Q&A with the UC President

On Sept. 29, Janet Napolitano marked the end of her first year as president of the University of California by holding a press conference in Oakland with UC campus newspapers to discuss issues and policies relevant to students.

UC President Janet Napolitano speaks to UC campus news reporters on Sept. 29 after her first year in office. Photo by Taylor Sanderson.
UC President Janet Napolitano speaks to UC campus news reporters on Sept. 29 after her first year in office. Photo by Taylor Sanderson.

Daniel Tutt, UC Berkeley – Daily Californian: You promised a tuition freeze for this year, but now another hike is being considered for next year because state funds are falling short. What are your plans to address this issue, and what can you tell students about whether their tuition will increase?

JN: What I can say is that we have frozen tuition [for the] third year in a row [and] that the state allocation for the university is not what we hope. That does put heavy pressure on the tuition dollar, and therefore, in November, when the Regents meet, they’re going to have to look at a whole range of things. So I don’t want to predict what the Regents are going to do, nor do I want to predict what I’m going to propose to the Regents. But I think I’m going to have to be upfront with you and say that given the fact that the state, if you look at the core budget of the university, there’s basically two parts to it: There’s the state appropriation and tuition. 20 years ago, state appropriation was here, and tuition was at the top of the bucket. The state is putting a little bit in, but it’s by an eye dropper realistically, so at a certain point, we may have to look at tuition again. It’s just the arithmetic and the math. The other part I would add to that is that student aid remains robust. 55 percent of the undergraduates in California do not pay tuition; they pay nothing. They’ve got to [pay for] room and board — I get that — but they don’t pay tuition. And another significant percentage of that get a break on tuition, so the student aid formulas are not anticipated to change.

Tina Butoiu, UCSD – The Guardian: At UCSD in the past couple of years we’ve experienced issues with housing with overcrowding in the dorms and parking lots. What is the UC Office of the President going to do to make UC campuses more accessible and attractive to students?

JN: Each campus has its own capital plan, and that is parking structures and buildings and dorms. I don’t specifically know what the capital plan is for UCSD. It must be a pretty attractive campus because we have a lot of applicants there and a lot of applicants that we’ve had to turn away from UCSD. It does undoubtedly have a capital plan and construction in vision, and that would be handled under our executive vice president and with the chancellors. That’s kind of on a campus-by-campus basis.

Joon Park, UCLA – The Daily Bruin: In previous Regents meetings, you recommended the Regents community to have a policy in which the president could recommend a document to chancellor’s compensation if the chancellor’s compensation is too low.

JN: Here’s the deal on that. There are 64 to 70 universities total in the U.S. that are equivalent to UC campuses, and our Chancellors, particularly some that have been with UC a long time, are paid like at the bottom of the scale. It’s a market. Not everyone can run one of these campuses. They’re complicated. Students are complicated. You’re complicated. The faculty is complicated. Some of our campuses are running hospitals and med schools and veterinary schools, etc., along with the undergraduate program. So these are big complicated institutions with billion dollar-plus budgets, and we pay their chancellors as if they were middle managers at a tech firm in San Francisco, and we pay them at the lowest comparative of what they call [Association of American Universities] universities. Many of the chancellors that have been with us for a while have been at a salary freeze for years. They haven’t had any increase in salary, so at the last meeting the Regents raised the bottom four. When I say bottom four, I don’t mean in terms of ranking but in terms of what they’re being compensated. They’re not even at the mid-level of comparative universities, but at least they can see the middle level over the horizon. And then they directed me to have a salary plan for chancellors that would not put them at the top of the range, not at the upper mid-level of the range. But at least get them somewhere around the middle for the 70 some-odd universities we compete with. That is what we intend to do. We have great chancellors. They work all the time. I don’t know that I’ve worked with a [harder] working group of people than the chancellors we have at UC right now. But we’re not treating them in a way that is competitive with what other campuses pay around the country.

Gabby Areas, UC Santa Cruz – City on a Hill Press: Why at this particular moment [raise the salaries] since the UC is facing a budget shortfall?

JN:  There’s never a good time to do it. I think one of the good reasons for the timing is … because they were looking to approve the package for the new UC Irvine chancellor. As new chancellors come in, they’re being paid much better at other institutions because we’re out of line, and we want to get the very best chancellors that we can get, so we end up paying them more. Most of our chancellors have taken salary cuts to come to the UC, so they come, but they’re still way above where the chancellors are who have been with us a long time, so then you get that kind of disparity there. So the notion is, you know what? We’re the University of California, we compete for the best all over the United States and we just got way off scale.

Phuc Pham, UC Irvine – New University: Given the rash of recently culturally insensitive events at campuses such as my own, UCI, and also Cal State universities, what do you think can be done on campuses to prevent many … particularly fraternities and sororities, from putting out racist events, and what would it take for there to be a similar task force like the ones addressing sexual assault to one addressing race?

JN: I just met the leadership of the Greek system at Berkeley yesterday, actually, and we had a great session to talk about the roles of fraternities and sororities at university life. And we [talked about the fact that we] have about 14 percent of our undergraduates as members in the Greek system and the fact that they can be a powerful force for good in the university community, and I was impressed by their commitment to do so. You know, every campus [has to take] upon itself and every student has to take upon him or herself the responsibility for how we act and interact with each other as a community. Because these campuses are really communities, and we will do all we can from UCOP to support education efforts, to support training, to support awareness and cultural sensitivity awareness in particular. But we cannot do this from Oakland. This really has to be [a] grassroots [movement] among the students themselves with the support of Oakland as we go through the school year. By the way, I think the student press could be very helpful here, just saying.

Tina Butoiu, UCSD – The Guardian: Last year there were several protests made by the graduate student teacher’s aides regarding their salaries and their class sizes increasing. For us undergraduate students and possibly graduate students that are listening, what does the future look like if we are going to be TAs ourselves?

JN: I think that one of the reasons I would like some more funding for the academic missions on the campus is for exactly that sort of thing. How do we improve the student faculty ratio, the TA number, class sizes? There, that actually goes into time of graduation. And we talked a little bit about that and [how to get] more students to be able to get out in four years. I actually think that TAs can be super helpful … It seems like the freshman year is so important, particularly for first generation students if they’re coming from a family background where no one has had a college education before in terms of what it takes to thrive at the UC. You know, just things like time management, study skills, the confidence. You’re admitted, you can do this work, that’s why we’re admitted. You can do the work, but being able to be in a smaller group, perhaps with a TA to focus efforts through that critical first year, they’re pretty much on a pathway, unless they’re changing majors or something like that. And that’s where TAs, I think, can be very, very helpful, so I would like to take all of that and shine a laser on it. When we discuss the budget we often talk about just numbers, and after a while numbers begin to sound like a Monopoly game, and here’s what happens … The students say, “Yeah, I understand, don’t have a tuition increase.” … Well, what does that mean then? What does that mean in terms of the quality of education that we can get? And we have to open up that discussion. To me, if there’s to be any increases, those dollars need to be used for those kinds of purposes and nothing else. So go to grad school.

Peter Manatier, UC Santa Barbara – The Daily Nexus: At the July Regents meeting you touched on what happened at UC Santa Barbara and what happened on May 23, and you had mentioned in your opening remarks that UCOP and the Regents would be working toward addressing student mental health issues and Isla Vista issues in the wake of what happened here. And I guess I was wondering if you could provide any updates on those remarks or what is being done to [improve] student mental health issues.

JN: Yes, I can. In fact I was just review[ing] some materials we put together. We’ve been looking at different ways to supply mental health services to all of our campuses, and in some areas we plain have a lack of providers. There aren’t enough psychiatrists and psychologists in the geographic area of the campus, and we’ve been looking at the role telemedicine can play in this arena. We’ve been looking at an approach that brings in social workers and general counselors as well as psychologists and psychiatrists because students need different levels of assistance, and there’s a lot variety during the school year. You can imagine during exam time, the needs go up, for example, and so we are kind of looking to the university as whole where we up our game where mental services are involved. In respect to Santa Barbara, we’ve also been working very closely with Chancellor Yang and the community in Isla Vista and how do we make Isla Vista a safer place to live. And technically, even though that’s not university property, we have to be realistic and say it’s associated, and it’s with the university reputationally [sic] and otherwise, you have a lot of students and staff who live there.

Phuc Pham, UC Irvine – New University: Returning back to the issues of mental health and sexual assault, given the impacted budget of the UC and also the impact … helping students with these issues … What is a realistic time frame we can expect to see funding for new sexual assault prevention offices?

JN  Sorry, you broke up a little bit. I didn’t hear you clearly. For which offices, please?

Phuc Pham, UC Irvine – New University: The ones on UC campuses dealing with sexual assault and mental health.

JN: Well, sexual assault, we’re gonna [sic] find that funding this year; we’re looking for it right now. Mental health will be a somewhat longer process because we are looking for a broader range of personnel and staff, and it may require a fee increase in order to pay for it so that may be something that’s longer term for additional service that we do not provide. That does not prevent us ever from better triag[ing], stag[ing] and deliver[ing] the services we do pay for right now.