UCLA Q&A: Restructuring the University

If you could only go one place to see the erosion of the California dream, a University of California campus might be a good observation point. In Los Angeles that's UCLA. Sitting on Sunset Boulevard a stone's throw from an oasis of wealth, the school is visibly starving.

UCLA has been nearly paralyzed by a $131 million budget deficit. Last fall, UC regents raised student fees by 32 percent, but students had 65 fewer courses to choose from. Class sizes were up more than 5 percent. The university expected to hire a dozen or so new faculty by the end of last year, down from 75 to 100 in a typical year.

Meanwhile, a state legislative committee unanimously approved a request from state Senator Leland Yee last week to audit the finances of the entire UC system to, as Yee put it, "uncover the extent of the waste, fraud, and abuse within the UC, and finally hold university executives accountable."

The public university that became a symbol of affordable higher education still enjoys a No. 2 U.S. News & World report ranking for public colleges. But the school is losing ground fast. As Chancellor Gene Block put it in a recent Huffington Post piece, UCLA is at risk of becoming a mediocre university.

Chancellor Block has chosen fight over flight. He's set up a restructuring steering committee that is supposed to "make academic and administrative operations more efficient, less expensive and less dependent on state support." That's according to a memo sent to UCLA faculty and staff by Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh. Waugh was drafted by Block to run this committee. I sat down with Waugh to ask him about what it will do and what's at stake for UCLA.

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UCLA Provost Scott Waugh

You've been charged with leading this restructuring committee. It sounds like a scary surgical team that will take apart the school and put it back together. How do you describe what the committee is going to do?

Well it's certainly not radical surgery. What we do want to do is to look at all of our operations, from academic to business, administration, every corner of the campus, and see if there are ways that we can either make things more efficient to reduce costs, or find ways of raising revenues. So it's not a matter of taking the whole institution, shaking it up and reassembling it. It's a matter of looking at the things we do, and that includes teaching and research, and seeing if we can do them better, in a way to make it more efficient and less costly.

In a memo you put out about this committee earlier this month, you mention that you're considering adding about 150 out-of-state students. That's about 4 percent of the total freshman enrollment. I think a lot of people are concerned when they hear more out-of-state students, less in-state students. How does that number look to you?

I think it's a modest number actually, when you look at the way other universities operate. And we're very mindful of the trade-offs involved in taking more out-of-state students, or non-resident students as they're called. The important point of course is that they bring in money, and that money is important, because it helps subsidize the resident students, who are paying a high, though lower, tuition than non-resident students.

It's an important consideration how we're going to move forward when the state funding is dropping on a per student level. The 150 will give us a measure: does this hurt other areas of the campus? How does this impact resident enrollments? How does it impact diversity? How does it impact our revenues? So there's a bunch of considerations. And we want to move very modestly and very carefully and see if we want to move it up year by year, reach a plateau that we're comfortable with in terms of the trade-offs.

An experiment nonetheless?

An experiment. We make no bones about it. It's very important in terms of finding new revenues, in terms of making up for the money that the state has withdrawn from us. And if we're going to continue to offer quality education and high quality research, we're going to have to find ways of supporting it, and non-resident tuition is one way of doing that.

You talk about more efficiency, less expensive. How does that translate to anything other than less faculty, less resources, less offerings?

We have less money. So there will be fewer faculty, and there will be fewer offerings. But we want to do it in a way that's not just haphazard. We want to make planned changes, especially on the academic side. We want departments to look at what the most important courses they are offering. What are essential to the majors? How can we make sure that we offer the courses necessary for students to graduate in a timely way? What kinds of courses might we eliminate that shift the teaching into other areas that are more critical?

We're not trying to do it and just say, "Well, we're all going to contract, regardless of the consequences." What we're doing is looking at the consequences first and trying to figure out how can we do this in a way that we can keep the same kinds of programs and, yet, cope with what is a dramatic drop in funding.

Another theme that came up in the revenue task force and in your memo is to look for more non-state funding. Would bringing in more non-state funding help you avoid more student fee increases?

We all think it would be great if we could increase our non-state revenues in ways that took the place of the lost revenues from the state and allowed us to get by without raising student fees. So far we don't have those kind of resources. It requires a comprehensive effort across the board.

We do raise a lot of non-state revenue. We raise almost $1 billion per year in federal grants. Now that money is targeted. You can't use that to pay for foreign language teaching or something like that. We also have lots of self-supporting degree programs, and we want to have more, which help individual units and can make up for some of the lost money. But it's important to realize that core funding from the state goes to supply the funding for the core activities on the campus. Most of that are faculty and staff salaries. That's the largest portion of it. So we're very far away from finding all of the non-state funding necessary to take the place of that. We can't do it in the short term. So we have to rely on that state funding, and we don't want that to go down any further.

You've hired a consulting firm to help in this process, Huron Consulting. There's been some controversy around Huron. They're being investigated for alleged accounting fraud. How are you using them and are you concerned about their abilities at this point?

No. We're not concerned. Obviously it's of concern when you hear that the company that you've hired has trouble. But we've looked at it carefully. The work that they were doing in accounting is completely different than the work they are doing for us.

What they're doing for us is really analyzing systems and looking at business practices, looking at personnel and management. We hired them some time ago to look at our whole research organization. And they've been extraordinarily helpful in being able to look at how processes are carried out. Are there better ways of doing it more efficiently? It's the kind of view you want to get somebody on the outside who's not completely locked in to the way you do things, to ask, "are the ways we are doing things the best ways to do them?" That's what they're helping us on more than anything else.

They have a lot of experience, the higher education division of Huron, and this division has a lot of experience with lots of institutions around the country. So they can say, "What you do is pretty good, but the best practice is this, and you might want to think about that." And that helps us think analytically about what we're supposed to be doing.

So it's the outside perspective that led you to choose Huron Consulting, versus your own faculty to look at this.

We have great faculty and staff, but they don't have the breadth of experience in the sense of being able to compare institutions and see how they work. It's just getting that extra eye. It's valuable to us. It's already helped us enormously in the research organization to really improve our practices there.

Chancellor Block has endorsed Gov. Schwarzenegger's plan to pass a constitutional amendment that would mandate the state spends more on education than it does on prisons. What are you doing to make sure that it does actually happen?

Well of course I support it. State funding is absolutely essential to the quality of UCLA and making UCLA what it is, making the whole UC system what it is. And it seems like a reasonable proposal to find some amount, 10 percent or whatever it might be. I haven't been lobbying directly for that. My lobbying, and I've been up to Sacramento once this year, has been more about, "Don't cut us any further. Remember we're doing a great job educating kids. Remember we're contributing to the economy." My lobbying efforts have been directed that way. The issue of the constitutional amendment is a large political issue and it's going to play out over a long period of time. I'm the provost. I'm concerned with this year.

You met with local reps in the state assembly recently. What did you tell them and what did you hear from them?

Our message is very straight forward. UCLA is a quality institution. We're contributing heavily to the economy. We're educating students. We produced a map that shows their district and all the UCLA faculty and staff that live in their district; how much money comes into their district from UCLA's contributions, in terms of wages and salaries and contracts, just to show that we do have an economic impact in their area. Their response? Our representatives in the area, they know UCLA, they share pride in UCLA. They understand our dilemma. They make it clear they have a lot of difficult choices this year. They appreciate us. We have a good conversation.

How concerned are you that this restructuring and more out-of-state students, will make the university a worse place to go to school than it is right now?

Everything we're doing is aimed at not having that happen. That's what we want to prevent. Every step we're taking is carefully thought out and calculated to find ways of keeping UCLA UCLA in the face of a terrible economy and budget crisis. We think we can do it. We think that the changes we are undertaking are not so radical or dramatic or draconian that they would shift the entire nature of UCLA. We think that they're changes that will help protect and in some cases increase UCLA's quality.

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