As California works to plug an epic budget shortfall, severe budget cuts are threatening the twin qualities -- excellence and access -- that have defined the University of California as the world's leading public research university.
At UC Santa Cruz, faculty, students, and staff worry about the impact the state's financial meltdown is having on the campus, and will have on the social and economic health of the state.
"The first order of impact will be that students will have to get to class early to get a seat," said Quentin Williams, a professor of Earth and planetary sciences and outgoing chair of UCSC's Academic Senate, outlining effects that he says students will feel as early as this fall. "There will be fewer classes offered, and class sizes will be larger."
The repercussions of California's $26.3 billion budget gap are being felt campuswide. For example, the University Library has reduced hours and staffing and is canceling almost $800,000 worth of serial subscriptions, among other measures, according to University Librarian Ginny Steel.
"We're down to core services at this point," Steel said.
'Staggering' cuts reaching 20 percent of state-funded budget
As of mid-July, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and California legislators had reached a tentative agreement on how to close the state's budget gap. UC officials were bracing for an $813 million systemwide reduction in support from the state's General Fund. A student fee increase, an employee furlough plan, and other steps were expected to close the gap by about $500 million; the remainder -- more than $300 million -- will come from another round of cuts spread across the university's 10 campuses.
In an effort spearheaded by UCSC faculty, more than 300 UC scientists issued a letter and white paper warning Gov. Schwarzenegger that the steep funding cuts endanger UC's position as the premier public university in the United States and could imperil California's future economic growth.
For students, knowing that tuition is rising while opportunities and services are decreasing doesn't seem fair.
"I love this school. I fundraise a lot of money for this school," said senior Nick Thorwaldson, 20, who works as a student supervisor for UCSC's telemarketing program. "But why is our tuition being raised 9 percent while at the same time we're getting less? That doesn't make any sense to me."
Campus officials call the cuts -- now totaling approximately $50 million in the past year -- "staggering." They amount to approximately 20 percent of the state-funded portion of UCSC's budget.
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In his remarks to the UC Board of Regents at their July 15 meeting in San Francisco, Chancellor George Blumenthal described the impacts to quality and access. Because of budget reductions already imposed, he said, the campus:
- Expects to reduce its incoming freshman class by more than 750 students.
- Has eliminated 55 vacant faculty positions -- 8 percent of budgeted faculty -- and dramatically reduced the number of lecturers and teaching assistants.
- Has reduced its academic and administrative staff ranks by 160.
- Is reducing expenditures in every area of the campus.
"Here's the brutal truth: Fewer of California's best and brightest students will enjoy the rich educational opportunities and experiences available to previous generations of UC students," Blumenthal said.
Academic impact, both short and long term
Already, the campus has eliminated several strong and promising research units, including the STEPS Institute for Innovation in Environmental Research, and it is looking at seriously reducing research budgets in other units.
"Because of these cuts, we have to wonder: How many innovations, how many vaccines and human health breakthroughs, how many ways to protect our planet from climate change will be delayed or undiscovered?" Blumenthal asked during his presentation to the Regents. "These are not mere budget cuts. California is fundamentally 'disinvesting' in higher education."
To date, no academic majors have been eliminated because of budget cuts. While Williams thinks some will eventually disappear, that's not a process that can happen quickly or affect students already enrolled in or admitted into those fields.
"But it's an inevitable consequence of the trajectory we're on," he said. "We will have to look very carefully at the portfolio of majors we offer."
In April, when UCSC's Social Sciences Division was implementing its share of the campus's then-$13 million budget cut, officials proposed reductions in every department within the division.
One of those departments was Community Studies, and reports soon emerged that the major was being shuttered. While the Social Sciences dean quickly corrected that misimpression, the program's fiscal difficulties underscored the campuswide challenge of preserving the breadth and quality of UCSC's academic offerings.
"Community Studies, for example, is going to have to figure out how deliver that major more affordably," Williams said. "That's something they have to work through over the coming academic year. Will it look like it did last year? Probably not."
One minor in the Arts Division experienced a more certain outcome: Offered by the Music Department, the Western Art Music minor will accept no new students beginning this fall.
Where does UCSC go from here?
For Chancellor Blumenthal, what's at stake are those two qualities that attracted him to UCSC as a faculty member 37 years ago.
"As cuts continue, our options have narrowed," he told Regents. "Now the cuts are becoming more devastating -- fundamentally threatening student access and academic quality."
UCSC junior Cortney Kammerer, 20, has two friends who won't be returning to school in the fall because of the higher fees.
"It's interesting being a student right now," Kammerer said. "The first year, you thought everything was secure. Now, though I'm so appreciative and thankful to have gotten into a UC, I feel like my education won't be as highly credited as before the budget cuts."
Blumenthal and Campus Provost Kliger have convened budget-planning sessions this month in an effort to "develop a strategic framework for keeping UCSC moving forward in an era of declining public support."
"The Santa Cruz campus," Blumenthal reminded Regents, "has been on a sustained upward trajectory. Our greatest challenge is to prevent these circumstances from derailing our progress. We must -- and will -- continue to be strategic. Creative. And focused. There is too much at stake to do anything less."
Want to stay informed about how UCSC is being affected by budget cuts? And how the campus is working through these difficult challenges? Visit UCSC's Budget Update web site for the latest information.