By CHP Staff
The tenth chancellor of UC Santa Cruz, George Blumenthal needs little time to settle inÂ­—he had been acting chancellor for 14 months before accepting the role.
Though it was in the wake of former Chancellor Denise Denton’s tragic death in 2005 when Blumenthal first stepped into the spotlight, few realize he has been a presence on this campus for the past 35 years.
And yet for most, it came as no surprise that when George Blumenthal formally accepted his post, in front of a crowd of faculty, staff and students, that he stood facing a crowd of thunderous applause for what felt like minutes before he could even say thank you.
City on a Hill Press: When you came to this university 35 years ago, did you ever think or hope that you would be sitting where you are today?
Chancellor Blumenthal: No. If you had known me 35 years ago, you would have been astonished that I would be in this position.
I was a shy, young assistant professor with a very long beard. Even as time went on, it never crossed my mind that I would be in a position like this.
To be blunt, for someone who wanted to start on the track to become chancellor, I started way too late.
CHP: One of the things we wanted to address was the face of sciences on this campus President Dynes, Vice Chancellor Kliger, former Chancellor Denise Denton and yourself—you are all at the top tier of UC leadership and you all have backgrounds in science. It seems a bit fishy that our top leadership roles are science-heavy, at the same time as the UCs continue to expand science programs—we now have a computer gaming design major as well as a bioengineering major—while language programs are being cut and the journalism minor has vanished. What evidence do you have that can assure us liberal arts students that our programs will remain strong and continue to grow?
CB: First of all, I really don’t think it matters who the chancellor is.
It doesn’t really make a difference whether you’re a scientist or an artist or a philosopher or whatever. If that really made a difference, then I wouldn’t be doing a good job of being chancellor. I’ve been extremely supportive of programs outside of the sciences such as the Digital Arts and New Media program. I went to the Regents to help their decision to complete the digital arts building, which will cause a major commitment from the campus, financially.
I was very much against seeing [the journalism minor] disappear—it was an outstanding program. Whether or not it will reemerge—I think that is a Humanities decision. This is how we do thing on campus. It isn’t that the chancellor just sits down one day and says “Ok, we’ll do this and not do that.” That really isn’t an appropriate way to run a campus.
CHP: You mention student fee increases is a very contentious issue. As Chancellor, you will receive a pretty hefty salary—over $300,000—as well as a house on campus. Do you think that’s fair, especially in the wake of all of students’ tuition hikes?
CB: There are two sets of issues here; one is the rise in tuition. The other is, is it fair to pay the chancellor as much as he receives? On the scale of how much student fees increase, my salary is relatively small.
Question number one is whether my salary is too high. The answer is I don’t know, that is for the public to decide.
Now [for the] question about student fees. We’re at this really awkward time when basically we, the University of California, in our infinite wisdom, have to raise undergraduate fees just to make up for shortfalls.
If you look at the total budget for the university, it is not very large. We don’t have a budget full of fat and nonsense—there are basic services that we can’t give to students because we don’t have the money to do it. In a sense, the student fees that we’re charging are keeping us going.
Now, the good news is, we do have a return-to-student rate of 33 percent. The other good news is that we can provide financial aid to students.
I’m not saying that this isn’t a burden on the students who have to pay them, because it certainly is a burden.
I’m not a fan of fee increases.
When I was a student, for all intensive purposes, the University of California was free. That is what I would be an advocate for. I think that the cost for the state of California to provide a university-level education for our citizens is well worth the investment—it will repay the state many, many times over.
We’ve maintained the quality of the university by getting outstanding students and by being able to recruit faculty, even though, by and large, we’re paying lower salaries and the cost of living is so high in California.
In a sense, we’ve been doing this on a wind in a prayer because we’re getting into a situation where we have to raise faculty salaries to make then competitive, and we have to be able to attract students and offer financial packages.
CHP: With so much private funding—like the $500 million grant UC Berkeley received from British Petroleum (BP) for researching biofuels—how do we ensure that UCSC stays true to the unique identity it has with programs like Social Documentation and departments like the History of Consciousness?
CB: That’s a challenge, and frankly, let me just take a step back.
If you look at UCSC’s funding over time, a smaller and smaller percentage of our funding is coming from the state of California. It’s true with the University of California as a whole as well. So, how do we support ourselves if we’re not getting money from the state? Well, we do it in a variety of ways.
Student fees are much higher today than they were five years ago because they have not been providing adequate funding for education. Grant support from the government supports research, it does often support students as well.
And we do it through private donations. This past year I devoted a lot of my time talking with donors and various groups trying to facilitate our getting more and more donations. I’m pleased to report that our private fundraising rose dramatically last year, and that was great. I think we’re going to do even better this year.
But I’ll tell you I devote an enormous amount of time to it, and we put a lot of money into it just because we have to do that.
The fact is if we can get some programs that are better funded that will free up money to better support other programs. So private funding is important to ensure that we continue those traditions.
I took issue you’re your presumption that private fund-raising is primarily for the sciences. A big example would be BP in Berkeley. On the other hand I think the Social Sciences division had a record year last year with fundraising. And I believe that our current dean of humanities is extremely aggressive and I believe will be an extremely successful fundraiser, so I see a cultural shift with particular programs that will really benefit.
CHP: For a lot of service workers on campus are unhappy with the amount they’re paid. What would you say to them, to make these workers hopeful for the future of their employment at UCSC?
CB: When I came in 14 months ago, one of the issues I was most concerned about was the lowest paid workers on campus.
I asked that a study be done to do a market comparison as well as an equity study to see what we are paying our lowest paid workers. I proposed that we raise the wages of our lowest paid workers irrespective of whether they were in a union or not.We put aside money [but] I was not allowed to give the workers [the money] until their union contracts had been negotiated. I put it aside, and added it retroactively So as you can see, I have a lot of concern for that.
Moving forward, about two years ago, the Regents made a very public statement that they were committed to raising the salaries of faculty and staff to market values within a decade.
Since that time, it’s been decided by the university that we need to do something about this much faster. There is now a plan in place to raise faculty salaries up to market value in four years.
For staff, this is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a bad thing, because the faculty is very clearly being favored because they are given the highest priority.
To be honest, I actually supported them because they are the core of the function of the university. On the other hand, I am optimistic enough to believe that since we are raising the salaries of faculty, it also means that there will be a lot of pressure to raise the salaries of staff throughout the UC system at a rate that’s faster than ten years.
CHP: What will it eventually come down to? Appealing to the UC system or to the Regents to raise the wages?
CB: For unionized workers, which are most of the lowerâ€“waged service workers, those are system-wide negotiations. In some sense, all of those negotiations take place in Oakland. Now, I won’t say we have no input, but we have virtually little input.