Photo by Devika Agarwal.
Photo by Devika Agarwal.

Chancellor George Blumenthal spoke with student media about the UC’s financial crisis, where he will be on March 1, and his actions in Sacramento. Despite rampant cuts to campus resources and programs, Blumenthal says he is “cautiously optimistic.”

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City on a Hill Press: At the University of California, senior management is growing more than any other category of employment or enrollment. Any comment on how that’s affecting our campus, or the effects systemwide?

George Blumenthal: I would point out that systemwide, there has been a significant reduction in the size of the Office of the President [UCOP]. They’ve reduced by about 20 percent. Some of that was moving onto the other campuses as well.

On our campus I have seen data on the growth of the SMG and MSPs [senior management group and management and senior professionals, respectively] over time, versus the growth of faculty or the growth of students, and it has been noted that the growth is larger. So this is certainly worth looking at.

If you look at it, however, you need to look at it carefully. In the case of senior management positions on this campus over the last decade … as far as I am aware, there’s only one new senior management position that we’ve created over the last decade. That essentially was the vice provost, now the vice chancellor of IT (Information Technology). That was actually done to centralize IT on campus and was intended to save money rather than spend more money.

In terms of those graphs of SMG plus MSP versus students or versus faculty, the senior management group has not grown except by one over the last decade. All of the rest have been in the MSP positions and that has been due to two effects.

The first is activities unrelated to student growth, for example, the UARC (University Affiliated Research Center) grant in Silicon Valley from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). This is the largest contract ever awarded competitively to a university in the country. It’s $330 million over 10 years.

We hired a lot of people to administer that grant who are in the MSP position. That grant has nothing to do with enrollment growth.

The second effect lies within student affairs. There are outreach efforts in student affairs that are very important for furthering the mission of the campus.

We’ve hired MSPs which aren’t related directly to enrollment. It’s related perhaps to enrollment of underrepresented minorities, but not to overall enrollment numbers.

There’s a third effect that goes into this, and that’s reclassifications. Historically, the practice on this campus [is that] certain positions have managers. For example, some departments may be classified at a lower level than MSPs while at other campuses those classifications were higher. So we’ve actually, over the last decade, reclassified a number of positions from a different title to MSP in order to be consistent with the practice across the campuses. All three of those effects have led to the increase in the number of MSPs, but they don’t have anything really to do with enrollment at all.

CHP: What actions will you, UCSC representatives, and other UC representatives be taking in Sacramento to ensure that state funding stays in the budget?

GB: Lots and lots of discussions with legislators and encouraging students to meet with legislators. … Encouraging alumni to write to and meet with legislators. Lobbying to the ‘nth’ degree — we made a really great start on this campus.

About a week and a half ago we held a legislative forum where we invited three legislators. … They heard a somewhat different story at this legislative forum on campus than they normally do, because we actually invited faculty and students to make presentations to them about how the budget cuts have affected … faculty teaching their courses and organizing their courses. Students talked about what it meant to them in terms of their budget, in terms of the kinds of courses they can get into and how difficult it was sometimes for students to actually get the courses that they need.

We’re seeking new ways of interacting with legislators. Last time I was [in Sacramento] I think I met with 10 different state legislators to talk about UC and the effect of the budget cuts on the University of California, and to express my fears about what this disinvestment is meaning right now.

CHP: Do you know as of now what you will be doing on the March 1 and March 4 days of action?

GB: I don’t know what I’m going to be doing right now, that’s still open for negotiation. … It is a student event and I want to respect that, so what I can tell you is that we are supportive of the event. We are going to be supplying buses for students to be able to go to Sacramento, but whether or not I’ll be in Sacramento myself is certainly being negotiated with the leadership [of the UC Student Association]. … On the one hand I’m quite happy to go, on the other hand I don’t want to overstep my own boundaries and nose into somebody else’s event.

CHP: Has the formula for distributing educational fees changed? If so, how?

GB: Well, you’ve hit a nerve. … When I came in as acting chancellor a few years ago, the way that the education fee increases were distributed to the campuses was in my view completely inappropriate.

It was distributed to the campuses in direct proportion to the current budget of the campuses. [UCOP would] put them in a big pot, then distribute them out — proportional not to the number of students, but rather to the budgets of the campuses.

For Santa Cruz, what that meant at the time was that taking out return to aids, in terms of the dollars that actually go to classes and the like, we got back 67 cents on the dollar per increase in ed. fees.

When I learned about this, and that this was a longstanding practice, I began to scream about it. And I’ve screamed quite loud about this, as you might imagine. If the students on this campus are paying ed. fees, they ought to get the benefit of those ed. fees. It shouldn’t be going to other campuses. In this case a lot of it was going to UCSF and UCLA — they are the big winners in this game. So I complained bitterly about this, and I was sufficiently loud in my complaining that they changed the allocation so that instead of getting back 67 cents on the dollar … we’re essentially getting back 80 cents on the dollar [now].

I [still] think it’s inappropriate and it’s unfair to students. The one piece I’ve not succeeded in is getting that number raised anywhere from 80 percent to 100 percent.

I did not want to see the [new] fee increase redistributed to other campuses, but I was not being successful in my arguments. What we did succeed in doing though, and I’m very pleased about this, is that we persuaded the Office of the President to distribute that fee increase on a one-time basis, so that no decision that’s been made with regard to distribution of those fees should be regarded as permanent.

The way that any money is distributed to the campuses, even state money, is not done on a principled fundamental basis. I’ve long believed we need to open up that process, make it more transparent and make it principled. … The UC Commission on the Future has a working group called the Size and Shape working group, and I happen to know the co-chair of the Size and Shape working group quite well — it’s me. We are looking at those issues as well, trying to evaluate the appropriate principles to use for the distribution of funds to the campuses. It’s important that we move from historical approaches to … a principled approach. … We’ve made some progress and we have more progress to make.

TWANAS: Do you feel that the governing positions within the UC, such as the regents, chancellors, maybe some of the executive offices of UCOP, should be democratically elected?

GB: UCOP, the president and the chancellors should not be democratically elected. These are management positions and leadership positions and I think it’s appropriate that we be appointed by the Board of Regents. … It’s a legitimate public policy question to ask. I’m not convinced that the system is broken, and I would have some real concerns about election. My concern about election is that I think the regents sometimes have to make some very hard decisions that may even be very unpopular decisions.

You could argue that as keepers of public policy they should be elected in a democratic society, and I hardly want to give you an anti-democratic answer. On the other hand, I would remind you that our legislature is democratically elected, and it is one of the most dysfunctional bodies I’ve ever seen in my life. If we were in a state in which we had a democratically elected legislature which was functioning, and a politic that was actually functioning in a reasonable way, I myself would be much more open to the idea of potentially having elected regents, or some fraction of the regents being popularly elected.

KZSC: How can you cut language programs if they complement majors? For example, since a Ph.D. program for Latin American and Latino studies has been proposed, how do you expect to have it without offering Portuguese?

GB: That’s a good question. It isn’t just Latin American and Latino studies — anthropology is another department that’s very dependent on language studies.

I think it’s certainly true that when we contemplate budget cuts, we need to be looking not just at academic divisions and where those cuts would take place, but we need to be looking at the effects of any cuts that we have across campus and how they would adversely affect other programs. … It’s very important that we look at that, and in fact that’s what we’re doing. We have established committees within our budget process this year to look at all potential cuts and the campuswide implications of those cuts.

CHP: Why has the UC continued in a pattern of growth, including building UC Merced, if there was evidence that the state would not be a stable financial partner in the future?

GB: You’re right, the disinvestment from public higher education didn’t just start a couple of years ago, it really started a long time before that — the usual figure that I quote is 1990. When you use that as a baseline, we are now getting half as much money from the state per student in real dollars compared to what we got in 1990. … Why did we build Merced or try to increase growth?

There are a couple of reasons. One is demography. The number of students graduating from high school was increasing. We are mandated by the Master Plan to provide access to the top 12.5 percent of high school graduates, so the size of the UC is in many ways tied to the issue of high school graduates.

Secondly, the state — despite the financial difficulties, even though they were decreasing support for students, they were still providing money for new enrollment. And so as recently as 2003, the president of UC at the time negotiated a contract with the governor that said there would be a certain amount of funded enrollment growth every year. … None of us anticipated the depth of the current financial crisis.