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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Interview with Chancellor Fox
Interview by Raymond Hardie

"It would be a pity indeed if that was allowed to fade away and we were left with an inexorable march to mediocrity. It is painful to say but, without adequate support, such a march is inevitable."



Photograph by Jim Coit

The first in a series of interviews with Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, leading up to UC San Diego’s celebration of its fiftieth anniversary in 2010-2011.

Magazine: Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. How deep are the University’s budget problems?

Chancellor Marye Anne Fox: The University of California has been told by the legislature to cut $813 million from its budget. So we are forced to come up with a plan in which each campus makes its contribution toward achieving that cut. For UC San Diego, this will translate to a figure of about $89 million. We will handle it by roughly one third furloughs, one third internal loans/restructured debt, and one third programmatic changes.

Magazine: Will there be fee increases for the students?

Chancellor: Students are an essential part of the University community of course. And like the faculty and staff who are taking cuts by way of furloughs, students are also being called on to step up. We had a fee increase of 9.3 percent this fall, and another midyear increase is not out of the question. My understanding is that the Regents may also consider a further increase in the 2010–11 academic year.

Magazine: In what areas have the budget cuts caused the most retrenchment?

Chancellor: The budget cuts have required us to essentially freeze hiring. We eliminated 44 faculty positions that were set to be filled last year, and this year we have completely shut down hiring. This means that more than 100 faculty positions are vacant. As a result, we don’t have the influx of young enthusiastic faculty driving forward their research. Secondly, students are going to have a much higher student to faculty ratio—it will now be 40:1. In addition, we have had to lay off over 1,000 staff. Altogether over 420 faculty and staff positions have been eliminated and on top of that over 220 positions have had to be left unfilled. 

Magazine: Is there any good news?
Chancellor: Well, we have a fabulous faculty, a very strong student body, and a dedicated staff, all of whom are working together to earn our ranking as one of the top ten public universities in the United States. The fear is that our ability to achieve these standards of excellence will be jeopardized if we don’t make an appropriate investment in the future.

Magazine: We are in this perfect storm of economic meltdown. How do you think we arrived here?

Chancellor: Obviously as Americans, we are all affected by the global economic downturn. California is typically the center of a large fraction of the economic growth in the United States, and when California’s tax base is insufficient to meet what you call the perfect storm, it is going to show up in virtually every possible way. Complicating that, the ­legislature has not, in its wisdom, responded in a timely manner with a workable state budget. As a result, we have to do budget estimations again and again and again. So that has made life difficult.

Magazine: Do you think the University made any mistakes that contributed to this situation?

Chancellor: Neither the University nor the Office of the President makes policy; it is the Regents who make policy after a budget has been adopted by the legislature. We have to determine ways in which our Regents can better interact with our legislators to articulate the important contributions our re­search universities make to the state’s economy. The solutions for the economic problems facing this country have to be technical ones, and science and engineering are going to figure prominently. But because of the unwillingness of our legislators to support the University of California adequately, we are all suffering. And that suffering is spreading throughout the state.

Magazine: How do you think the challenges facing the UC system will be reflected in the California economy? 

Chancellor: The UC system has reached its preeminence in the world because it has both world-class research universities and our Cal State and Community College systems. All are essential for the development of an educated workforce. We have, as policy, begun to accept a larger number of community college transfers than in the past, and they’re graduating in comparable numbers. We continue to attract exceptional students at every level, but our ability to supply an educated workforce at a competitive level is made more difficult by this budget crisis.

Magazine: Is this one of the reasons why you pushed through the housing for the transfer students?

Chancellor: It is. Transfer students have told us that they feel isolated and less a part of the campus than those who come as freshmen. The college experience is a precious time in one’s life, and we wanted to give them the same opportunity as our other undergraduates to get involved and to have a place on campus they could call their own. So this fall, we are proud to be opening the Village at Torrey Pines West, which will accommodate more than 1,000 transfer students.

Magazine: Is there now a greater competition for faculty because of the budget woes?

Chancellor: We have lost senior ladder-rank faculty and senior administrators since the first of July, and are likely to lose others. We are hoping that is going to slow down as people become more confident about what the budget will mean to them and to their students and colleagues. The University of California offers world-class, competitive research with outstanding collaborators, and it is our hope that we can continue to support that research in such a way that people are comfortable living out their careers here in San Diego.

Magazine: Do you think that higher education is at a crossroads?

Chancellor: Americans have spent a lot of time building a higher education system, and we have done that very successfully in California. Most people around the world acknowledge that schools in the UC system are among the best public institutions anywhere. We have achieved that status by carefully investing for over 100 years—from the establishment of the first institutions in the UC system. We have worked 50 years at UC San Diego to build a reputation based on our strong contributions in science and engineering, as well as in the social sciences, and arts and humanities. It would be a pity indeed if that was allowed to fade away and we were left with an inexorable march to mediocrity. It is painful to say but, without adequate support, such a march is inevitable.

Magazine: Finally, what can alumni do to help UCSD after reading this interview?

Chancellor: Alumni are our biggest supporters, and for good reason. They have been transformed—and that is probably not too strong a term—by the experience of being students at the University of California. The UC San Diego experience is a unique one—one that is a privilege. So our alumni can provide both moral and financial support; they can advocate to those who vote in their legislative districts; they can tell others about the importance of quality in this great public institution. The University of California is undoubtedly the very best in the world, and it will be a tragedy indeed if our alumni fail to step up to protect this incredible institution. Fifty years to build up this University, probably four or five to cut it down. We can’t let that happen.

Raymond Hardie is the editor of @UCSD Magazine.

Chancellor Marye Anne Fox talks about the importance of the UC system and the budget crisis facing UC San Diego.