EVC’s Strategic Academic Planning Draws Concern

Students, faculty and lecturers skeptical of new initiative

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Academics and the financial future of UC Santa Cruz are on the path toward change — and not everyone is happy about it. The Strategic Academic Planning (SAP) initiative is this path toward change, with goals of strengthening UCSC’s academics, identifying educational barriers and generating more resources. However, its unprecedented speed, search for external funding and lack of representation in the planning process are drawing concerns from students and faculty.

Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor (CP/EVC) Marlene Tromp formally began the SAP process in November 2017 and is set to be finished by the end of the academic year, with help from private education consulting group Entangled Solutions.

Entangled Solutions’ role in the SAP is to help identify the university’s strengths through a series of surveys and forums. Ultimately, the initiative seeks to increase the university’s academic and research impact. The four phases of the process will be completed by June 2018, after which implementation of the plan will begin.

Expediting the Process

Past campus strategic plans have taken multiple years, yet the current iteration is set to be completed in eight months. Such a short timeline is a point of concern for Student Union Assembly (SUA) Vice President of Academic Affairs (VPA) Jessica Xu, who is one of two student representatives on the SAP Academic Advisory Committee.

“I admire [Tromp’s] enthusiasm, but she’s asking a lot for the campus to abide by her expedient deadline,” Xu said. “[…] We have one of the best ground-up approaches in terms of student representation at these kinds of things, so I was disappointed to hear that she wanted to expedite this process.”

Xu, a student representative on UCSC Academic Senate’s Committee on Educational Policy, said the senate was deeply concerned with how quickly the process was moving and the potential for an inadequate amount of outreach and feedback to be given.

Associate Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Martin Berger, who is on the SAP steering committee, said they chose to work with Entangled Solutions to ensure a thorough and efficient surveying phase. The committee also selected Entangled Solutions because they provided an implementation plan, which would ensure the SAP goals are put into effect.

Searching For External Funds

Part of the reason why the SAP process aims to strengthen certain academic areas, in addition to increasing academic impact, is to attract external funding — including non-profit, industry and private investments.

“The current [university] trajectory, financially, is poor,” Martin Berger said. “[…] I understand the corporate university fears, but nobody in the administration wants us to become that. What we do want to do is support our students adequately.”

Berger said with the state divesting from the UC system, they’ve had to seek funding elsewhere. State funding in higher education has steadily fallen — from $23,000 per full-time student in 1976 to $8,000 in 2017.

This external investment could come in the form of alumni donations or partnerships with entities such as industry partnerships, which could benefit employees looking to earn credentials or professional degrees.

Former CP/EVC Allison Galloway, who conducted a multi-year strategic campus plan during her term, said she was concerned the university is attempting to combine academic and funding goals into one strategic plan.

“Many times, people see a strategic academic plan as a funding mechanism, and it really isn’t. The funding is divorced from that,” Galloway said.

Private entities have influenced UC campuses in the past. In 2007, UC Berkeley closed a $500 million deal with British Petroleum (BP) for the creation of their Energy Biosciences Institute. The research that happens through BP’s funding is co-owned by the corporation, which means BP can choose not to publish any discoveries to gain an edge over competitors. At the time, UC Berkeley had to rewrite much of their mission statement to accommodate this partnership.

In the face of more private money pouring into UCSC, CP/EVC Marlene Tromp remained adamant that university academics would not go down the same route.

“[Contracts] would never be written such that we wouldn’t have the autonomy to do the work that we wanted to do,” Tromp said. “If someone said, ‘we insist that you do x,’ then we wouldn’t take the gift. […] If we ran out of money, we’d have to figure out where to cut our budget.”

Tromp said the external funding would serve to improve all aspects of the university, as the money would be “strategically” allocated.

Former CP/EVC Alison Galloway is more skeptical of the idea. Her stance on external investments is that not all aspects of the university will see the benefits, since money is often given to encourage programs that are already doing very well, rather than to patch up programs that are falling behind.

“That’s kind of like trickle down economics,” Galloway said. “It doesn’t always trickle.”

Lacking Representation

When first notified in fall, Student Union Assembly (SUA) members were surprised by the SAP initiative because there were no student representatives. SUA VPA Jessica Xu said the SUA wrote a letter to CP/EVC Tromp and insisted there be student representation.

Eventually SUA was allowed to elect an undergraduate and graduate student representative to sit on the Academic Advisory Committee, which provides recommendations to the Chancellor and the CP/EVC.

But even when SAP consultants sought student opinion, said SUA President Max Jimenez, their feedback was not well received.

“The SUA Officers were consulted, however, the consultants weren’t listening to our concerns,” she said in an email. “When we would answer questions, they would misinterpret our answers.”

Out of the 36 representatives involved in the SAP process, only two are students and none are lecturers.

Philip Longo, communications coordinator for the UC American Federation of Teachers in Santa Cruz, said the process suffers greatly from not having lecturers involved.

“Out of the 800 or so faculty, you’re leaving out about 300 [lecturers],” Longo said. “You’re effectively leaving out most of the people who teach writing, languages, core, math, music and arts classes. A real large percentage, maybe even a majority of undergraduate courses.”

Associate Vice Provost and steering committee member Martin Berger said lecturers are welcome to attend the working groups and public forums. But Longo said many of these are inaccessible because of lecturers’ busy and often unpredictable schedules, as many of them work at multiple campuses.

While the SAP initiative focuses primarily on identifying and evolving academics at UCSC, key stakeholders such as students, lecturers and people of color are largely left out of the process.

The nine-person steering committee, which oversees the logistical aspects of the SAP process, is made up entirely of vice chancellors, nearly all whom are white — despite Latinx and African/Black/Caribbean communities making up about 33 percent of the student population.

“More representation from the widest cross-section of people on campus would be good,” Berger said. “There are people of color on both committees and you could argue that we should have more. I don’t know if I would argue with you because I don’t think you can have too much diversification.”

While there is a lack of representation, especially of students, on the SAP committees, Jessica Xu said she hopes to be a voice for student concerns. The process will continue toward its June deadline when CP/EVC Marlene Tromp and Chancellor George Blumenthal are expected to decide on UCSC’s final academic priorities.

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