About The Future

Eric Wang/Guardian
Eric Wang/Guardian

The UC Commission on the Future visited UCSD’s Price Center East Ballroom on Nov. 6 to listen to the concerns and needs of the UCSD community.

The UC Office of the President claims to have created the commission to collect public input on various aspects of the UC system — an effort toward creating a collaborative vision of the university’s future.

The commission will report back to the regents with its findings in the spring or summer of 2010. Its body consists of more than than 25 members and five working groups addressing the size and shape of the UC system; education and curriculum; access and affordability; funding; and research strategies.

“The purpose of the commission is to gather recommendations as to how we might re-envision the future,” UC Santa Barbara professor and “size and shape” working group co-chair Cynthia Brown said. “Given the fiscal constraints, we want to think in creative ways as much as possible.”

The commission is conducting a listening tour, on which it will visit each UC campus to gather ideas from staff, faculty and students on how to best address the university’s financial crisis. The commission has already visited UC Irvine, UC Merced, UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz.

The Nov. 6 meeting at UCSD was led by a six-member panel: UC Santa Cruz Chancellor and “size and shape” co-chair George Blumenthal, UC San Francisco professor and “research strategies” co-chair Mary Croughan, UC Davis associate professor and “education and curriculum” co-chair Keith R. Williams, student regent and “access and affordability” co-chair Jesse Bernal and UCOP chief financial officer Peter Taylor.

Chancellor Marye Anne Fox opened the meeting with an introduction, and was followed by a brief speech from each panel member about his or her specific area of focus.

Pre-selected administrators, staff, faculty and students were then given time to speak, making way for an open comment period in which any member of the public could voice concerns to the commission.

“[The goal is] to hear comments from the San Diego campus and community and get their input on what the community wants to work on,” Croughan said.

Through the series of UCSD speakers, numerous concerns were raised — including fee increases, layoffs, financial aid, campus funding and differential fees. Students and faculty alike spoke to the issues closest to them, most of which stemmed from funding cuts.

“Young professors — many of them have built their careers at UC,” associate professor Rachel Klein said. “That’s not going to happen any more as our jobs become degraded and funding for student and staff support evaporates. These faculty cannot be replaced by lecturers.”

A number of students and staff echoed Klein’s concerns about decline in faculty.

“Just a few years ago, the undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio at UCSD was approximately 20 to one,” A.S. campuswide senator Adam Kentworthy said during the open comment period. “Faculty layoffs and hiring freezes in the past year have pushed that number to almost 40 to one. Cutting freshmen seminars at UCSD earlier this year has further distanced students from faculty. There is no replacement for face-to-face contact with a professor in the scope of education. Is this what we’re paying for?”

Many speakers disclosed concerns about the increase in student fees, speaking to both the fact that students may have to unenroll as fees grow higher and that prior fee increases have not necessarily produced visible results.

“When I started school here as an undergraduate [in 2000], I was paying about $900 for my education fee,” graduate student and former registration-fee committee chair Garo Bournoutian said. “As of today, the undergraduate education fee is over $1,900. It has more than doubled — but as undergraduate students, what more have you received? You have received larger classes and less faculty interaction time. That’s a big issue. If we’re looking at the future of the UC, where are we going?”

The commission will be conducting the remainder of its campus visits through November and December. According to Croughan, the commission originally intended to have its recommendations completed by March 2010, but is now looking to extend this deadline to summer 2010.

The regents will be visiting UCSD soon as well: They have announced another open forum on Jan. 19, 2010, at which UCSD community members can voice their concerns before university officials.

Readers can contact Ayelet Bitton at [email protected]