UC President Michael Drake began his tenure as UC President in August of this year, previously serving as the president of Ohio State University from 2014 to 2020. He also served as the chancellor of UC Irvine from 2005 to 2014.
On Nov. 10, Drake addressed 27 student journalists from across the UC system for a Zoom press conference. Questions touched on topics ranging from student tuition to campus police budgeting. City on a Hill Press selected four topics covered in the press conference.
Kaleo Mark (UC Berkeley: The Daily Californian)
Mark: Some UC labor organizations have said that undertaking austerity measures, such as cutting wages and layoffs of UC employees and contractors, would disproportionately cause harm to the most vulnerable communities on campus. Do you agree with this characterization? If so, what steps would you take to prevent budget cuts from impacting the workers of the UCs?
Drake: “The university, along with so many other aspects of society, has been severely impacted by budgetary cuts — $300 million in our state support alone. And if you look at our medical centers and more broadly, it’s been over $2 billion of decreased revenues, a huge number, that came from COVID alone.
Some of this was restored by [the] federal CARES act, and we appreciate that very much, but that still left a big gap, and so all of the campuses have had to go through a wide variety of programs to try to do what they can to meet their budgets.
[So] we’ve done several things. We’ve had a hiring freeze and a salary freeze. Those things have done a great deal to hold down costs.
I will say that protecting our lowest income workers is a top priority for me. And we were discussing even earlier today programs that we can use to try to find ways to meet our budgetary gap, while doing all we can to protect our lowest income workers, and those who are often the most vulnerable in our population. We’re very, very sensitive to them, and it was the case at my prior university, that we did everything we could to avoid layoffs, and will continue to do all we can to avoid layoffs as we move forward.”
Sabrina Habchi (UC Davis: The Aggie)
Habchi: In a recent meeting with [UC Davis] administrators, we were informed of the different ways that they have tried to combat sexual assault. However, sexual assault is still a clear issue across universities, including at UC Davis and other UC campuses who also have their own prevention programs. What are you doing at the UC-wide level to take proactive sexual assault prevention measures?
Drake: “Sexual assault is a huge problem for our campuses.
I know that I and many other campus administrative leaders over these last several years have been very focused on programs that will help to combat and prevent sexual assault.
I actually had the honor to launch the It’s On Us campaign with now President-elect [Joe] Biden when he was vice president. He came to [Ohio State University] and he and I were the speakers talking about what campuses broadly could do to [become] safer places and try to understand, identify, and do everything to prevent sexual assault, and then to support survivors appropriately.
I will say that it’s been a priority for me and for my colleagues. We’re hoping to continue to work to make our campuses the safest places they can be, and it remains a very high priority.”
Thomas Sawano (UC Santa Cruz: City on a Hill Press)
Sawano: Tuitions increases are a major concern for students across the campuses, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying economic recession. During your time at Ohio State, you implemented the Ohio State Tuition Guarantee, which froze tuition for in-state students while increasing tuition for out-of-state and international students through means of additional surcharges. Would you plan on proposing or implementing a similar strategy to address the tuition increase concerns are among the UCs? And if not, do you have any other sorts of strategies to address issues?
Drake: “The regents will be the ones to determine tuition policy. […] We know that the tuition at the University of California has been flat for eight of the [past] nine years, and we also know that [keeping tuition] flat forever puts great pressure on the natural inflation of costs across any enterprise, so those things are just the reality.
We worked on a program for affordability access and excellence at my prior university, and we worked on programs that were able to increase the affordability of the institution.[…] We were able to lower the amount of student debt per student that our students were graduating with. We also lowered the number of students who graduated with any debt at all from when I arrived, 56 percent, to down around 49 percent when [I] left.
We’re pleased that the University of California routinely has multiple campuses that show up in the top ten or 20 schools among best values in the country. So we’re really pleased about the quality of education, and that the combination of tuition and fees and our need-based aid programs are able to make the university affordable for so many people, and that will continue to be one of our hallmarks.”
Katherine Swartz (UC Santa Barbara: The Daily Nexus)
Swartz: From the fiscal year 2019-20 to 2020-21, projected budgets for the UCPD at almost every campus budget has increased. What is the reason for that increase when there are significantly fewer students and staff on campus due to COVID-19, along with calls across the UC system to defund or decrease the budget of the UCPD?
Drake: “I’m two months in, so last year’s budget—I wouldn’t have the detail of knowing what last year’s budgets covered, and what the details of that were. I really haven’t looked at budgets that are projected going forward.
I have lived the life of racist police and the way that police have targeted certain communities, like my own community, disproportionately. I have been stopped multiple times for no reason. I’ve experienced that my whole life. I was chancellor at UC Irvine riding in a car, and we were pulled over and spent 15 minutes being treated rudely and everything. It shouldn’t be that you have to know the police chief to be able to get driven home. I’m very aware of those things that have really plagued this country since its beginning.
All of the campuses now have a task force or a working group looking at rethinking the way that we monitor and protect safety and security on campus. A final report is due in January, and then we’re going to have a systemwide symposium to see what we can do to set best practices for safety and security on campus.
There’s a balance. We need to have safety and security on campuses. We want to make sure that particular communities who have a difficult relationship with the police can learn that campus safety and security are there to protect them. We need growth in that area to make sure that that’s true, and we’ll continue to move forward with that.”