Monday, July 18, 2011

Statement from Three Members of Academic Council on Preserving Quality (7/16)

The statement below was drafted by the following members of the Academic Council, but it has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Council. It is what we intend to keep saying in meetings, and it is what we would like to see the Senate say, at every opportunity.

Jim Chalfant, Chair, University Committee on Planning and Budget
Mary Gauvain, Chair, Academic Senate, UC Riverside Division
Susan Gillman, Chair, Academic Senate, UC Santa Cruz Division

When state budget cuts force UC to choose among access, affordability and quality, we believe that the Academic Senate should fight for quality as the University’s top priority. This means taking all possible measures to prevent further erosion of UC’s excellence, especially for undergraduates, and to prevent jeopardizing the future of the University as a whole. The state’s abandonment of the Master Plan extends well beyond consequences for the public and private shares of the cost of a UC degree.

The faculty of the University of California has the responsibility to ensure that students receive the highest quality education, grounded in research excellence. To do so calls for continued rejection of efficiency measures that emphasize throughput and degree production, while ignoring the quality of those degrees. It calls for protecting the research excellence that supports a UC-quality degree. The faculty cannot stand by and accept further diminutions in quality and will not enable the state or the University to hide the effects of the cuts from public view. Erosion of instructional quality is visible in the form of decreased course availability, fewer specialized elective courses and reduced student involvement in research, increased class sizes that reflect higher student-faculty ratios, decreased feedback to students on written assignments and during office hours, decreased faculty size and layoffs of temporary faculty and staff: in the aggregate, a watered-down education.

Budgets and measures such as student-faculty ratios are clear to all as indicators of the problem, but it is the faculty who also see first-hand the many cutbacks and compromises that are hardest to measure and continue to deprive students of opportunities that earlier generations enjoyed. The withdrawal of state funding thus forces students and their families to shoulder more of the financial burden of a UC education, at a time of decreasing educational quality.
We believe that the University must urgently communicate the alarm of both faculty and administration at the state's retreat from its responsibility to preserve UC as the world’s leading public institution of higher education. Beyond communication, as Senate faculty we advocate continual monitoring of other potential, longer term effects of the cuts on the quality of undergraduate instruction. This requires monitoring not only critical measures such as time-to-degree and campus selectivity, but also developing measures of the quality of UC degrees—a set of lagging indicators that will become evident only after the damage is done.

Despite the damaging effects of years of fee increases, we support the Academic Council statement of June 30, 2011. We must stand for academic quality rather than pretending it is possible to maintain access, affordability, and quality with grossly inadequate state funding.

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