Student Media Q&A with Chancellor and CP/EVC

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UC Santa Cruz Student Media representatives participated in a quarterly Q&A session with Chancellor George Blumenthal and Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor (CP/EVC) Marlene Tromp on May 14. City on a Hill Press asked questions related to the AFSCME strike, the Strategic Academic Planning (SAP) process, university privatization and campus development.

Chancellor George Blumenthal and CP/EVC Marlene Tromp answer questions during the Student Media Q&A session. Photo by Alonso Hernandez.

City on a Hill Press: The UC media specialist Stephanie Beechem commented on the AFSCME strike saying, “The strike will do nothing to change UC’s position on AFSCME’s unreasonable demands for excessive raises and benefits.” Where do you stand in regards to AFSCME’s demands?

Chancellor George Blumenthal: All labor negotiations take place through the Office of the President, so this isn’t a campus decision and it isn’t a chancellor’s decision. […] I’m not going to comment specifically on the AFSCME proposals and how they compare to the UC proposals. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to do that. But the general principles I do live by are that it is appropriate for unions to represent workers at UCs, it is appropriate if necessary to strike and it is appropriate to insist that living wages be paid to workers.

CHP: This year we’ve seen more and more relationships with private entities with UCSC than we have before — for example, Entangled Solutions, Capstone and private hiring consultants to hire the new dean of students. In the case of Entangled Solutions in the Strategic Academic Planning, why is it more effective to hire these private consulting firms versus asking students, faculty or staff to facilitate outreach?

CP/EVC Tromp: Long before I came, Capstone was selected to work with the university. […] We were very interested in this process, for SAP, to make sure that we could benefit from the experience of someone that has done a lot of strategic academic planning to support us in the process, but we were very, very clear from the beginning that our faculty and our students and our staff would shape the content. Our process has evolved tremendously over the course of the time, far different than what was originally set out, because we were so responsive to the interests our faculty, staff and students.

Note: Tromp began working for UCSC in June 2017, while Capstone’s selection was announced in October 2017.

CHP: Entangled Solutions, over a span of a couple months, received about 81 student [responses] from one of the surveys. Student organizers on campus responded and made their own survey. In less than a week they received over 100 survey responses. […] Is there any reconsideration of not using the private companies, considering that the students seem to be more successful in that case?

Tromp: Students have said to me that often students respond better to student requests than they do to requests coming from the administration. And so when we’ve been meeting with these student groups, we’ve been saying, ‘What do we need to do in order to help increase that engagement?’ because we really care about what students think. We wouldn’t be reaching out if we didn’t. […] And if we’d worked with a student advisory council to support us in thinking through things with Entangled Solutions, we might have had better responses to the survey. […] I think that it’s not the same as privatizing the university to say that we’re using a consultant to teach us something.

CHP: Considering what we know about Capstone Development and Sundt Construction, with Capstone being involved in substandard construction projects and legal violations and Sundt playing a role in the construction of Japanese internment camps, did the university know of their history before contracting with them, and why were they chosen despite this if there was knowledge about this prior?

Blumenthal: Capstone was chosen after an exhausting process. First of all, every contractor who wanted to be involved with the University of California system, not just UC Santa Cruz, had to go through a request for qualification process. The UC System did a honing down of all possible contractors to eight, so there was a lot of due diligence done at that point. We selected down to four contractors and then did bids from all four of those. Yes, we did know about some of the history of Capstone, we know about one of the issues they had with one of their subcontractors which played out on another university campus. […] We felt assured that the primary company itself was capable of bringing in the project as they promised to do.