By Zev Vernon-Lapow
The University of California at Santa Cruz may be trading in written tests for test tubes and books for beakers. The current academic plan calls for the expansion of the Engineering and Physical and Biological Sciences divisions, while keeping the other divisions stagnant.
The expansion of the sciences is based on a desire to strengthen weak divisions and an effort to gain external funding through grants. It is the academic portion of UCSC’s contentious Long Range Development Plan, which has gained national attention.
While some faculty from the humanities decry the neglect of their departments, others argue that increasing the stature of the sciences is essential to enhance the reputation of UCSC and to make the school more competitive.
Sheldon Kamieniecki, the Dean of Social Sciences, believes that expanding the sciences is a priority for the university.
“We cannot be weak in the sciences and engineering and hope to increase the stature of this university,” he said.
But Humanities Dean Georges Van Den Abbeele worries that if the UCSC continues to emphasize the science divisions, then humanities, social sciences, and arts—traditional focal points of the school—will weaken.
“Historically students have come here for social sciences and humanities and if that trend continues I think the [humanities and social sciences] will be impacted by any rises in enrollment,” Van Den Abbeele said.
Allison Galloway, the Vice Provost of Academic Affairs and professor of anthropology, said that the expansion of sciences is a result of programmatic needs.
“We are putting more faculty into science and engineering,” Galloway said. “The sciences have been allowed to lag for some time â€¦ now they need to be built up.”
But Community Studies faculty member Mike Rotkin believes that the university is prioritizing the sciences for other reasons.
“The university is not shifting funds toward where the students are but rather working on how to shift students to the natural sciences,” Rotkin said. “In our society there’s more money for science and technology then the arts.”
Since the 1980s California has decreased public funding for universities proportionate to costs. Universities cope with this through an increased reliance on external funds in the form of grants for research. Though the sciences are more expensive to teach and research, they have access to a much wider base of external funding.
Charlie McDowell, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Affairs in the engineering division, sees this trend in universities across the country.
“Every time state funding gets thinner, to provide the quality of education we want, we need to get the money somewhere,” McDowell said.
Even without expansion, the university’s reputation for strength in the sciences has grown in recent years. Just this month the UCSC physics department was noted for having the most influential research in the nation adjusted to size, according to Science Watch. In 2003 the school ranked highest nationally in space sciences and in 2001 second highest worldwide in physical sciences.
Some, like Kamieniecki, believe that this blossoming reputation and the planned development of the program will make the university all the more appealing to faculty and students in the sciences.
“They are hoping that as the reputation of the science and engineering divisions continue to grow, more students will want to come here for science and engineering,” Kamieniecki said.
“You cannot name a top 20 university without a strong science component,” Kamieniecki said. “It makes sense in the long run to follow this strategy because it’s of benefit to all of us because it brings up money for all of us.”
Last school year UCSC received over $128 million in external grants spread over 894 individual projects. This funding was a 28 percent increase from the year before. In the last five years the university has received close to half a billion dollars in grants. The majority of grants have been geared towards the sciences.
While many universities get external grants from industry and corporations, UCSC gets 79 percent of its grants from the federal government. The biggest set of grants, over $30 million, came from NASA.
According to Kamieniecki the large grants in the sciences benefit all divisions because some of the grants repay the school for facilities. Last year these funds, called indirect costs, totaled close to $22 million.
Currently there is mounting pressure for faculty to get grants to alleviate funding pressures in all divisions. In the past year the Social Sciences nearly doubled their external grants to over $17 million.
“My hope is more people will try to free up grant money,” Kamieniecki said. “The faculty here are spending nearly all of their time teaching, and I feel that they could be spending more of their time doing research with grant money.”
Galloway acknowledges that there is more funding in the sciences, but denies that expansion is directly related to these funds.
“There is more funding available in those areas but there is also higher costs. The reason were doing sciences and engineering is based on programmatic needs in those areas,” Galloway said.
Just this month UC Berkeley received five hundred million dollars to research ethanol and bio-fuels along with the Lawrence Livermore labs and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. For some, this private grant represents a step in the wrong direction. Miguel A. Altieri, a UC Berkeley assistant professor in the environmental studies department, is concerned that this grant will legitimize bio-fuels in the eyes of the public without appropriate and accurate review. Others are anxious over the influence corporate grants may have on the autonomy of research in the university.
Despite the controversy over such partnerships, administrators at UCSC, including Burney Lebouf, the associate vice chancellor for research, hope to increase industrial funding at this university.
“We wish there were more [industrial funding] but there is not,” Lebouf said. “I don’t see us getting a lot more money from industry.”
Caitlin Deck who works in the Universities Office of Sponsored projects, wrote in an e-mail that “only a small fraction (one percent) of research at UCSC is industry sponsored, and that percentage has not increased in the past few years.”
For some, like Community Studies founding chair Bill Friedland, courting these grants could have major drawbacks.
“My main concern is that this will undermine the creation of knowledge but also the critical orientation to what researchers do and look at,” he said.
Others, such as Community Studies Professor Paul Ortiz, hope that UCSC will be highly considerate of external funds, though he recognized that grants are essential to the modern university.
“You have to be careful in terms of money you receiveâ€¦people don’t give money without some form of private interest, you have to be cognizant about that,” Ortiz said. “We fall into a trap where we think we can make up for declining public support and we cannot do that at UCSC.”
McDowell acknowledges that external funding will impact the direction of research that the university conducts to some extent, but doesn’t think it is inherently negative to the research.
Lebouf, however, emphasized the integrity of the UC faculty and believes that professors will not let external funding influence their data.
“If you’re a professor you go with the data, you publish what you find, whether you wanted it to go that way or if it didn’t,” LeBouf said. “You would not be a good scientist if you allowed that external effect to influence your data, its just unethical.”
Aside from apprehensions over the autonomy of research in the face of the influence of industrial and government grants, others worry about the effects of the university focusing development solely on the sciences.
Ortiz worries that this funding shift will favor the sciences and starve the other divisions.
“The university is really greater than the sum of its parts,” Ortiz said. “We can’t afford to emphasize one part of the university at the expense of the others.”
Mary Beth Puddup, another Community Studies professor, already sees the impacts limited funding has on her department.
“Our classes our too big, our faculty isn’t growing, we just can’t take any more students,” she said
Furthermore, Van Den Abbeele is concerned that the quality of faculty in the humanities division will decline as current faculty retire.
“With the lack of competitive salaries we will have increasing difficulty hiring and retaining faculty,” Dean Van Den Abbeele said.
But according to Stephen Thorsett, dean of Physical and Biological Sciences, the science divisions still needs funding from the university to remedy a lack of adequate facilities and programs for students.
“We haven’t had any new lab space to hire faculty in biology in fifteen years, and student numbers have grown,” Thorsett said.
Aside from the growth of the sciences, many view the changes at UCSC with nostalgia. In past years classes were smaller, undergraduates did more research, there were no grades, and a senior capstone project was required for graduation. As the school expanded, a once strong method of education was spread thin beyond its tethers. Community Studies founding chair Bill Friedland calls this phenomenon “a speedup.”
“We should be the kind of institution where if we take students into the school we should spend enough time with those students,” Friedland said.
Overall, Galloway says that the development of the sciences is not permanent, but an effort to create equally strong divisions. Galloway is confident that expanded science programs will only benefit the quality of undergraduate education at UCSC.
Other academic plans include expanding opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and the development of professional schools.
Van Den Abbeele expects that the gap between divisions will narrow in the upcoming years.
“I think increasingly one is going to see less of a divide between the sciences and humanities,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are working to bridge those gaps.”