This is Part 2 of an interview with Chancellor Blumenthal held on Nov. 2nd. Click here to view Part 1 and to hear the full audio recording.
Reporter #2: How would you fund UCSF? How would you fund something like that?
Blumenthal: In other words if we got 100% of our fees back, how could UCSF survive without Santa Cruz students paying fees that support UCSF? Is that your question? I think from my tone you know the answer: they can support themselves. UCSF gets on a per faculty basis gets far more grant money than we do. They have hospitals, they have a much larger infrastructure, and many of their faculty get a significant fraction of their salary from clinical income. So they have alternatives that we don’t have. Our faculty are not clinicians, we’re kind of stuck with what we’ve got from the standpoint of state income.
Reporter #3: I have one question. Its about the UC commission on the future. From the web site it says the goal of the commission is to develop a new vision for the university within the context of the university’s mission and budget while reaffirming our commitment to quality access and affordability. I was wondering what your personal goals for the commission would be, what you think it will achieve.
Blumenthal: Well that’s a really good question and let me give you a two-part answer to that. For the commission as a whole what you just read sounds good to me, but I would just kind of remind you that today the University of California system is still the world’s greatest public research university and we still do guarantee access to the university to students who can benefit, who can meet our admissions criteria. And we still do provide financial aid for students who fall below the median income of California. At some level, despite all of our difficulties, we’re still doing the key things that I think are important: maintaining quality, providing access, providing affordability, at least for the poorest students who cant afford to pay tuition, or cant afford to pay fees I should say. In some sense I would emphasize that we’re not starting from a weak position, the University of California is by far the world’s greatest public research university. But I think in this world if you want to stay on top, particularly in a time of decreasing resources and I honestly cant tell you when the resrources from the state are going to increase. It seems to me that it is incumbent on us to take our fate in our own hands and figure out ways that we can operate more effectively. Whether or not there are some changes in our mission we should consider, but always leaving in effect the goal of the highest possible quality and providing access to students. It seems to me those are two goals, two principles that we can never let go, but there may be ways we can operate differently. There may be new things that we should think about. We’re a large organization as a university. Any large organization has a lot of inertia and maybe there are just some things we haven’t fought through and have been resistant to that in these times we should be more open to. I think that to me is the goal of the commission, to identify them. Now as you probably know I chair, or rather co-chair, with a faculty member at UC Santa Barbara the working group on size and shape of the university and for that group I see really two broad general areas that we need to think about. One, I might just characterize the size but its much more than size. It’s how big should the university of California be, and that’s gonna depend on external factors as well, for example, the budget. Secondly, it will depend on the demography of California. Third, it will depend on our master plan partners, what their role is going to be as we move forward. I don’t want to take anything off the table, but I think we need to realize that we need to provide coherent higher education opportunity, particularly in a state which has on the one hand a knowledge-based economy, but on the other hand has recently had a relatively poor record of graduation students from four-year institutions. I think we need to look a those broad questions of how big we should be, and maybe look at the university system as a whole in terms of the needs of California, in terms of the need for freshmen at the university versus transfer students versus graduate students versus professional school students. So we’ll be looking at those broader issues that deal with the university as a whole in terms of how we meet the needs of the state, how we interface with the master plan and our master plan partners. The second set of issues which you could summarize as one word is ‘shape’, but again it’s much richer than that. It has to do with how we operate as a university internally. What is the role of the campuses relative to the Office of the President? What role should the Office of the President have in terms of directing the campuses? What are the relationships of the campuses to each other? I think that historically we have been very closely linked to each other. For example, like student admissions. When you apply to a UC as a California resident, if you meet our eligibility requirement you get into the UC system and UC campus. That has always been the case and still is the case. You just don’t necessarily get into the campus of your first choice. So in many ways I think we operate as a system; faculty criteria, we use the same system to evaluate faculty on all of the campuses, and I think that’s been a strength of the system. But there may be other things that we need to think about in terms of the UC system. For example, duplication of programs among the campuses. Does every campus need to have, and ill use this as a straw man example, an engineering program and mechanical engineering? For example on this campus our Baskin School of Engineering made a decision early on that we don’t need to have a mechanical engineering program. Better to be really good in fewer areas rather than be mediocre in all areas. And so that was a decision we made on this campus and I think it was a wise one, but that’s the kind of issue the system might want to be looking at. Another issue that I think needs to be looked at is the following: if you look at the last 20 years of the 20th-century and you talk to any college president or chancellor, they’ll all tell you-myself included- that we really support interdisciplinary work for students, for research, for everything. Interdisciplinarity was the byword, so to speak, but the world has moved on. Everybody either is or pretends to be interdisciplinary. We may be wanting to think about institutionality, that there may be benefits by being able to collaborate across institutions. And I think that’s a lot easier to do in the University of California, so that’s another aspect of the shape issue that I mentioned.
Reporter: I understand that the commission has had two meetings. What are those meetings like? What type of people show up? How did the last one go, the one that happened on this campus, which was the 29th?
Blumenthal: We’re talking about apples and oranges here. The commission meets on a regular basis and they have more or less formal meetings which are open to the public and anyone can come to. What the commission has also done is they’ve asked each of the working groups to send a representative to every campus to have a forum where we can solicit ideas from the population of students, faculty, and staff. So we had a forum here last week of representatives from all five working groups. We had a meeting, it was in Stevenson Event Center and it was actually a very good meeting. Lots of people were there, there was number of very good ideas that were put forward. What we were asking for were suggestions of questions that we should be asking and if you have answers, answers as well. And we got a bunch of good questions and answers. I think it was very useful session, I was very please with how well it went and the quality of discourse that took place. I might also add that after the open forum was over that the visitors to campus all had lunch with the Senate Executive Committee for an exchange of ideas and I thought that that meeting went extremely well as well.
Reporter #2: On the topic of student services, since all that stuff happened over summer, the allocation of Measure 7 funds has been a major issue and it seems that the language is very loose regarding what they can be allocated to, it says “student services”. But a lot of money has been pulled away from certain things, such as the Rape Prevention Center and moved towards…I’m wondering what? What have these funds been allocated to?
Blumenthal: I probably can’t tell you in any detail. That’s a question better directed to Felicia McGinty, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, who has office hours every week, so I’m sure she’d be happy to answer your question but it terms of the details of what money has been taken from where and gone to where, I really can’t answer that. Just out of ignorance, I don’t know.
Reporter: So you mentioned earlier about the privatization issues and I think that’s kind of a national struggle right now. There was an article in the NYT about how with public universities ‘less is more’. Each year the quality of students and the budget skews closer to the elite, Ivy League universities? How true would you say that is for UC system?
Blumenthal: Let me restrict my answer to the University of California, which I understand best. I think for this campus that the quality of our students has been increasing for the last several years and to the extent that that more closely mimics private universities, I think that’s good. However, I would also remind you that we have a very high proportion of underrepresented students of various sorts- underrepresented minorities, students of relatively poor socioeconomic backgrounds. For example in the freshmen class, when those freshmen graduate, 37% of them will be the first in their family to graduate from a four-year institution. I’m not sure if that could be said of elite private universities. In terms of the funding model, there’s a fundamental difference that remains in place. Private universities survive by charging very high tuition and by having very high endowments from which they can draw interest and provide support. In some sense at the University of California, historically we’ve not had large endowments, certainly not at Santa Cruz, but even at a place like Berkeley or UCLA-the endowment at UCLA large though it may be- is still nothing like it would be if UCLA were an elite private. I mean we’re talking about factors of 10 difference. The amount of income that UCLA or Berkeley gets in endowments is small compared to what the elite privates do. The difference is that traditionally we’ve gotten money from the state of California, which has made up that difference. By the fact that the state is providing less support per student to the University of California, we aren’t making it up with an endowment. I’d like to, I’d love to say that we are going to go out and raise huge amounts of money so that we can use interest from that money to make up the difference. In fact, that may be one of the long-term solutions to the future of the University of California long beyond your tenure here. But that may be the way we go. But what we’ve done is made up some of that difference by charging students increased fees. In a sense, you the students have been providing the difference for what the state has provided and therefore brought fees even close to what private colleges charge. We’re still far away from it, let’s be realistic. We still charge far far less than most private elite universities, but we’re going down that road.
Sarah N.: A couple of fiscal questions. How much of the budget is provided by the state? In Michigan it’s 7%, that’s a big reason why Michigan has a public/private law, so what would it be here?
Blumenthal: I’m not sure I can give you a specific answer because I’m not sure how you mean the question. So let me try to answer the question for this campus for example. It’s a somewhat different answer for the UC system as a whole. But on this campus, the total budget is about $500 million per year- total budget, everything. The amount of money we got from the state before the current budget cuts was $190 million a year. But we’ve been cut $50 million in the last two years., so we’re getting considerably less now. A two-year cut of $50 million out of 190 per year. So what’s the difference between $190 and $500 million? What about that extra $310 million that’s sitting around there? Most of that comes from a variety of different sources. Some of it is federal contracts and grants. Last year we raised about $120 million in contracts and grants, and that’s designated for certain research projects. That money comes to the campus because some faculty member wrote a proposal that said ‘give me x amount of dollars and I will do the following research’. So it can’t be used for classes, for example. Some of that money is housing. Included in that $500 million is all the money that our students pay to live in dormitories or apartments and to eat in dining halls. So that’s not fungible either with operating expenses. Pretty much, the money that goes to things like teaching classes and paying professors salaries and things like that is money that comes from the state or student fees.
Jenny Cain, Sarah Naugle, Molly Carter and Thomas Todd contributed to reporting.