An Open Letter to the UCSC Administration

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I write this letter as an individual faculty member who has been at UC Santa Cruz since 1990. I am not representing any faculty group, department or Academic Senate Committee. It is my own assessment after 30 years at this university.

I attended the Academic Senate meeting on Feb. 19, and felt a growing sense of dismay as I listened to your presentations and your responses to questions from the floor. I was especially dismayed by CP/EVC Kletzer’s repeated statement that she did not know what would happen after the Friday midnight deadline issued to the striking TAs to turn in fall grades. Nor was I reassured by her state position that, should a shortage of qualified TAs follow, departments and faculty are responsible for dealing with problems of enrollments, class capacity, teaching and workload. While I am aware that such decisions are generally made “locally,” this response is a rather disingenuous one and ignores the fact that the present situation is a consequence of administration decisions and actions taken over the past decade. Over that time, administration paid little heed to either Academic Senate or faculty warnings about the lack of funding to support new initiatives, such as graduate growth, Silicon Valley and others. Now the faculty is being asked to address the results of 20 years of poor administration, planning and judgement. 

I will not belabor this last point except to point out that the increase in undergraduate enrollments since 2000 — which greatly exacerbated the local housing crisis — also required a growing graduate student enrollment to teach them, without having the necessary resources to support the latter. Generally, the formula was something like the following: undergraduate growth would bring in the tuition required to fund teaching while graduate growth would facilitate research and recognition, which then would provide the extramural research funds and private donations that would support such growth.

Moreover, so far as I can recall, during those two decades, a number of strategic academic plans were prepared explaining that such growth was necessary for the glory of UCSC, without any transparent, public explanation of how the necessary funding was to be procured. This hallucinatory vision became dogma 10 years ago when UCOP offered “rebenching” funds in exchange for a new “graduate growth” initiative. These funds were accepted with full recognition that they were insufficient to support the new full-time equivalents and graduate students coming to campus. 

I will not repeat here the many assurances that were offered by the administration about how such growth would be achieved. Those are available in the many documents and studies, none of which clearly explained how this would be financed. And, until the TA strike, the administration continued to blithely assume continued undergraduate and graduate growth as necessary from both financial and branding perspectives. Needless to say, we are now reaping the whirlwind. The administration appears poised to use the TA strike as a pretext for reducing graduate enrollments to levels that can be funded given available resources. If this is the plan, it is an extremely cynical one. 

Furthermore, to put the onus on faculty for dealing with the resulting crisis is even more cynical. I do not blame you for this situation; it is the result of two decades of administrative ineptness and opacity as mentioned above. But to shift the burden of coping to faculty, who will have to scramble to adapt, and undergraduates, who will be shut out of necessary classes and receive a degraded education, is inexcusable. Finally, to announce that yet another committee will be established to consider the contradictions is simply kicking the can down the road. We all know that such committees tend to make reasonable recommendations that cannot be funded, and that their reports end up on a (metaphorical) shelf somewhere, to be ignored the next time a similar problem arises.

This leads to the fiction of “shared governance.” Somehow, there is a wide (mis)perception that this means joint management between administration and faculty. Of course, it means no such thing. The administration decides what it wants to do and then consults with the Faculty Senate for comments (with objections routinely ignored). Over the past decade, there were ample warnings from faculty that the graduate growth initiative was unsupportable, but these were simply dismissed with the provision that “we will take care of it.” So, perhaps you should take care of this, rather than shifting the onus onto the faculty.

If this letter sounds bitter, it is — very bitter. For 30 years, I participated in what was a promising and exciting experiment and it has transformed from gold to dross. I am retiring at the end of June and so none of this matters very much to me in practical terms. But it matters greatly to undergraduates, whose credentials may be very tarnished by this fiasco, to the graduate students, who were made promises that have been broken repeatedly and many of whom have, at best, a future career of “freeway flying” in store, and to faculty and staff, who have to bear the burden of the administration’s generally inept administration. We have ethical obligations to our students and, if we cannot fulfill them, we would do better not to make empty promises to them in the first place.

Yours sincerely,

Ronnie D. Lipschutz

Professor of Politics, 1990-2020