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Can UC Remain the Nation's Best Public University?

Can UC Remain the Nation's Best Public University?
The state's funding crisis will affect the University of California's programs and perhaps its standing as the nation's best public university. The question is -- how much? These Days examines what the university means to the state and the nation and the threat lower funding poses to faculty recruitment and access to qualified students.

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

DOUG MYRLAND (Guest Host): I'm Doug Myrland, sitting in for Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. And the subject for this first segment is, as has been the case on several recent programs, related to the state budget and today we're going to explore how the state budget reductions are going to affect the most prominent university in the nation, the University of California. Our guest has some deep experience with these issues, most recently as the former president of the UC system and before that as Chancellor of UCSD. We welcome to the studios Dr. Robert Dynes. Dr. Dynes, thanks for coming in.

DR. DYNES (Former President, University of California Systems): You're welcome. Good morning.

MYRLAND: Well, let's start with the big question, the budget proposed for the UC system next year and the governor's proposed two billion dollars in cuts to higher education. What portion of that looks like it might fall on the UC?

DR. DYNES: A substantial portion of it really does look pretty grim. Over the last – that's this year and last year, the sum total will be about $619, $620 million or about 19% of what the UC receives from the state. To put that in proportion, what that really means is that it's equivalent to about three – a little over three thousand dollars per student in the University of California. That's a lot.

MYRLAND: So do you think that's likely to happen? Or is some relief, maybe in the form of stimulus funds, going to offset part of that? Or any way to tell?

DR. DYNES: It's likely going to happen in some form of – of that order of magnitude. And the stimulus support is only temporary so it really doesn't get to the heart of the – of the maintenance of the university and allowing students to enter the school.

MYRLAND: Now your successor, UC President Mark Yudof told the legislature a couple of weeks ago that the campuses and administration had already cut quite a bit from their budgets. And when I read that, I thought about your history and you had to do a lot of cutting during your tenure there. What's already been done that has addressed previous years' budget difficulties?

DR. DYNES: Well, many, many things have been done. Most recently, at UCSD and several other campuses, there's been a complete hiring freeze. Many of the faculty positions – that's – the faculty, we're not looking for new faculty, have been frozen so that there will not be new faculty coming in. And there have been layoffs in the staff.

MYRLAND: Now how are the relations between UC and the legislature these days? I know there's been some talk in the legislature concerning the Board of Regents. Is any of that budget related? Or…?

DR. DYNES: A lot of it's budget related. So answering the first question, the relations with some of the state legislature are very good and some of them, they're not very good. The budget cuts have made everybody very nervous and very uneasy about the legislature putting their fingers too deeply into the university.

MYRLAND: Let's talk about that for a minute because there's been some talk about the legislature taking a different kind of control of the university and maybe you could give us a little bit of history about why the UC system has that separation.

DR. DYNES: Well, the history is very clear. The university is really regarded as a fourth branch of the State of California. There's the judiciary, the governor, the legislature and the university. And the reason for that was to – and the creators of that envisioned that the university should be independent in order to be a free-thinking university, and so they are run by the Board of Regents that are appointed by the governor but then have the freedom to run the university the way they believe a free university should be run.

MYRLAND: And is this a typical system among public universities?

DR. DYNES: It's not typical. There are some others that have that kind of independence but this has served California extremely well as envisioned by the fact that the University of California is clearly the best university in the country, the best university in the world, and it's that level of independence and allowing the university to go out and do some speculative things that I suspect the legislature wouldn't allow them to do if they were under their control.

MYRLAND: Can you give us an example?

DR. DYNES: I think freedom of speech. I think hiring of speculative people, launching new initiatives that the legislature felt were not appropriate for the state that have turned out to be very, very effective for the state, and people inside the university determining what campus should be launching new initiatives. If the legislature were doing this, each district, the legislator for each district, would be trying to do the best for their own district and not the best for the state.

MYRLAND: Now speaking of unanimity and working together, budget problems also cause stresses on campuses and within the university community. When you were chancellor, I'm sure you faced these challenges. Everybody wants their own piece of the pie to be preserved. How do you keep the many factions within the university speaking as one voice and working toward the good of the overall system rather than allowing this budget pressure to cause fractionalization there?

DR. DYNES: Well, you can never do that, of course, because it's a university and so everyone gets to express their own views. Very, very often I would hear arguments from somebody saying, you know, you've really got to do it, Chancellor or President, you really have to do what you have to do but my program is so important, you can't cut that program. So the way you do that is to bring the constituents together, lay out what the stresses are, what the conditions are, and have people work together to work on the best budget for the common good. And when people see that they're not being individually identified but that people are trying to work for the best interest of the university, they actually work together. They're pretty open-minded people.

MYRLAND: Now, one really important constituency, of course, is students, and I have to mention their parents because it's often the families of the students that are supporting the students in their education. Clearly, when you talk about budget cuts, you talk about perhaps raising student fees, students paying more of the actual cost of their own education.

DR. DYNES: Yes. Yes, and that happens. That's the natural reaction. In fact, I fell in to that trap at the introduction to this show by saying how much these budget cuts would be for each and every student. Now no one envisions that the students would pay for all of those budget cuts by increasing student fees by three to four thousand dollars, nobody envisions that but it gives you a sense. It's important to understand that when I travel the state and I talk to alumni, senior alumni, old alumni, they say, gee, I paid a hundred dollars per year to go to the University of California. Well, somebody paid for it and it turns out that the state, the legislature, had given the budgets for the university. But the legislature, over the last twenty years, has cut it very seriously and so the students have taken some of – the students and their families have taken some of the heat for that but nobody envisions that they're going to take it all. We have to figure out another way.

MYRLAND: Let me just play devil's advocate. What if you just said, okay, every student's going to have to pay three thousand dollars more? Why would that be so catastrophic?

DR. DYNES: The University of California has always, for its entire history, been the gateway for students that come from low income families, from first generation families in California, from first generation families in the United States. It's been the gateway to success. And if we put too heavy a burden on those low income students, low income families, that gateway will close and the people who can afford it will certainly still go to the University of California because it's still a bargain compared with the privates but it is no longer the gateway for low income students. And if student aid gets cut, it'll make it near impossible.

MYRLAND: Now you already have relatively high admission standards.


MYRLAND: Is one of the results of the budget stress to keep raising those standards, make it harder and harder to get in?

DR. DYNES: Well, it will necessarily. If we cannot afford to teach the number of students that we are envisioning to admit, we'll lower the number of students, we'll reduce the number of students and so that will necessarily mean that the admission standards will go up. But I have to say that one of the really important ways that students can access the University of California and the CSU is through the community college system and that's one of the miracles of the California Master Plan system. So even if students cannot get into the University of California or CSU, the avenue through the CSU or through the community college systems is a remarkable avenue to be educated in California.

MYRLAND: And within the UC system is there some effort to reassign students to different campuses? Are there some campuses where they're really more overloaded than others?

DR. DYNES: Yes, indeed there is. We set a standard for admissibility to the university and what we have done traditionally is guarantee that there's a seat for students somewhere in the UC, not necessarily the campus that they want to go to but somewhere. For example, if someone really wanted to go to UCSD and UCSD couldn't take them and they were eligible, we could offer that they can go to UC Santa Cruz or UC Santa Barbara or UC Merced, and the undergraduate education in all of those campuses will allow these students to go anywhere when they graduate.

MYRLAND: Now you can imagine, though, that all of this is just more inconvenient for families and students who have their sights set on a certain campus, who've worked hard to qualify. From a broader perspective, not from a perspective of somebody who has a personal stake is it really such a bad thing to have some of these financial stressors create efficiencies, if you will?

DR. DYNES: No, I think it's actually good. I think it's healthy. I think it's healthy to have students attend other campuses of the University of California. I'll give you an anecdote. I was at the UC Merced commencement only a few weeks ago where the – Michelle Obama spoke. And a woman from San Francisco came up to the chancellor—I was having dinner with the chancellor there—and she said, thank you so much for taking my young daughter to UC Merced. She has learned so much more than had she gone to Santa Cruz or Berkeley, which are the campuses close to San Francisco. It's a remarkable education and it actually does students a lot of good and it's efficient to have students go to other campuses.

MYRLAND: I want to step back to an earlier conversation, an earlier part of our conversation, where you mentioned that there've been layoffs and then there's a hiring freeze. What are the longterm implications for that in terms of recruiting the very best people, having the – maintaining the quality of the university?

DR. DYNES: Well, over the longterm, it – I'll separate that into staff and faculty because it has different implications. For staff, the University of California has always been a destination of choice because it has been a good employer and people will then lean towards going elsewhere and we won't get the best staff possible. For faculty, we recruit from around the world and it's a place that is known as a very stimulating place, it's creative, it's vital, and people will choose not to go there or will not be allowed to go there and we'll lose a whole generation of creative people, creative faculty from around the world. And you need constant new ideas coming in all the time.

MYRLAND: Well, I want to follow up on that but we do need to take a quick break. We're speaking with Dr. Robert Dynes. He's the former president of the UC system, and former chancellor of UCSD. And we'll be right back after this quick break.

[ break ]

MYRLAND: These Days in San Diego. I'm Doug Myrland, and we're speaking with Dr. Robert Dynes, former president of the University of California system. And, Dr. Dynes, we were talking before the break about budget cuts and faculties, and how will these cuts actually be implemented? Is this a campus-by-campus decision process once everybody knows what this new budget is and everybody's facing some sort of a reduction, is that a – are those decisions about what goes and what stays made on an individual campus basis?

DR. DYNES: Well, yes and no. One of the strengths of the University of California is that there are ten campuses and that means that each campus really has a different strength, a different style and yet they learn from each other, the campuses, the chancellors, the faculty, learn from each other. In this current budget crisis, each of the campuses will be responsible for managing the budget the way – the budget that they have been given but they will learn from each other as to how others have done it. And so there will be a lot of best practices but, ultimately, each campus is going to have to meet their own budgets.

MYRLAND: What kind of mandates will likely come down from the president's office to the campuses? What sort of discipline can a president apply to the individual presidents – or the chancellors?

DR. DYNES: Well, the budget, of course, is the discipline that you apply to people—that's how you get people to respond—and there will be certain system wide decisions that are made. For example, the number of students, the increase in number of students throughout the state of California that the campuses will take on, and how many students each of the campuses will take on in the next year. That's a system wide decision that will be made by the president in collaboration with each of the chancellors, and then the allocation will go to each of the campuses, and then each of the campuses must meet their own budgets.

MYRLAND: How about collective bargaining kinds of issues?

DR. DYNES: Collective bargaining, yes, of course. Collective bargaining is done at the system wide level and it relieves each of the campuses of dealing with collective bargaining and makes it more system-wide compelling from the president's office.

MYRLAND: Realistically, what's the likelihood of being able to renegotiate some of those agreements as a result of budget cuts?

DR. DYNES: Well, ultimately, maybe not renegotiate but to impose furloughs onto the campuses of employees not working full weeks, allowing employees by choice to work a limited number, maybe four days a week or three days a week, giving that as an option. It's called a Start Program. And each of the campuses can enact those how ever they see fit to meet their own budgets. But some of the overriding policies will come from the system.

MYRLAND: In the few minutes that we have left, I want to talk about an aspect of the university that I think sometimes gets ignored in the media, and that's the research aspect. And, of course, the UC system is a vital research institution…

DR. DYNES: Right.

MYRLAND: …and an economic driver from that direction. When we do talk about research, we tend to think of it as having its own independent funding, government grants, private enterprise kinds of things but, in fact, this budget difficulty will impact research as well. And I'd like to have you outline some of the ways that that might happen.

DR. DYNES: Well, it will impact research. I prefer to think of the affect of the university is on RD&D, research, development and delivery, and it's in all the areas. But part of the – one of the really important parts of the research effort at the university is engaging students, engaging graduate students and engaging undergraduates. I don't know how to teach creativity to undergraduates other than exposing them to a creative environment. Those budget cuts will reduce the ability for undergraduates to engage in the research experience and they will not see the creative juices of the University of California, as well. While it's true that most of the research is funded – most of the research that we're world famous for is funded by external sources like the federal government, the relationship between the faculty and the students, which is really important in research in order for the university to sustain and create the next generation of creative people, will get seriously hampered.

MYRLAND: Doesn't the university also support research with infrastructure?

DR. DYNES: Well, yes. There are a lot of buildings that are on the campus that are supported by the university and that are not going to be built in the near future because of the budget cuts. And the reason that the university attracts the world class faculty that it does is because of the environment of the university, which will be very stifled over the next few years. That's the premier concern, is that if the University of California starts developing a reputation of not being the best in the world, we will not attract the best faculty, students will choose to go elsewhere, and the University of California will become just another university, which would be fatal. It – it's always been the best.

MYRLAND: So play out for me a little bit the arguments that are going to be made at the legislature…

DR. DYNES: Well…

MYRLAND: …and how, other than just saying we need to maintain quality, what are some of the practical ways that you argue that the UC system should not receive an extraordinary amount of budget cuts? That someplace else in the state, budget really ought to take a bigger hit.

DR. DYNES: Well, the longterm health of the state of California and the University of California are tightly bound. The food you eat, the healthcare that you receive, the education, the technology that you use is, in large part, from the University of California. Fifteen percent of all physicians in the state of California were educated at some portion of their education through the University of California. Virtually all the food you eat comes from the state of California through the research of the University of California. And so the real benefit comes from the jobs that you – the jobs that people have and the healthcare they receive, the food they eat, the entertainment they engage in, and it's those people who have benefited from that, i.e. virtually everybody in the state of California, who have to stand up and say, yes, the university has to accept that there will be budget cuts but enough is enough.

MYRLAND: And is that argument best made by the chancellor's office and the professionals? Or is it – is there a point where you try to really marshal more grassroots kind of support? Are we anticipating trying to see some mobilization of parents and students and people like that?

DR. DYNES: I generally – I genuinely hope so because that's where the effect finally comes. Corporations, jobs, health, education, that's what affects California and the University of California is an engine which drives that. The grassroots, the protests should ultimately come not from the university, who will be seen as self-serving, but from people who have or will benefit from the university.

MYRLAND: So you've been through this before.

DR. DYNES: Yes, a few times.

MYRLAND: And I don't want to put you too much on the spot but what advice do you offer to the current chancellor, current president, and to Mark Yudof and to the people who are fighting this fight, with a little perspective now that you've gained.

DR. DYNES: Well, there's two things. Firstly, the university has to accept that we're going through a budget cut and, to some extent, budget cuts can be healthy for the university because it forces you to look at your own practices and trim where you should be trimming, and you should have trimmed. The second piece of advice—and they know this—so I'm telling – I'm speaking to the people who already know it. The piece of advice is that the people who benefit from the university should be the strongest advocates of the university. And so my successor, Mark Yudof, is doing the very best he can to do the first part, which is to cut places that should be cut and, in return, the citizens of California should recognize that without the University of California there is no California in the future.

MYRLAND: Well, Dr. Robert Dynes, thank you very much for taking the time to come in and outline some of these issues for us.

DR. DYNES: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

MYRLAND: We've been speaking with Dr. Robert Dynes, former president and – of the UC system and, before that, Chancellor of UCSD. You're listening to These Days in San Diego.