Chancellor cites student experience as top priority during staff forum

George Blumenthal
Chancellor Blumenthal spoke and took about a dozen questions at the quarterly Staff Advisory Board staff forum at the Stevenson Event Center.  Center is Ebony Lewis, SAB chair, with Alison Galloway, campus provost and executive vice chancellor, at right. (Photo by Guy Lasnier)

Chancellor George Blumenthal said his top priority at UC Santa Cruz remains the student experience in the face of existing budget cuts and an uncertain financial future.

Speaking Thursday, November 2 to about 90 staff members at the fall quarter staff forum organized by the UCSC Staff Advisory Board, Blumenthal said his administration "wants to make sure students graduate in four years or less."

Currently, about 50 to 52 percent of students will graduate in four years, Blumenthal said later in response to a question. "We have to get that higher," he said. Student retention and graduation rates "will continue to be a priority" as it is even more important as tuition has more than tripled in a decade as state support to the university as fallen, he said. 

First generation students

He noted that a strong frosh class is about halfway through its first quarter, a class of which 52 percent would be the first in their family to graduate from a four-year university. Underrepresented minorities represent 39 percent of the class, he said.
After years of little or no hiring, the campus has begun to hire faculty again – 18 for the current academic year, Blumenthal said. The new faculty members are replacements for others who have retired or resigned.

 Blumenthal said that when he became chancellor in 2006, the campus would typically hire about 40 new faculty a year. But since then, a long grind of shrinking budgets has left faculty positions vacant and resulted in layoffs among staff. The prospect of additional staff to support the new faculty was foremost on the minds of many at the forum. Blumenthal reiterated that the hires were replacements, not new positions, and that staffing decisions would be made at the departmental level.

Commenting further on the budget, Blumenthal said the UC system will be hit with $375 million in additional mid-year cuts if Proposition 30 on the November 6 ballot fails. He said he couldn't promise but said it is "highly likely" that staff would receive a cost-of-living raise later this year or early next if the measure passes.

Compensation to UC staff "is not a pretty picture," he said, and that there is a "strong will on the part of the chancellors" for staff raises.

UC Path

The chancellor also commented on UC Path, the systemwide effort to consolidate human resource and payroll functions of 10 campuses and five medical centers into one at UC Riverside. The process will result two-week pay periods and paychecks for hourly employees. UC Path is taking longer to implement than was initially expected, he said. Alison Galloway, campus provost and executive vice chancellor, noted that the scope of the reorganization effort has shrunk, with some changes being dropped.

On the issue of medical insurance, Blumenthal said that despite his and Galloway's efforts he's frustrated by the lack of progress toward renewing service from medical providers associated with the Palo Alto Medical Foundation under the less expensive Health Net Blue and Gold plan. "I'm very frustrated and we are looking at other alternatives," saying it is too early to be more specific.