Chancellor Blumenthal spoke with student media organizations on Oct. 10, starting off by stressing the need for students to vote, especially with regard to Proposition 30. While the economic stability of UC Santa Cruz is uncertain, pending the outcome of Prop 30, Blumenthal said he and the administration have worked hard to identify and bring forth other funding opportunities to enhance the student experience at UCSC.
CHP: What are your goals for the 2012-13 school year?
Blumenthal: My goals for this academic year are severalfold. One, I’m hoping that we can do what we can to stabilize the funding of UC Santa Cruz. This is the biggest headache that we have right now, in terms of moving forward. Voters of California will decide what’s happening with Proposition 30 and I just want to remind you of how important that is. Proposition 30, if it does not pass, would cause another $325 million cut to the permanent budget of the UC. We at Santa Cruz would get our fair share of [the] cut, which is significant. To give you an idea of that order of magnitude, that amount of money represents the total state budget funds to UCSC and would fund the school of engineering plus the library. Funding is going to be a big issue for us this year. We’re trying to raise more outside money, and I have been devoting more of my time to private fundraising. One of my biggest goals is the student experience at UCSC. That would include money to fund research opportunities by students, extra curricular activities for students as well as student scholarships. Fundraising is a big issue and is a major goal for the campus. Another goal we have is to work on the retention of students, to make sure students can graduate in four years, to get the classes that they need to graduate in four years, and to do what we can to nurture our new programs, such as the new graduate programs, like feminist studies, American Latino studies, as well as what I hope will be a formal proposal soon for critical race and ethnic studies.
CHP: Looking at the budget and also Prop 30, what does the outlook look like in say, the next five years or so? Are we looking at more cuts in funding, slashing the budget further, or are we moving towards a more sustainable solution?
Blumenthal: I wish I knew the answer to that question. If you had asked me that five years ago I’m not sure I would have been right — in fact I’m sure I wouldn’t have been right. It’s hard to predict the future. But we can do a couple things. First, we can look at the past and see what has happened. I remind you of the [state’s] cutting of funding for public higher education in California, and that’s not just UC, not just CSU, but all the way [kindergarten] to community colleges. At the UC since 1990, the budget of the UC per student has dropped to 45 percent of what it used to be. So for every dollar that the state shipped to the UC to educate a student in 1990, the state is now shipping us 45 cents. That has led to a significant increase in student tuition. The state of California is going to have to decide what the state’s priorities are. The cuts to higher education have been serious, they’ve been damaging, and any of you as students already know that it’s harder to get in classes, the classes are more crowded, the homework assignments you get are maybe a little bit different, there are fewer TAs, et cetera. There’s already been a significant effect on your educational experience. This can’t continue, we can’t keep cutting back without making enormous changes. The state will have to decide how we’re going to go forward, whether we’re going to have these cuts every year, or whether or not there’s going to be a real commitment to devote a significant amount of resources to education. There has been discussion with the governor, the governor’s office and the legislature about finding a stable funding model for higher education. One proposal that’s been out there is a guarantee for a 5 percent increase in state funding per year over the next several years. It won’t last forever necessarily, but it will at least reverse a very unfortunate trend, and I strongly support that. On the other hand, I’m both an optimist and a cynic. I’m an optimist because I always do believe we should work for a better future, but I’m a cynic because until I see something in writing or I see a real commitment, dealing with Sacramento can be very frustrating, and I’m not sure I’ll believe until I have actually signed off on it.
CHP: Could you talk about the campus’ status as a Hispanic serving institution? What led to it, what steps did we take, and what’s the next project we take on?
Blumenthal: Based on federal law, to be a hispanic serving institution, there are several criteria, the most important of which is that the campus in question has to have 25 percent of its student population be of hispanic origin. We knew we were approaching that threshold but this fall we definitely shot past that projection. We are in the process of submitting the necessary documentation to get that status officially designated to us. I think I can safely say that we clearly do qualify and will continue to qualify for that status. What happens when it actually happens? We do get some financial benefit from the federal government, which qualifies us for certain kinds of grants for other things that make it a financial benefit to the campus. That’s one of the reasons we’re interested in doing it. I think that we’re the third UC campus to be so designated, behind Riverside and Merced. The real goal for me, in terms of UCSC, is to ultimately reflect the population of California. That’s where we need to be aiming as a long term goal for the campus. I think we’ve come a remarkable way toward that goal in a remarkably short amount of time. As you look around you see a more diverse population of students. But we’re not there yet.
CHP: In light of the UC Davis pepper-spray settlement, can you speak about protests, and how you think UCSC is handling them, or will handle them? Are there things on the system-wide level that the UC should be doing to more effectively handle protests?
Blumenthal: It was horrible. But what are some of the potentially good outcomes of the UC Davis incident? One was a much more serious look at how protests happen on campus, how the police responds to those protests, how the administration responds to those protests, what coordinations need to happen throughout the UC system, et cetera. I think that there was a helpful discussion that led ultimately to a most useful report, the Robinson-Edley report, which was just issued. The report will be going on to review now, by the UC and all its campuses. The report has issued a bunch of recommendations, which will now be extensively commented on by all constituencies including the academic senate, the administration and the students. Everyone gets a chance to comment on the report. Some of those recommendations were campus specific. I believe that if you actually look at our current practices at UCSC, you’ll find that we actually do most of the things that are recommended. I think we’ve come a long way, we’ve learned a lot over the years about student demonstrations. It doesn’t mean we’re perfect — there’s always an opportunity for something to go wrong. Even if we’re really, really good 99 times out of 100, I still worry about that one time because something can go wrong. Nevertheless, having said that, I think that the campus is largely in accord with the recommendations in the report. I certainly don’t think that we are immune from what happened at Berkeley or at Davis. Those events have implications for us as well, and we need to recognize that. I think that we have an interest as a campus for the entire UC system to respond appropriately. I think it can only help going forward.
Other questions not included in the print version of this article:
CHP: What are our main campus research project investment priorities? Do we have the funding necessary to continue fostering new research?
Blumenthal: We have many research priorities over campus. In terms of our fundraising campaign, we’ve identified a few that were particularly focused on for large major projects. Those include human health, genomics and stem cell research. Last year we became the cancer genome center for the country. Another one is coastal and environmental sciences. The third major research priority is in the institute of the arts and sciences. We’re trying to work with artists and scientists to work together on new ways to visualizing ideas. A fourth is our activities in Silicon Valley. For example, we have a new technology management program opening up this year and so we really want to enhance our partnerships with companies in Silicon Valley and expand some of our research teaching activities there as well. In terms of fundraising, those are four of our primary research funding activities. In terms of funding, there are many research projects that I didn’t mention, and they are all important. The ones I mentioned have the advantage of being, in many ways, interdisciplinary. But there are other things that we do that are very important, very outstanding work. How are they funded? The answer to that is it depends. A lot of our research is done through federal contracts and grants. Last year we had $144 million worth of external research support on the campus, most of which was external contracts and grants. We’ve been over $100 million for five years in terms of our annual research support from outside sources. Most of it is from the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health, things like that. Some of the research on campus, particularly in the humanities, is largely funded by the UC. UC funding is not anywhere near the level that we would like it at for some of these excellent research projects that are going on. We could really do some outstanding things if we had more funding.
Burns: At some of the meetings in the past, Chancellor, you’ve talked about re-benching, and I was wondering if you could provide some background from last year and maybe an update.
Blumenthal: This has been a long story for me personally, when I became chancellor six years ago, I started looking into our budget and the fraction of the state budget that actually comes to UC Santa Cruz as opposed to other campuses and I was disturbed by what I saw. To my great surprise, the campus only got back a fraction of student tuition. The rest of it was shipped off to other campuses. So I kind of made that one of my causes. I’m pleased to report that as of a year and a half ago we finally got the policy changed so that when you pay the tuition at least it comes back here. Another issue that has been more difficult is the number of dollars sent off to the campuses by UCOP per student varies widely among the campuses. Some campuses got a lot more money per student than did other campuses, and guess where we were? We were near the bottom of that list. So I pushed very hard for the system to develop something, which is now called re-benching. The way that the UC worked for decades in terms of budgeting was if the state sent more money over to the university, say 10 percent more money, the university would give the campuses 10 percent more money, and if the state 5 percent out of the UC budget, then they would cut 5 percent out of each of the campuses budget. But what that did is that it perpetuated whatever decision was made 20 or 25 years ago that determined the campus budgets, without re-examining the underlying assumptions behind the budgets. The idea of re-benching was to start at zero and ask is there a principled way the UC should take the pittance, oh I’m sorry, the amount of money we’re given from the state and distribute it among the various campuses. Finally, I convinced the [UC] president that we needed to do re-benching. He set up a committee on re-benching last year. I served on that committee, as did the chair of our senate, Susan Gilman. The committee finished the report, issued it, and is now still being reviewed by various entities within the UC system. This year’s budget, assuming Prop 30 passes, will include some additional money for the campus based on re-benching. Re-benching will probably be phased in over a six year period. Of course I would like it immediately, but realistically, that isn’t going to happen. But at least we will get to a point where we will be getting a fair share of the UC total state budget. I think that re-benching is a success story and we haven’t reaped huge benefits from it yet, but I think over the next few years we will.