This is Part 4 of an interview with Chancellor Blumenthal held on Nov. 2nd. Click here to view Part 1 and to hear the full audio recording.
Reporter: With project “You Can” Yudof hopes to raise $1 billion in the next four years. How does UC Santa Cruz fall into these fundraising efforts and how is it different from what we’ve done in the past? And, compared to flagship UCs, do you think this is an effective way to create permanent revenue for UC Santa Cruz in the long run?
Blumenthal: I think this is really important, I really do. We are raising money for scholarships all the time, but we’ve set our goals higher, so at the several million dollars per year level, we intend on raising money to support students at both the graduate and undergraduate level. This has become and ever-increasing priority and we have been raising more and more money for this over the last several years. In fact, our fundraising campus-wide has increased dramatically over the last three years. We are now up 40% over where we were three years ago in terms of annual fundraising. Some of that fundraising goes directly to supporting students, some of it goes into endowments whose income will ultimately support students. I think the system-wide effort is really important. I wish I could tell you we were going to raise as much money as Berkeley is going to for financial aid- we won’t. Just because they’re so much bigger and have a much larger alumni base than we do. I think we can continue as we have been to do much better each year. And in the end, I am a supporter of the idea that the chancellor of Berkeley put out a couple of years ago. Namely, in the long run one long-term solution would be for the state to provide matching money for endowments, so that for every dollar we raise the state would kick in a dollar to put in an endowment whose income could be used to support students. I think that that is a good solution.
Reporter: What would have to happen for that to take place?
Blumenthal: Somebody in Sacramento would have to agree to write a check. We are raising money irrespective of what happens in Sacramento, but the reality of fundraising is that people are much more willing to give money if they know that there’s a match. A year ago I provided some matching funds for student scholarships that said that anyone who wants to give money for student scholarships that I had a fund that was unallocated that I would match it dollar for dollar and we used up the entire amount that I had set aside. I think that that’s an effective way to raise money and that way people can know that they really made a difference. One last comment: Some years ago, when Marcy Greenwood was chancellor, she took a real risk and started an annual event called the “Scholarship Benefit Dinner” which we used to explicitly raise money for student scholarships. I say she took a chance because the budget people told her it would be a bad idea because it would cost more for the food- to serve the dinner- than it would be to raise the money. Well the fact was it was a chance that paid off, it’s been a real positive event since she began it maybe ten years ago. This year, for the first time, we’re actually going to be holding it in Silicon Valley with the hopes that we will be able to attract even more potential supporters and donors
Reporter: So far, President Yudof has launched a letter campaign and has requested the federal government play a bigger role in funding higher education. How do you feel about his efforts?
Blumenthal: To be blunt, I think he came into the presidency a little over a year ago, and was hit with a very difficult budget situation that no one could have necessarily anticipated what California’s situation was going to be a year and half ago. I actually applaud his efforts to find new sources of revenue and I think the idea of going to the federal government and involving the federal government in education is probably going to be a key one. California, dysfunctional though it may be, as disinvested in higher education as it may have been recently, is not the only state to be doing that. And I think that it should be a national priority to invest in higher education, particularly public higher education. The Obama administration has talked a lot about the importance of community colleges and I think in an era where we have we have number one huge crises that we have to solve that technology is going to be a big part of the solution, solutions like global warming. In a time when there’s increasing competition worldwide for companies, for innovative new ideas, I think that’s a time where we as a nation have a benefit to higher education. I would applaud much greater involvement of the federal government in higher education. After all, we are a land grand institution, and we got started because of the initiative of the federal government 140 years ago, or whatever it was. I was too young then to remember. The federal government had a role in starting public higher education, and I think they have a role in making it thrive.
Reporter: (Asks about the chairman’s letter)
Blumenthal: I think that’s a really good question and I think that’s a fair question. The fact that we didn’t reach out more to students before the forum on campus is really our fault. I wish we had been more inclusive in terms of our publicity. I really wish we had because I think students have a lot to contribute, and I think students have a lot of ideas to contribute. So I think its important we reach out to students in general on the commission of the future and seek their input. There is a web site, and that web site I don’t know the address but if you google UC Commission on the Future that’s the first thing that will come up. On that web site, there is a place where you can input ideas and I can assure you in fact those ideas are all going to get read. I’m very interested in making sure that at least my work group is very sensitive to the suggestions that come in through that. I hope there’s a lot, I mean the more ideas that are out there the more good ideas that are out there. If we can get thousands of ideas and only 1% of them are good ideas and we adopt 1% of thousands that’s still a whole bunch of good ideas. I really encourage student involvement. And I would encourage the student government to help us make sure that we reach out to students.
Reporter #2: What is the current status of the Student Health Center?
Blumenthal: Oh you mean the Cowell Student Health Center. Construction’s going on, I mean, are you asking for a completion date?
R #2: Ya, if you have a completion date, I know a lot of stuff got stopped because you mentioned last time we were here you mentioned that due to a lack of funds construction on certain libraries…
Blumenthal: No, no. Let’s divide the world of construction into two pieces. One piece is funded essentially by the state and that corresponds, for example, to the library for example, the digital arts building, the biomedical sciences building- those are state-funded projects and those are the ones that were held up. They’re all now going forward to completion and digital arts is essentially done already and the library and biomedic are going forward. Those are state-funded projects and there are still issues on other campuses but I’m pleased to say that we found a way for our projects to move forward. The other half o the universe are projects that are funded “privately” and by privately I mean not with state funds. For example dormitories and the Cowell Student Health Center are not funded from state funds they’re funded from either reg fee funds or funds that we collect for services. In the case of dormitiories or apartments, that comes from the rents that we’re going to collect. We take a loan and we pay it back with the rents we collect, so we’re like a landlord. Projects that are not funded with state funds directly are not affected by the state budget crisis per se.
R #2: There have been accusations that the Student Health Center prescribes medicines way too quickly or provide diagnoses (???) How is the university responding to those accusations?
Blumenthal: Again I can’t answer that because I don’t know much about it, I would encourage you to raise those questions with Vice Chancellor McGinty. She’s closer to the action there, I haven’t even heard those allegations
Reporter: Are there any state-funded projects that haven’t started yet, but at the same time have not been held up?
Blumenthal: All of the projects that should have started by now based upon the funding we were supposed to have gotten are now started. If I understand your question correctly, you’re asking are there more projects down the line that haven’t started yet and haven’t been held up but just haven’t gotten to their time yet. The answer is yes, we have- every campus has- a five-year state capital program that’s out there and if you ask me what are- i’m not sure I could list all of the projects in the five year plan- one is a coastal health building and one is a social sciences building. But I think there’s a few other projects as well. We do have what you might call a planning list, or you might say it’s a wish list- I’m not sure which it is right now. But that’s the way the campus has operated forever, it’s always had a five-year forward-looking list of the next projects online.
Reporter: Does our situation affect whether or not these two projects will actually happen?
Blumenthal: By situation you mean financial situation of the state? Well probably yes, there are several factors at work. The way state-funded buildings are funded, the state would normally go to the voters and ask for an approval of a bond measure for support of education. When the voters approve it, the state will sell bonds and give the money to the campuses to build those buildings. That’s how things normally work. The last bond that was approved by the state was not fully sold because of the financial situation. We as a system have not even used up all of the money that we were allowed to have received based upon the last state bond measure, and that’s solely because of the financial situation. I have to tell you I had to work very hard to get approval of the biomedical building. It was kind of at the last minute that “UCOP” was able to raise $200 million of additional bond measures for our campuses and I was able to get $70 million for this campus.
Sarah: (Question inaudible.)
Blumenthal: Let’s be realistic. In terms of funds there’s only so many sources of funds. Either we can raise enough private money that will be a significant part of our operating expense for years to come like private universitites are, or we’re gonna get money from the state, reverse the trend of disinvestment that the state has done. Or it’s going to be student fees. Or we’re going to have to find some other source of funds, which I can imagine some but they have become ever more unpalatable to you and to me. There aren’t a whole lot of other choices out there and if someone has an idea of where we can go for money to support the campus or higher education in general, I think that that’s great. Oh, and I forgot to mention the federal government is another major potential source of funding as we discussed earlier. This is not rocket science, there’s a list of maybe five or six potential funding sources and whatever happens we know it’s going to be some combination thereof. Historically, it’s been primarily the state and a commitment by the state to support free public higher education. You read the master plan and it says higher education should be free. That’s why when you write a check, which if the regent’s approve this fee increase is going to be over $10,000 a year, it isn’t for tuition it’s for fees because the University of California does not charge tuition because we’re supposed to be free. It’s a little ridiculous, and there’s even some discussion of changing the name of ‘fees’ to ‘tuition’ because why shouldn’t we at least be truthful if we are dividing by the master plan. But at the end of the day there are only so many things that can support higher education.
R #2: When are the regents going to vote on the fee increase?
Blumenthal: In two weeks.
R #2: Do you think it will pass?
Blumenthal: I think it’ll pass. At the last regents’ meeting, there were at least a couple of regents who would never normally vote for a fee increase say they intended to vote for this one.
R#2: (asks a question about protests for the fee increases)
Blumenthal: I’m sure there will be protests
R # (inaudible): So one of the ways that the UC is going to be shaped is going to be based on state contributions. How can we influence the state to give us more money? Is there something we should be doing in the next year to get someone in that spot to…(rest of question inaudible)
Blumenthal: Thank you so much for asking that question. Yes, I think the first thing that we collectively need to do, but I think that you as students should be doing, just as I as a chancellor should be doing it is making sure that all of the candidates for the governor’s office have their feet held to the fire so they make clear, unambiguous statements about what their vision of public higher education is in California. I’m not just saying UC but all of higher education. Frankly, it should be all of education but I’m gonna restrict it for the moment to higher education. I think they need to make very clear, unambiguous statements. I happened to run into a CEO of a company in Silicon Valley last Friday and I know her quite well. I asked her “who are you supporting for governor?” And she said “Meg Whitman”. And I said great, but I put in a plug for her pushing on Meg Whitman to make a clear, public statement about her vision of higher education in California. And I think that that’s true of all of the candidates, I think they all need to do that.
Reporter: I know some of these events have occurred in or around Santa Cruz. Is there a way we can encourage students to attend these events with these politicians?
Blumenthal: Absolutely, I’d go further. I think we should invite them to campus. I think we should try to get each of them to come to campus. I think students should have a chance to meet them up close and personal. They should have a chance to meet the students and see the concerns of students. Students are voters too. I think your point is an extremely good one. This is an opportunity to have an influence at a time when we might be able to kind of influence the next governor and the next legislature.
R: I’ve heard a possible problem would be with voters that there’s too many older people voting and they have their priorities in mind whereas there’s too few younger people voting and that plays a role in figuring out if someone who has higher education as a priority getting into office. Is there any truth in this?
Blumenthal: I think and I hope that voters really have the best interest of the state in mind when they vote for governor for example. Let me draw an analogy to you: frequently voters in a school district have to vote on whether or not to assess an extra tax- a parcel tax- for a school district to provide extra support for schools. If you actually look at who votes for that parcel tax, my understanding is that an awful lot of people who don’t have kids in school nevertheless vote for the parcel tax because they think it’s the right thing to do for the community. And frankly, I think having good schools is a benefit to a community. Fifteen years ago when my wife and I bought a house I remember we shopped for school districts, and we were told very clearly that if we just lived two blocks down the road we could get a much cheaper house than where we were looking. And the answer is we wanted to live in the right school district for our kids. And so even if you didnt care about kids at all, if you just care about property values there’s a reason locally to support school taxes. I think people tend to be less self-serving and more global in their approach on the local level. And I would trust that the voters of California would recognize the benefits to the people of California, the students who may not be their sons and daughters, and to the economy of California because I actually believe there is a very strong relationship between the strength of the university and the strength of the economy. I think there’s a whole bunch of reasons for people with no children or grandchildren who could benefit but for societal reasons will support a strong university.
Jenny Cain, Sarah Naugle, Molly Carter and Thomas Todd contributed to reporting.