On a listening tour at Berkeley, UC Commission on the Future has its vision tested

Members of the UC Commission on the Future, tasked with critically rethinking the institution in a time of financial crisis, came to Berkeley on Monday to discuss potential and sometimes controversial solutions to the problems facing UC with Senate faculty. About 40 faculty members turned up for the afternoon session in Evans Hall for the chance to weigh in on initial recommendations from the commission’s working groups.

The commission released its initial round of recommendations last week in a 150-page report.

Mary Croughan and Henry Brady

UCOP's Mary Croughan and Dean Henry Brady of the Goldman School of Public Policy fielded faculty questions during a forum with local members of UC Commission on the Future. (Wendy Edelstein/NewsCenter photo)

Recommendations ranged widely and include exploring undergraduate online instruction; use of internal funds for areas of research where external sources of funding are limited or nonexistent; increasing UC’s graduate enrollment; and introducing three-year undergraduate degrees.

In the executive summary, the report’s authors acknowledge that some of the recommendations “represent a sea change for the university and likely would not be considered except for the severe fiscal crisis that UC faces.” In some instances, multiple working groups are offering the commission different perspectives on the same issue, and some of the recommendations are in conflict with one another. Therefore, the ideas are being shared with the UC community and the public to engender “the broader and more extensive discussion they now require.”

Formed by UC President Mark Yudof and Russell Gould, chair of the Board of Regents, the commission is charged with developing “a new vision for the university while reaffirming its commitment to quality, access, and affordability” during the continuing budget crisis, said moderator Oliver O’Reilly, a member of the Divisional Council and associate professor of mechanical engineering.

Members of the commission and its five working groups — focusing respectively on UC’s size and shape, education and curriculum, access and affordability, funding strategies, and research strategies — will present their recommendations to faculty, students, staff, and the public during the next two months. The commission will submit prioritized recommendations to the regents in June and put forward a final proposal in September.

UC’s big problem

Five local working-group members from Berkeley and UCSF presented overviews of each group’s first round of recommendations. Miguel Daal, a Berkeley graduate student representing the size-and-shape working group, introduced the recommendation to increase the numbers of non-resident undergraduate students admitted to UC campuses. The recommendation stipulates that the non-resident students would not displace funded resident students.

Increasing the number of non-resident students (who pay higher tuition) would boost funds, said Daal, and also “improve the educational quality of all students by improving the geographical and cultural diversity” of UC.

That drew an objection from political-science professor Wendy Brown, who countered that changing the balance of in-state and out-of-state students “is entirely about money,” adding that “to put any of those other rationales in there is profoundly disingenuous and an affront.”

UC’s “big problem” is the decrease in state funding, said Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy and a member of the funding-strategy working group. If funding levels from the state remain the same, he said, UC will be looking at a $5 billion gap by 2018.

Brady likened the university’s state funding to an endowment. “It helps UC to be great,” he said. “If we do not have state funding, we will not have the endowment private universities have that allow them to be great.”

Funding-strategy working group recommendations include examining the controversial idea of charging differential tuition by campus and establishing best practices to cut administrative costs throughout the UC system.

Another recommendation is to develop a multi-year grassroots opinion-leader advocacy campaign for state support. “We have to become a little scarier to legislators and a little bit more powerful so they will think that funding us is important and that cutting us will cost them when they are seeking re-election,” said Brady, a political scientist.

During the question-and-answer session, Mary Ann Mason, former dean of the Graduate Division, complained that “no one seems to be addressing the crisis figure here, the $5 billion gap in 10 years.” She asked whether any of the working groups is thinking on a scale large enough to address “that particular crisis down the road.”

Brady acknowledged that the $700 million to $1 billion in savings and revenues projected by his working group will not fill that future shortfall. “We either have to continue to get state funding or maybe get increases in state funding — which is why the grassroots campaign is absolutely essential — or we start rethinking this university in a very fundamental way,” he said.

That $5 billion deficit assumes the state is going to increase funding to UC by 5 percent every year, said Mary Croughan, co-chair of the research strategies working group and executive director in research-grant operations at UCOP. But “there’s not a chance in hell that’s going to happen,” she said.

On the other hand, noted Croughan, when the research-strategy group presented its recommendations to the commission, its members lowballed the amount they projected UC could recover in indirect costs from research sponsored by outside agencies, such as the cost of research facilities, utility bills, or administrative support that are only partly covered by grants.

In her group’s presentation to the commission, Gould challenged them on their $70 million projection, said Croughan, who acknowledged UC could recover significantly more, since it loses “closer to $350 million” per year on indirect costs.

As the session wound down, moderator O’Reilly asked whether it would be helpful for Academic Senate members to submit their own lists of priorities. “Be really thorough and thoughtful and justify the hell out of them,” said Croughan, the immediate past chair of the systemwide Academic Senate. Explain why those priorities are important to the university and to the state of California, she advised.

“You would be amazed by the unrealistic expectations among our fellow faculty of what we can do,” said Bob Jacobsen, a professor of physics and a member of the access-and-affordability working group. “The vast majority of our colleagues don’t understand what the problem is.”

“And how really big the problem is,” said Brady. “And with a state government that really is unable to operate.” As audience members began to leave, Brady added, “It will get better. Don’t worry.”

• Respond to the first round of proposals. | Learn more about the University Commission on the Future.