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Spring 2003
The Price of Excellence
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It might be a favorable time in the face of today’s gloomy economic climate to explore ways to create ways to create more stable long-term funding for the university of California.

By Werner Z. Hirsh
Illustration by Luba Lukova

CALIFORNIANS CAN BE PROUD to have built the world’s finest public research university. Today, however, the University of California is at a crossroads and its preeminence and ability to compete with the best private institutions are at risk.

This has happened before. The end of the Cold War, for example, had a devastating effect on California’s defense industry, the state’s finances and, as a consequence, the UC. Then the UC was able to hold the damage to a minimum. But this time, because of the depth and expected long duration of the financial crisis, major systemic changes might be in order. Without such changes, the UC’s academic primacy could be damaged at a time it must accommodate the dramatic influx of students anticipated in what has been dubbed Tidal Wave II.

The UC, like other research universities, receives funding for its teaching and research from four major revenue sources — federal grants and contracts, private grants and gifts, state funding and fees and tuition. While the UC has little control over the first three sources, it can exercise control over fees as part of a strategy to enhance its resources to better maintain and elevate its world-class status. Ensuring the UC’s place as a top-echelon university, with UCLA among the best of the best, is critical because our public institutions are essential to the vitality of the state in so many ways — as educators of the next generations of scientists, engineers, policymakers and business leaders; as catalysts of new knowledge and innovation in such critical areas as biotechnology, health care and telecommunications; and as engines that have driven and sustained California’s economy.

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