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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Interview with the Chancellor
Interview by Raymond Hardie

This is the second in a series of interviews with Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, leading up to the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of UC San Diego.

Chancellor Marye Anne Fox responds frankly to questions about national rankings tough budget cuts and alumni advocacy.

Editor of at | UCSD Magazine: In the latest Times Education Review of university rankings, UC San Diego slipped several places. Why do you think that has happened?
Chancellor Marye Anne Fox: This recent slip directly corresponds with our budgetary problems. Rankings differ from one source to another, but UC San Diego consistently comes out at the top in ­academic citations and in the reputation of our faculty and staff—we could not have done better in those areas. Where we are ranked less highly is in our student-faculty ratio, which is far too high. The Regents set a goal of 18 students per faculty member: we are at 35 going on 40. This disparity arises from the reality of having fewer faculty, which in turn leads to larger classes and less faculty attention per student. Unlike reputation, this deficiency can be addressed by resources that will allow us to hire the next generation’s best scholars and to support the strongest undergraduate and graduate students. Our current fiscal constraints make those goals much harder to attain.

MAGAZINE: Is that student-faculty ratio also affected by the number of graduate students since graduate students often also teach?
CHANCELLOR: Yes. Compared to other top-ranked peer institutions, we have fewer graduate students. As an excellent research university, we focus on research ranging from the arts and humanities to the physical sciences; from the biological sciences to international affairs; from the social sciences to management; from engineering to medicine. Besides working on their own projects, graduate ­students often help teach undergraduate labs and recitation sections, sometimes as instructor of record. In order to take advantage of their versatility, we MUST attract brilliant, highly motivated graduate students. Unfortunately, we lose many of our strongest applicants, as our peers offer these same scholars a much larger number of fellowships than we can assemble. We are in competition with many other universities, particularly older institutions that have built up war chests of fellowship supplements over the years. That is one of the reasons we have launched an urgent campaign for undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships (see back cover).

MAGAZINE: In a recent speech, you called the yearly state budget “faith-based funding.” What do you mean by that?
CHANCELLOR: This quotation is from a speech made by Mark Yudof, the president of the UC system, at the last UC Regents meeting. He meant that we have long had faith in the legislature: that our elected officials would fulfill the financial promises for the UC system. Unfortunately, that faith has not been rewarded by action. The budget is a year-by-year process that has increasingly strong competitors. The cost of incarceration has increased dramatically, as has the cost to pay for healthcare, etc. The ­result is that over the last 30 years, there has been an inexorable drive toward a smaller and smaller fraction of the state budget being invested in higher education.

MAGAZINE: Often when talking about advocacy and its importance to the survival of the UC system, you seem to be asking for a much broader and more fundamental engagement from our alumni. Is that so?
CHANCELLOR: Yes, an increasingly broad swath of the United States seems to be willing to under-invest in higher education. We need alumni to be engaged because we need multiple voices telling the California legislature that the funds they allocate to the UC campuses, to the CSUs and to the community colleges constitute one of the most significant investments they can make in our future. Alumni, particularly those who have donated to the campaigns of elected officials, can make logical arguments from their own perspectives about the value of a UC degree. And they can express outrage when the easiest course is to provide a budget that forces the quality of UCs to slip from outstanding to mediocre. That is something that, as your Chancellor, I cannot allow to happen.

To learn more about advocacy, click here.

Raymond Hardie is the editor of @UCSD Magazine.