Senate Source

November 2009

Q & A with President Yudof



President YudofWhat accomplishments are you most proud of from your first year in office?


There actually are several I would mention, despite the overarching challenges of the economic collapse and state budget crisis. I’m proud of the Blue and Gold Opportunity Program and the fact that we’re now able to increase its household income limit from $60,000 to $70,000. I’ve been pleased with the close collaboration with the Academic Council, and likewise with the restoration of the historic allocation of authority between the Regents and the president. The reorganization of the Office of the President has resulted in better alignment and improved business processes, and even as we’ve shrunk we’ve been able to bring in some extraordinarily talented people to key positions. And I believe we’re making good progress on accountability, which was one of my initial priorities.



Some faculty are concerned that shared governance is not being honored, particularly in the recent decisions about implementing furloughs and prohibiting them on instructional days. Others worry that increasingly short review times are circumventing the process. How would you describe the condition of shared governance at the University?


While the timeline was short, there was extensive consultation with all the concerned parties – especially with the Academic Senate – on the furlough policy. Unlike the State of California, we did create a policy that recognized lower-paid workers and we did try to give maximum flexibility to the campuses on how to implement the details of the policies. I know that many faculty are unhappy with the requirement that furloughs not be taken on instructional days, but I still believe that was the right decision. The Provost and I had ample input from the Academic Council and from a group that the Provost put together. I considered that input and made a decision—not a decision that pleased everyone, but I still believe it was the right one. We have an obligation to the students and I think there is ample flexibility for faculty to take furlough days on days they are not expected to be in the classroom. I know the short timeline for implementation made it difficult for us to communicate our decision in a manner that accommodated everyone’s planning, but we did our best in trying circumstances.


Of course, I didn’t have first-hand experience of UC shared governance prior to my arrival, but I have been told that I consult with the leadership of the Academic Senate at least as much, if not more, than past presidents. For example, I supported and adopted the Senate’s recommendations on the Entitled to Review Policy and I appointed an interim provost who had a reputation as a strong former chair of the Academic Council. I think shared governance is functioning and healthy at UC.


What is broken is a commitment for funding from the state and the rapid withdrawal of state support from the University. This is necessitating some very difficult decisions that not only don’t make the faculty happy, but also don’t make me happy. But leadership requires decisive action in bad times, as well as good.   


In your view, what comprises good consultation with the Senate?


I could describe the formal governance structures in place at UC – which I do think is a good model compared to the role of the Academic Senate in other public universities. What is more important is that I do not make any major decisions that affect UC without consultation with the Academic Senate. Such consultation happens in many venues – frequent interactions with the Chair and Vice Chair of the Academic Council, appearances before the Assembly of the Academic Senate, conversations with campus divisions, working with representatives of the Senate on the many systemwide consultative and decision-making bodies. On all major issues, we do not move forward without some opportunity to get the Academic Senate’s input, and in many cases we refer big issues to joint Senate-Administrative bodies.




You have said that recommendations from the Commission on the Future will be submitted for full Senate review. How do you envision that process? What are you hoping and expecting the Commission will achieve?


I think the processes for review will depend on the kinds of recommendations that emerge from the work of the Commission on the Future. It’s critical that the Commission has the opportunity to do the creative thinking and planning that is essential for UC to remain an excellent university into the future. We have worked hard to ensure that faculty and Academic Senate leaders are well-represented on the Commission and its work groups. We are working with Academic Council Chair Powell on ways to keep the Senate committees up-to-date on the deliberations of the Commission Workgroups, and ways for Commission and Workgroup members to update their campuses on discussions as this important project moves forward. If we can work together on this important endeavor at the front end, I think there will be good will and trust when we get to the formal review stage.



Can you say with certainty that there will be no second year of furloughs?


I have said there will be no second year of furloughs. However, I’ve also informed the campuses that they may have to make budget cuts equivalent to funding anticipated from the furlough reductions, $184 million, if UC is not successful in getting any additional funding from the state restored in the UC 2010-11 budget.



How can UC maintain its commitment to serving the people of California while raising student fees and curtailing enrollment?


In 2009-10, the state cut the UC budget by $637.1 million, so I think this question really should be “How can the state maintain its commitment to higher education and serving the people of California given a 20% reduction to the UC budget?” UC will only fill about 27% of the overall 2009-10 state budget cut through the increase in student fees. UC is increasing its Blue and Gold financial aid threshold from $60,000 to $70,000, setting aside 1/3 of the fee increase for undergraduate and half of the fee increase for academic graduate student financial aid support, and is advocating for the retention and increase of funding under the state’s CalGrant program. UC is serving 14,000 more students than the state is willing to fund, at a cost of $156 million. UC is reducing enrollment for freshmen, but only by about 4,600 students (compared to the 14,000 over-enrollment) and is increasing by 750 students the number of community college transfers. If anything, UC is providing an incredible service to the people of California to set aside the financial aid resources to keep students enrolled. UC also is dedicated to maintaining student access, particularly when California has an increasing number of qualified underrepresented students, at a time when the state is significantly reducing the UC budget. The problem is not UC’s lack of commitment to serve the people of California, but the failure of the state to commit funding and recognize the benefit to California by investing in UC – the people’s University.


Have you given up on state financing or can we still return to a sound public funding basis for higher education in California?


UC has not given up on state financing and is currently initiating the largest budget advocacy effort in its history. The Regents approved my proposal to ask the state of California to restore more than $900 million to our budget in the 2010-11 fiscal year, and we will be working vigorously with our advocates to convince the Governor and Legislature that this re-investment is critical for California. We are also joining with the California State University and the California Community Colleges to make the case for public higher education. Our state policymakers must look to the future prosperity of California and understand that the only way this prosperity can be achieved is through the college graduates and university research that will expand current business ventures and create new employment opportunities in the state. 



A recent Task Force on Investment and Retirement analysis shows that the planned ramp-up of employee and employer contributions to the UC Retirement Plan may not be enough to maintain its long term health. How should UC approach this problem?


UC currently has a task force in place (the Presidential Task Force on Post-Employment Benefits) charged with reviewing potential changes to UCRP benefits. The task force is also looking at funding options (including the state’s commitment) to address the solvency of our current obligations. Selling university assets could be considered, however, they provide only a “one-time” benefit for what amounts to an ongoing funding obligation.



We have heard from a few faculty who feel that your recent interview with the New York Times set the wrong tone. Do you want to cite any lessons learned from the response to your “cemetery manager” comment?


That was an old, old joke I’ve been telling for years. The point of the quip is self-deprecatory: despite the fancy title, university presidents are not omnipotent figures. We can point, nudge, coax and adjust, but it is within the important context of shared governance, and it is within a community of extremely smart people who have varied opinions. Telling the cemetery joke was to make the point that we dropped plans for across-the-board pay reductions and instead went to a progressive furlough program because that was what the majority of the faculty who contacted me last summer wanted. I listened. To be honest, most of our faculty understand the joke for what it is; a few want to pretend they don’t and feign outrage to advance their own causes. I don’t apologize for trying to maintain a sense of humor even in hard times. It beats wailing and gnashing teeth.



How are you ensuring that UC’s new advocacy and media relations campaigns will be more successful than in the past?


I can assure you that I am going to do everything in my power to make it work. Having said that, it will have a much greater chance of success if we all–faculty, staff, students, alumni and well-connected supporters--stick together and move forward as one. I do know this: advocacy as an intra-mural slugfest, with factions within the University beating on one another and fighting at cross-purposes, isn’t going to achieve much more than a few headlines.          



How can various internal constituencies cooperate better to present a unified front?


I think they can be powerful advocates for the University; they are the stars of the system, after all. We’re asking everyone in the UC community who wishes to participate in advocacy activities to sign up at and get active. We’ve had all kinds of advocacy activities underway for the last year – online, in person, on the phone, my own 20+ trips to Sacramento – but we have to double, triple, quadruple those activities this year if we’re to make higher education a higher priority in the state budget. In addition to being e-advocates, people who care about UC should be telling the story of what UC is doing for the people of California and why it needs to be supported financially everywhere they can – to their neighbors, in letters to the editor, at forums where candidates for public office are speaking.