstentions). For Chair Powell, the Council recommendations represent the “least bad” of a bad set of choices facing the University. He says their purpose is to provoke a broad conversation about UC’s priorities and financial commitments, and to challenge the Commission to go beyond the incremental solutions proposed by its Working Groups.
“Campuses are making heroic efforts to adjust to the new fiscal conditions, and I have the greatest respect for Council members who disagreed with the Council recommendation and spoke convincingly about the need for new buildings to renew and grow their campuses,” said Chair Powell. “On the other hand, I am worried that the building program has taken on a life of its own and that continuing the current pace of growth sends an inconsistent message to the public about our resources.”
UCLA Division Chair Robin Garrell and Senate Vice Chair Dan Simmons at the Academic Assembly Meeting, June 16, 2010
He notes that building new classrooms, dormitories, and research buildings at the same time that student enrollment is being cut and UC is struggling to retain faculty who work in those buildings, makes it more difficult for UC to make the case to the state for funding.
“The point of the downsizing recommendation is this: if we curtail faculty recruitment, we could shrink the faculty by as much as 20% over five years, based on a 4% average natural attrition rate. This would allow the University to preserve its commitment to quality by maintaining its ability to support our current faculty. I am aware that this plan will harm the quality of the overall educational experience if students have less access to faculty. But if we allow the quality of the faculty to decline, it would take many years of large investments to rebuild.”
“This is a tactical adjustment to an unprecedented fiscal crisis,” he said. “Of course, eventually, the university must return to a growth mode to meet the demands of California’s growing population and its future workforce needs.”
As the narrow Council vote indicates, the recommendations are controversial among faculty, but they have already initiated the broad discussion that Chair Powell hopes for. At its June 16 meeting, the Assembly of the Academic Senate considered an alternative statement drafted by the UCLA division and introduced by Los Angeles Division Chair Robin Garrell.
Professor Garrell argued that the UCLA statement is broader and more nuanced than the Council document but makes similar points about how the excellence of UC hinges on the quality of its faculty and staff, and about the significance of total remuneration in attracting and retaining them.
President Yudof speaks with faculty at the Academic Assembly Meeting, June 16, 2010
She said the UCLA division thought the Council proposal was problematic for several reasons. “Although we do not take issue with the statement about the primacy of faculty quality as central to excellence, we felt that the Council recommendation overemphasizes faculty remuneration without mentioning other employee groups,” she said. “We are also concerned about constraining capital programs, such as renovating existing space to recruit new faculty, and about the lack of provisions for excluding UC Merced from the proposed moratorium on construction and the plan to downsize the faculty. Finally, the recommendation does not reflect the broad consensus the Senate does have on many issues, many of which we have discussed and debated at length in the context of the Commission on the Future recommendations. We felt these should be at the center of a broader picture we paint about the values and recommendations of the Academic Senate of the University of California.”
The Assembly voted to send both the UCLA statement and Council’s recommendation for formal systemwide Senate review and comment in the fall. Assembly members believe that sending both statements will help leverage the larger discussion of budget choices and tradeoffs and allow faculty to take into account new budget information as it emerges throughout the summer and into the fall. In addition, the review will enable the Senate to revise the documents to incorporate divisional perspectives, reflect the best of both proposals, and come to a consensus that presents a unified Senate voice on the future of the University.
Vice Chair Dan Simmons says the Council recommendation and UCLA statement are more or less consistent. But he notes that the Council recommendation goes beyond restating principles to make concrete recommendations. “My real interest is hearing from the divisions about how we are going to respond to the de facto downsizing that has been occurring on all of the campuses and how we will actively manage it,” he said. “Unfortunately, every choice in front of us is a bad choice. But we can’t stick our heads in the sand and think that we can continue as before. We are heading for very hard times that will force UC to be a different University. If faculty quality and prestige erode, UC becomes just another state university. We can fix access and affordability if the state decides to fund us, but if we fail to protect the faculty, we are not going to get them back.”
Facing the Magnitude of the Crisis
More generally, the Academic Council has attempted to alert the UC community about the seriousness and persistence of the budget gap by releasing reports and recommendations, including the UCPB Choices Report, and UCFW’s Council-endorsed Statement on Assuring Adequate Funding for UCRP. Both sound the alarm about the gravity and enormity of the budget crisis and the ongoing trend of state disinvestment in public higher education. Both UCFW Chair Shane White and UCPB Chair Peter Krapp concur that the university community has not yet grasped the magnitude of the situation and that the many Commission proposals, considered individually and collectively, are inadequate to enable UC to sustain the quality that has defined it. They both call for action:
“The University has been living beyond its means for 20 years and the bill has come due,” said Chair White. “We are running a structural deficit of close to two billion dollars a year because we are letting the unfunded liability of UCRP grow by that amount. In effect, we are borrowing from UCRP at 7.5% interest to pay wages and keep the lights on.”
Chair Krapp notes that faculty have been very patient and accommodating throughout the protracted budget crisis, but there may be a limit to this patience. “The Senate needs to move beyond principle and make a statement about the specific implementation of budget discipline. UC was able to increase and maintain spending on buildings and administration for two decades while enjoying a contribution ‘holiday’ from UCRP; that situation is clearly now untenable.”
Chair Powell said, “The Senate needs to help develop a vision for the future that reaffirms UC’s importance to California while remaining cognizant of fiscal constraints. How we respond to these immediate fiscal challenges will have a profound effect on the future. We have to figure out how to do less, more efficiently, while maintaining quality.”
June 14 Commission on the Future meeting
At the June 14 Commission meeting, President Yudof expressed reservations about the Council recommendations and asked the Senate to consider their implications for class size, faculty workload, the student-faculty ratio, graduate education, and faculty diversity. These are among the issues that will begin to be addressed during the formal review this fall.
The Commission indicated support for five of the 29 first round recommendations from the five Working Groups (size and shape, education and curriculum, access and affordability, funding strategies, and research strategies): continuing to develop an externally funded pilot project to study the expanded use of online instruction; developing strategies and mechanisms for increasing indirect cost recovery on research grants; asking the Senate to help improve the transfer pathway to UC by developing more uniform lower-division requirements for high-demand majors; renaming “fees” “tuition;” and expanding the use of self-supporting and part-time programs to increase educational opportunities for existing and future students.
The administration also introduced ten new “expanded recommendations,” currently out for informal Senate review, include accelerating the online education pilot, increasing the income derived from self-supporting and part-time programs, and moving all campuses to the semester system. In addition, the Council of Vice Chancellors proposed seven recommendations, including a single payroll system and a new campus-based budgeting model. After the meeting, a total of fourteen new recommendations from four of the Working Groups were released. Senate Chair Powell has requested informal comment on all of the new recommendations, and urges the Senate to focus especially on those that would have the most significant impact on the University.