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Saving UCLA


Photos by Reed Hutchinson '71 and Jim McHugh

Published Apr 1, 2010 8:17 AM

Talent and innovation built the California Dream. Talent and innovation can revive it. At stake: the well-being of every Californian. But UCLA — one of the state's most critical sources of both talent and innovation — is under siege. In a wide-ranging discussion held at Chancellor Gene Block's residence on campus, student, faculty and alumni leaders explored how the crisis came about, what UCLA's friends and supporters can do about it, and what the university will look like after the crisis has passed. Judy Olian, dean of UCLA's Anderson School of Management, moderates.


Moderator: Judy Olian
Dean, UCLA Anderson School of Management

Howard Welinsky ’72
Warner Bros. Senior Vice President of Distribution

Gene Block
Chancellor, UCLA

Frank Gilliam
Dean, UCLA School of Public Affairs

Robin L. Garrell
Chair, UCLA Academic Senate

Andriana Trang ’12
Student, Public Relations Director, Bruin Belles Service Association

Block: These are truly challenging times. This year, as you know, we're going to have a 32-percent increase in student fees approved by the Board of Regents in November. And this obviously can jeopardize our core purpose at the university, which is to provide broad access and excellence. We're pleased that the governor has stated the importance of higher education. But even as we see these positive signs in support, one thing has dwindled over the past 30 years — a long-term decrease in funding from the state. But yet, California's expectations for UCLA have only grown. The state looks to us to provide a top-tier education, serve as an engine for the economy, provide world-class health care and improve the quality of life all around us. So we're caught between increasing demands and falling resources. Something has to give. And that's what we're struggling with right now. We're here today to discuss the issues and look for ways ahead and to explore possible solutions. We hope this UCLA Magazine article will give our powerful alumni base clarity on the threats we face and motivate them to support UCLA as voters, advocates, volunteers and donors. So, I want to thank you for what will hopefully be a very productive discussion. I will now turn it over to Judy.

Olian: I'm going to really try to capture the multiplicity of perspectives and constituencies that are around the table. The first question is, please choose one single area where you see budget cuts affecting you or your unit. Andriana, I'm going to start with you.

Trang: As a student, I would just say we really didn't think this would affect people being able to come to school. That 32-percent increase may not seem like a lot of money for people who are working. But my parents were without work last year. And so for me, either I'll have to take summer courses and finish early, or take community college classes in the summer to fulfill my general ed requirements instead of taking them here, so I can do my major here. And then one of my acquaintances, she lives on my floor. She doesn't think she can return next year, because she doesn't know if her parents can afford it. And she's taken out so many loans that it's more beneficial for her to go back home and to work for a little bit and maybe take classes at her community college before coming back to the University of California [UC] to finish her education. I hear [stories like these] from a lot of different people. It's just been a very eye-opening experience.

Garrell: The crisis has particularly impacted faculty who have more modest salaries, who are already right on the edge of their capacity to manage their lives and pay mortgages and child care, all those sorts of things. The salary reduction and furloughs that we had this year were particularly difficult for those faculty and also for staff. We depend on staff in our departments and laboratories to help us carry out our research and education missions. And they've been furloughed. The other area where I think it's had a big impact is on our ability to ensure that we provide the curriculum for our students, ensuring we can offer as many classes as they need to graduate, ensuring classes don't get too big.

Welinsky: I'm not immediately affected. But the state is affected. The community is affected. To the extent that if any bright young or even bright old students can't get access to an education, the community suffers, the business community suffers. Already, California doesn't produce its fair share of bachelor degrees. And the country isn't doing the level that it did, either. We're far below three or four other countries that we compete with. So if students don't have access, the state suffers, the community suffers and the country suffers.

Gilliam: The seed money that a dean might provide to promising faculty who have new and interesting research projects has dried up. It certainly hampers our ability to respond to the new issues that arise in our fields and to be able to build initiatives and projects and programs around new developments in scholarship and in practice. So that means we can't hire faculty in emerging fields where we should have some expertise. It means we're not able to deliver to the graduate students training and education in these new fields. It means that we, in some cases, aren't able to be involved in national and international discourse around these issues, when we should be.

Block: UCLA has traditionally been quite committed to improving the K-12 pipeline. And we've got some notable activities along that line through the UCLA Community School. But we have plans to expand our university elementary schools in the community, starting one or two additional elementary schools. That has to be put on hold, because we don't have the resources to do that. Some of our academic advancement programs that will help ensure that more students are qualified for UC admission are being scaled back. And when schools and faculty want to create trans-school or multidisciplinary activities, they don't have the resources because it goes beyond the support of any one dean to support. That includes some of the most innovative and exciting, sometimes high-risk activities that go on at this institution. Our piggy bank is now not well-stocked to support these activities. So, we're turning them away. A third area is intellectual property. Creating incubators is expensive. It requires investment and research funding to take great intellectual properties created by this wonderful university and translate them into wealth for California. That effort is being hampered by a lack of investment by the state.

Olian: I think the cuts have had a reputational impact, which pervades a number of areas that are very important to the university, in terms of attracting students, because they have a lot of options. And when you say you're not attracting students, that is not just about attracting them to the university. It means attracting them to this state from all over the world, because we're a net importer at the University of California of a lot of talent that ends up coming here and staying. And that's true of faculty as well.

So, let's go on to the second question. Looking forward, what do you see are the biggest risks? Howard, I'll start with you.

Welinsky: Well, the biggest risk really is the lack of developed talent, that we [will be forced to] educate less students in an environment where we're so highly competitive with the world. And if California is going to continue to be on the cutting edge, it needs the university to be fully funded.

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Gilliam: It certainly does put in harm's way the future growth of the state. In a related way, it risks us not capturing innovation — as a place that discovered everything from the Internet to medical breakthroughs. And, in the largest scale, it raises the specter of the death of public education.

Olian: And what that means in terms of access.

Gilliam: The implication is that only people with money will be able to get a first-rate education, and that puts a stake through the heart of the master plan.

Block: Great research universities are moved ahead by extraordinary faculty. And if they see that their careers are not flourishing in California, they'll go somewhere else in the United States. We've got enormous risk in terms of loss of our brightest faculty.

Olian: And the attraction of future very bright faculty.

Garrell: It's faculty here going elsewhere. The faculty from elsewhere whom we invite to come here won't. Or worse, we won't be able to renew our ranks. And if, as a group, we can no longer do the best research and scholarship, we'll see a decline in federal financing. We'll see a decline in our research productivity and in our ability to train students.

Trang: You can't bring in as many qualified students as you want. And that will decrease the diversity that the UCs are known for — the diversity of the students that we have and the diversity of the talent that we produce. And then once you get to the school, you don't get what you thought you would get. You don't get the students that you thought you would be classmates with. You don't get the classes that you hoped to enroll in. And you don't get the professors whose research you've heard of that you hoped would be able to teach you.

Olian: Exactly. It's about a talent pipeline for the future of California. It's about a knowledge pipeline for the future of the world, because we've been an innovation engine. And frankly, it's very much about access for a population that is economically disadvantaged, that always had a tradition of transformation through the University of California and through public universities. This is America. We should be enabling what is traditionally America.

Are we ready to be thinking of models that are different from the publicly supported state model? I'll use the word self-sufficiency here, or a version thereof, a la Michigan, or the University of Virginia. And let's start with you, Gene, since you're quite knowledgeable about the University of Virginia [Block was vice provost at U.Va.].

Block: A completely self-sufficient university is an enormous undertaking. As we look ahead, I think what we will be doing is going to be more evolutionary than revolutionary. There will be changes in the way this institution is supported. It's going to come more slowly than at some of the professional schools that will be on a self-supporting basis. We'll focus on building up the endowments. But 15 years from now, it will look like a different institution. The state portion will be smaller.

Olian: But it's already so small; I mean, 9 percent?

Block: You don't want to use that figure. That's the percentage of our $4.5-billion operating budget that comes from the state, but we need to emphasize that state funds pay for a much larger percentage of core expenses, like faculty salaries.

Welinsky: That has really hurt us in the Legislature, because one of the things that reverberated was the notion that the UC has all these alternative sources of revenue: "You guys can get along better than everyone else who only depends upon state funds."

Olian: Can we replace what the state's funding is today without changing the fabric of our student population?