‘Faculty need to participate directly in remaking the State of California,’ says Academic Senate chair

A law professor specializing in ethics, criminal law, and legal and political philosophy, Chris Kutz has served since August 2009 as chair, and before that as vice chair, of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate. Faced with an alarming budget crisis, the Senate has become a hub for faculty deliberation and activity on an array of important decisions — “some of them reversible,” he says, “some not” — concerning the character and structure of the campus and the UC system. He sat down recently with NewsCenter writer Cathy Cockrell to share his perspective on the challenges of shared governance in a time of unprecedented change.

Q. What was your initial agenda as Senate chair? Have you had to switch course as the campus’s financial situation has deteriorated?

Chris Kutz

Academic Senate Chair Chris Kutz teaches in the Jurisprudence & Social Policy Program and directs the Kadish Center for Law, Morality & Public Affairs, both at Berkeley Law. He earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at Berkeley and his law degree at Yale. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

A. When I agreed to take the job two years ago, I thought we would be dealing with very different issues. I had been co-chair of a task force on large-scale industrial partnerships like the BP/Energy Biosciences Institute. I thought the Senate would be thinking a lot about private funding in relation to our public mission. We have, in fact, but in a very different context. Not “How do we maintain our autonomy in a shower of private dollars?” but “How do we get some of those dollars to replace the public ones that are disappearing?”

I was also eager to try to make the Senate a more efficient governing body, by taking greater care in how we ask for and use the extraordinarily limited resource of faculty time and deliberation. We have made a little headway here, in trimming back on standing committees so that we can ask more faculty to serve on specific “task forces,” for example those dealing with athletics or the budget.

It became clear last year that the funding of intercollegiate athletics was going to be a big issue. Athletics would have been an issue even without the budget crisis, but the huge budget shortfall has given it steam, even though it accounts  for a fairly small fraction of the campus’s budget. Athletics — while it’s significant and needs attention — has more symbolic than financial impact.

One thing I was not ready for is the degree of anger in the community. You cut people’s salaries, hike their tuitions, or threaten layoffs, and they get angry.

Q. How has that anger manifested?

A. It has manifested, for example, in the Nov. 5 faculty meeting about the funding of athletics, in which tempers were very short. I’m greatly concerned about the poor state of our labor relations, which I think is hindering UC politically. We need to mount a unified front politically in support of higher education — represented workers, non-represented workers, and faculty, together. We have a common institution and a common future.

Q. What is the Academic Senate’s central challenge at this time, in your view?

A. We’re in a period in which large decisions are being made, decisions with potentially quite far-reaching consequences — some of them reversible, some not. These include the character of our undergraduate population; the nature of the fee hikes and their effects on the socioeconomic diversity of our students; the structure of the university system and the autonomy of the different campus programs.  While I don’t think the latter will affect Berkeley as much as some campuses, the Senate has discussed questions of cross-program consolidation.

Q. So if you want to take x subject, go to y campus?

A. Exactly. Similar to what was done with the libraries: “The system holds a book; you can get it from UCLA if you want it.” Those kinds of decisions are happening fast. I think the UC Commission on the Future will recommend some pretty far-reaching changes. The Senate has to be in a position to respond constructively — oppositionally if necessary. Substantively, we need to help create a political environment in which higher education is funded by the state. That requires making our value known, but it also means participating directly in remaking the State of California — political reform, efforts to give us a tax base to support investments the state needs.

The UC Commission on the Future will recommend some pretty far-reaching changes. The Senate has to be in a position to respond constructively — oppositionally if necessary.

Q. Restoring public funding for UC sounds like a long-term project.

A. It is. It’s a five or ten-year project — constitutional reform and reestablishing public appreciation for the combination of teaching and world-class research that UC provides. Henry Brady, dean of the Graduate School of Public Policy, has encouraged faculty to speak at Rotary clubs and Chambers of Commerce and labor groups throughout California. To talk about current research of interest, and make sure people realize “this research brought to you by the University of California.”

Q. Do you support the notion of holding a convention to remake the state constitution?

A. Absolutely. We’re misleading ourselves if we think we can muddle on with our current constitution, or fix the next fiscal problem by passing yet another ballot proposition. I know some people worry that holding a constitutional convention opens a can of worms. Yes, it is a risk; we do need to think carefully about how to structure such a meeting. But I’ll take a can of worms over what we’re in — a pot of boiling oil! We are an unusually messed up state. The chance of improving our situation is much greater than the chance of degrading it.

Q. Faculty and administration share some of the decision making at Berkeley. What is your view of shared governance?

A. There’s a mystery about why Berkeley is as successful an institution as it is — given that we’re short on money and resources compared to our private peers. Many have come to the conclusion that the tradition of shared governance is pretty important. It keeps people here — maybe not quite as much as the pension system, but it creates an important bond between faculty and the university.

Under shared governance, the faculty has authority over academic degrees and courses, but we actually have very little direct administrative authority. What we have, instead, is the right to be consulted — which is not so much authority as an opportunity to be at the table. Our power is a direct function of how well we think through problems and articulate our views.

‘There’s a mystery about why Berkeley is as successful an institution as it is…. Many have come to the conclusion that the tradition of shared governance is pretty important.’

Q. What issues are faculty members most concerned with right now?

A. All faculty share concerns about having their salaries cut through furloughs. Most have been willing to accept furloughs for one year as an emergency measure. But if the furloughs were to continue, that would be a real problem. At a recent systemwide Academic Council meeting, UC President Mark Yudof went on record saying “Furloughs will end.” I was glad to hear him say that furloughs will be discontinued.

Grant-supported research faculty are very worried about research-support services — everything from getting waste baskets emptied to making sure that grants are filed on time and we’re in compliance with regulations. Layoffs and consolidation of the research enterprise have meant reductions in support levels. I’m part of the Operational Excellence steering committee, and one of the things we’re looking at is ways the campus may be able to both improve service and save money.

There is also a lot of faculty interest in the finances of both the campus and the UC system as a whole. This has been very murky for a long time. Lack of budget clarity is not just a public accountability or public relations problem; it’s a problem for internal operations. So, for example, how much do we spend as a campus on temporary teachers, lecturers, and instructors? Information is extremely distributed. There’s no campus total that allows us to say “This is how much we spend on undergraduate education through the use of instructors.”

Achieving more budget transparency has been a major project of mine and the Academic Senate over the last year or so. We held a Senate event Feb. 3 to unveil an intelligible description of our finances. At the systemwide level, as well, there’s an attempt to rethink how funds are allocated to the campuses.

Q. Faculty have been voicing their concerns about the budget crisis through a number of groups outside the Senate, such as Save the University and Solidarity Alliance. How do you view this development?

A. It’s been incredibly valuable to have those voices — faculty who want to make sure that the university is doing what it should to maintain its public character. Alternative organizations can act politically in a direct way. For example, Save the University is organizing buses to the rally in Sacramento on March 4 to support public education; I will be on one of those buses. The Senate can’t endorse a political position or piece of legislation, though we can inform faculty as individual citizens. We can nudge.

‘Most faculty have been willing to accept furloughs for one year as an emergency measure. But if the furloughs were to continue, that would be a real problem.’

At the same time, for shared governance to succeed, it’s important that the institutional voice of the faculty be unambiguous — and that the faculty speak officially through the Senate. Once different groups claim to speak for the faculty as a whole, no one speaks for the faculty. Then we’ve got trouble. This has happened on other campuses, where the chancellor has said: “You’re telling me you’re speaking for the faculty, but another group was here just last week, saying it spoke for the faculty. So I’ll just make up my own mind.”

The same thing is true for the student organizations. It’s important that the institutional voice of the ASUC and the Graduate Assembly be respected.

Q. Are there other important Senate projects that we haven’t touched upon? Anything outside the budget emergency perhaps?

A. We’re working with the administration to improve the lower-division experience. Students seem pretty satisfied once they’re in their majors. They have priority in courses; there’s a kind of path mapped out for them. But it’s quite a struggle for undergrads in the first two years. A lot of problems stem directly from over-enrollment — like difficulty getting into gateway classes. There are also problems with coordinating between schools and majors. So, can a chemistry major take intro Korean?

‘Some people worry that holding a constitutional convention opens a can of worms…. I’ll take a can of worms over what we’re in — a pot of boiling oil!’

I should add that this effort to improve the lower-division experience is not unrelated to funding. It follows partly from our attempt now to attract more out-of-state undergraduates. If you’re charging market rates to out-of-state students, you can’t have them show up and discover they can’t get into the classes they need. We need to give everybody the education they deserve. Increasing out-of-state enrollment gives us a trigger to improve the education for in-state students as well.

Q. Some state universities rely heavily on out-of-state students, who pay higher fees, to fund themselves. What’s your view of that strategy?

A. There are lots of different kinds of public universities out there. I don’t want Berkeley to become Michigan, which has high tuition and very high out-of-state enrollments. If we followed that model, there will be a sense that we will have betrayed our historic mission to educate Californians. Raising our percentage of out-of-state undergrads to 20 percent may be necessary; 45 percent would be too high.

But we can’t close the budget gap, either, simply by attracting private philanthropy. Berkeley has no way to reach the endowment levels of a Stanford or Harvard — not over a lifetime. It will be hard to stay as big and great as we are without drawing on restored public support. California built one of the marvels of the world in its system of public higher education coupled with world-class research. We cannot let the public walk away now from that achievement, difficult as it is to maintain. We must continue to insist upon the importance of public access to and public support for Berkeley and the rest of the University of California.