Strategic Academic Plan Criticized at Town Hall

Students feel left out of SAP development

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Illustration by Manne Green

Two students sat alongside 44 faculty members at the latest Strategic Academic Plan (SAP) town hall on Jan. 18. Members of the campus community criticize the plan for multiple reasons, but at Friday’s town hall, the two undergraduates focused on the lack of student involvement.

“It’s troubling to see that most of the people here are staff or part of the committee,” said second-year Christy Renderos, who attended the town hall. “There weren’t a lot of students here, which is a problem because at the end of the day this plan is affecting students.”

Multiple faculty members also voiced their concerns at the town hall, questioning the speed of the plan’s development, its focus on external funding and its intention to enhance UCSC’s status among other  universities.

“This plan is referred to as an ‘academic plan’ yet it seems like its emphasis is on rank, reputation, recruitment and external fundraising,” said Deborah Gould, an associate professor of sociology. “It seems like it’s all about reputation.”

The SAP, originally proposed in 2017, is UC Santa Cruz’s academic plan to tackle areas of education the administration wants to focus on for the next five years. The SAP’s original goals aimed to build stronger programs for students, create new research opportunities for faculty and heighten UC Santa Cruz’s global impact. These goals are categorized as Design Principles, Academic Priority Areas and Barrier Reduction Projects.

Previous feedback on the plan requested more transparency in the planning process, and the committee responded by posting notes from all group meetings on the SAP website.

Written and published on Dec. 17 by Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Herbie Lee, the new draft discussed at the town hall explains what each area consists of and what SAP hopes to accomplish in more detail.

“The current SAP is a significant improvement over the earlier draft that was circulated over the summer,” said politics professor Megan Thomas. “But the bar was very, very low.”

However, it’s hard to understand exactly what the SAP is trying to accomplish or what its process is by reading the draft, Christy Renderos said. She believes the language is still broad and glosses over complex subjects.

“One of the design principles states, ‘expanding excellence in innovation areas distinctive to UCSC such as social justice, diversity and sustainability,’” Renderos said in an email. “It’s so broad you don’t understand the benefits. It also doesn’t specify how it includes the interests and needs of students of color and marginalized communities into the plan.”

Lee agreed it could be difficult for students to understand. He proposed it is something he and Tromp could make more clear.

“There are some underlying assumptions of what a strategic plan looks like that we haven’t necessarily made explicit,” Lee said. “Students may not have much familiarity with the concept, and so we may be making a fair number of assumptions about how people read it.”

Students want clarification on the language of SAP, but the pop-up office hours, called Cafe SAPs, are at inconvenient times, said third-year Emely Carmona. Three of the four Cafe SAPs were at 8:30 a.m. on weekdays and lasted for an hour. One of them took place during finals week, off campus at the UCSC Scotts Valley Center.

“An hour is definitely not enough to have a conversation surrounding this,” Carmona said. “If it was longer, then maybe students who weren’t able to come in at this hour can come in for the other half, or vice versa.”

Lee explained the Cafe SAPs are held early in the morning in hopes of fewer conflicts with attendees’ schedules. He also said the Cafe SAPs focus on communicating with faculty more than students, but the turnout is small with about five to 10 people at each event. Lee and his staff have met with about half a dozen faculty members throughout the Cafe SAPs.

Lee also said he is working on a new plan to involve more students, ideally within the next month. He added students can provide feedback on the SAP website. But the students at the town hall expressed that understanding the SAP and coming up with feedback is difficult due to the complicated language and lack of student outreach.

“It’s good that they’re reaching out, but you have to remember that we’re students too,” Renderos said. “We’re not getting paid for this, we have a lot of work. It’s something to be aware of.”

To provide feedback on the SAP, email academicplan@ucsc.edu.

Additional reporting by Gillian McFerren.