Thursday, July 9, 2009

UCLA Sociology Department Statement on Budget Contraction

The Sociology Department at UCLA would like to contribute to the deliberations concerning the budget crisis being faced by the University of California, UCLA and the Division of Social Sciences. We realize the need for emergency steps as well as the need for long term adaptation to changing conditions.

In facing the crisis, one single, simple principle should prevail: maintaining academic excellence must be the over-riding consideration, guiding all major decisions. The University of California has long been the premier public institution of higher education in the world, with UCLA one of the centers of innovation, creativity, and social progress. Academic excellence is why UC and UCLA have been such wise investments for the state and the people of California, yielding scientific innovations that have been the cornerstone of new industries, attracting huge quantities of federal research dollars which in turn have supported the university and employed many Californians, and, of course, educating the highly skilled labor force on which a 21st century economy depends. Academic excellence is the future of both the university and the state. Under good times, excellence is compatible with many other goals. In bad times, normally laudable objectives -- political pragmatism, community outreach, faculty morale – may conflict with the pursuit of excellence. Under these circumstances, maintaining academic excellence must prevail. In recognition of existing resource constraints, our main goal should be how to achieve excellence on a smaller scale than we have known in the past.

This statement is divided into two parts. We begin by outlining several principles to guide restructuring at system-wide and campus levels. We then address the concrete issues raised by President Yudof’s recent proposal to cut salaries.

General principles:

Targeted cuts are always preferable to across-the-board cuts: Cross-the-board cuts have the appearance of equity; in fact, their main effect is to subject all to the risk of mediocrity. While cross-the-board cuts are sometimes justified as minimizing damage to faculty morale, they often have the opposite effect, making faculty feel that the administration is sacrificing sound judgment for expediency. We understand that when UC's funding drops, it must cut costs. However, the cost-cutting strategy adopted by the university does not recognize the implications of the extraordinary and growing nature of the current crisis, which requires, not business as usual, but a total rethink. President Yudof and the Regents are asking us, not simply to accept an 8% salary cut, but demand that we concur in a long‐term but rapidly accelerating de‐funding of the university. Funding for UC has dropped from 8% of state budget in 1965 to 3% in 2008, and in real dollars per student has fallen by about 1/2 since 1980. Simply passing on budget cuts across the board is not a strategy, but a long‐term retreat from the university’s mission. We need to rethink what the University of California can realistically do in this new environment and how it can best retain the commitment to excellence that has been its outstanding characteristic throughout its long and proud existence.

Targeted cuts should be distributed through an academically informed strategy for restructuring: Weaker academic units should be eliminated rather than buoyed up. Tough decisions, even unpopular ones, should guide policy with appropriate faculty vetting, though vetting should not be paralyzed by any lack of consensus. This restructuring should take place at all levels. All administrative divisions, departments, ORUs, IDPs, centers (small c and large C), should be evaluated for major reallocation, recombination or elimination. We realize that there is a tension between decisiveness and recklessness and between accountability and autocracy. We believe there is no contradiction between strong leadership and accountability.

On the system-wide level, the premier campuses (UCB, UCLA, UCSD) should be recognized as qualitatively different from the others: De facto, the State of California has already abandoned the goal of sustaining ten superior university campuses; however, rather than recognizing the new reality, imposed by resource constraints, business is continuing as usual, with the result that all campuses are being lowered to a level of mediocrity. The better response to this unfortunate reality is to preserve the highest level of excellence at a selected number of the strongest campuses: Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego. We recognize that there are superior, nationally recognized programs at other campuses: these should be protected. Likewise, weak programs at UCB, UCLA, UCSD should be downsized or even closed. Greater division of labor among campuses should be considered, evaluating individual programs on the basis of offerings at other campuses. When programs with limited demand are found on multiple campuses, the university should designate which campus should prevail. Furthermore, every effort should be made to use new technologies to take advantage of research and advanced instructional resources across all campuses. But immediate steps must be taken to preserve excellence on the campuses where it is strongest.

The undergraduate student body should be recalibrated to match the shrunken size of our resources:
  • The size of the undergraduate student body should be brought in line with resources. Reducing the size of the faculty (both ladder and non-ladder) without reducing the size of the student body enfeebles the undergraduate program by pushing the student/faculty ratio to an unreasonable level and increases the size of courses. We offer our department as a case in point: in the last three years, we have reduced the number of ladder faculty by more than a quarter and laid off long term lecturers but with no relief in the number of students we teach. Our default upper division lecturer class has doubled from 75 to 150.
  • Enrollment by out-of-state students should be increased to cross-subsidize California residents: Given the decline in direct state support for the University of California, we have no choice but to admit more out-of-state students. Doing so will help offset the decline in funding from Sacramento and will inherently provide resources to California residents by helping to maintain professor-to-student ratios and to reduce or eliminate the planned cuts to teaching assistant and temporary (lecturer) funds. We note that this is the strategy successfully followed by the University of Michigan, a campus which is so far faring better than the University of California, despite the depth of Michigan’s economic crisis.
Downsizing should be based on a combination of program elimination and explicit targeted unit size for remaining units. Continuing units and programs should be given targeted sizes based on excellence, historical size, recent trends in faculty turnover, and student demand.

Start planning for a recovery now: The University’s planning process should include plans to redress the anticipated loss of salary and benefits to preserve the academic excellence at UCLA and system-wide. We recognize that painful measures must be taken now. However, the furloughs and/or pay-cuts do nothing but buy time until deeper structural changes can be made. It is well known that UC faculty are already 20-30 per cent behind our peers in compensation even before such a cut, and will take a further pay cut soon when contributions to our unstable pension system resume. If the level of faculty pay falls further below market rate, an exodus of top faculty when our competitors recover from the worst of the slump is likely to ensue. Moreover, the faculty most likely to leave are those with the greatest capacity to raise external funds; hence, their departure will have severe spillover effects, further weakening the university’s financial base.
We realize that structural changes take time, especially if they are made on the basis of full information, carefully considered criteria, and faculty accountability. But faculty morale can be sustained under these difficult circumstances, if it is clear that that the necessary long term changes are in progress while we are bearing up to short term suffering. Thus we support initiatives such as those proposed by Scott Waugh’s Tool Box Task Forces, though it is very disheartening to observe that one of their first recommendation—that cuts be targeted, not across the board—has already been ignored.

Reactions to President Yudof’s proposal:
  • A furlough is preferable to a pay cut:. Salary reductions are impossible to recover from either in salary terms or in retirement benefits. Salary reductions are therefore likely to stimulate a mass exodus from UCLA, further damaging the mission of academic excellence.. A furlough with preservation of retirement credit and benefits can save significant money while communicating the message that the University will recover from this crisis. We cannot recover without some strategic decision-making and some prospect of hope for the future. The administrative procedures and costs of implementing a furlough have been addressed by many peer institutions. It is hard to see why other universities can figure out how to implement furloughs but the University of California cannot.
  • A furlough should be finely graduated with gradations based on marginal rates. There are very few UC employees – whether faculty or staff – who can easily absorb cuts of the magnitude that are proposed. Nonetheless, considerations of equity and concern for less well-paid members of the faculty and staff lead us to recommend that reductions be progressive, with higher cuts directed at better paid staff and faculty, and a finer set of gradations than the simple 4%/8% cut proposed by President Yudoff. In making this recommendation, we underline the distributional consequences: as opposed to the two-level plan, a progressive salary reduction with finer gradations will have a greater impacts on UCLA than on numerous other campuses, where a smaller proportion of the faculty is off-scale; at UCLA, a progressive salary reduction will have a greater impact on the social sciences than on the humanities; across the university, a progressive salary reduction will have a greater impact on senior faculty – who have invested their careers in the campus – than on more junior, recently arrived faculty. In our view, these sacrifices are necessary; but they are only justified if the university simultaneously affirms its commitment to excellence and takes the steps needed to restore its long-term viability.
  • We recommend that employees whose salary comes from federal grant and contract funds not be subject to salary reductions. Any reduction in these salaries reduces funds that come in to the University through indirect costs and in to the State. In fact the intent of the American Recovery and Reconstruction Act is to stimulate the economy by increasing employment. Reducing the salaries of employees supported by grants flies in the face of this federal stimulus policy and will damage the research mission of the University. Apart from employees whose salaries comes from federal grant and contract funds, the question of whether employees funded by other non-state sources be furloughed should be evaluated in the light of implications for overall excellence.
  • Furloughs should result in a reduction in non-essential services provided. Units should have the option of shutting down on days that staff are furloughed. Perhaps the total number of days that classes meet should be reduced. At the same time, faculty and staff should have their retirement benefits and leave service credits maintained at 100 percent effort.
  • Protect especially vulnerable faculty and staff from severe financial hardship. Some personnel have financial commitments that they will not be able to meet if the proposed pay reductions become a reality. Among the faculty those most likely at risk are our younger colleagues, many with families, who have decided to build careers at the University of California, despite all the difficulties entailed in starting out in this state. These faculty are our future; harming them will yield irretrievable consequences in the future.
  • Newly hired faculty should be exempted from the pay cuts. To subject faculty who are just coming on board to these pay cuts would violate the terms of their recent offer letters, an especially egregious breach of faith.
  • Make an immediate contribution to the UCRP, either in dollars or as an IOU: The process through which UC's once-robust retirement plan has slipped into perilous condition is disheartening in the extreme. It has been known for several years, well before the market collapse of last fall, that it would be necessary to resume employer and employee contributions. Yet contributions are not scheduled to resume until next spring, and then only at a level that will cause UCRP to sink into a deeper hole. As the Task Force on Investment and Retirement of the University Committee on Faculty Welfare has stressed, it is imperative to raise UCRP contributions as soon as possible to the full recommended contribution under the Regents' own Funding Policy. "Doing so avoids far higher contributions in the future, and also ensures that non-state sources pay their fair share of the unfunded liability and the additional pension benefits that are earned each year. Every dollar of contributions made on behalf of employees whose salaries are paid from state funds is matched, on a two-for-one basis, by the contributions that will be made from other fund sources, on behalf of employees who are not paid from state fund sources"
We realize that these are extraordinary times in which the need for administration and faculty to pull together can contradict the need for decisive and effective action. When resources diminish, individuals who are dependent on the resources will maneuver to minimize the damage they experience. We realize that all must share the pain. We are prepared to do our part; indeed, we have already experienced considerable downsizing. As a department, we have a strategy for maintaining excellence, and we are convinced that we can do so, even under these difficult circumstances. But we need a future. We call on the university to make the tough and effective decisions that will help this department, and others on our campus, move forward at our reduced scale, doing so in a way that will not only maintain the level of excellence that we have achieved in recent years but allow us to aim even higher.

Ladder Faculty Signatories:
Rogers Brubaker
Cameron Campbell
Steven Clayman
Nicky Hart
Gail Kligman
Michael Mann
Robert Mare
Jeffrey Prager
William Roy
Abigail Saguy
Emanuel Schegloff
Judith Seltzer
Megan Sweeny
Stefan Timmermans
Roger Waldinger
Andreas Wimmer
Min Zhou
Lynne Zucker

Appendix: Reservations stated by individual faculty members about the Sociology Department Collective Statement:

I am generally supportive but I disagree with two items. First, incoming faculty should get the same treatment as everyone else, if they are really our colleagues, and not privileged by escaping the pay cut/ furloughs. Second, ditto with those on outside research grants. The savings from their reductions should go into department or university funds. Again, it is a question of equality of sacrifice.

I agree with most of this letter but not all of it. I believe that the right protection to offer staff/ faculty on low incomes is the variable cut/furlough; I do not agree with the additional proposal that new faculty be protected from the cuts. I accept the principle of universality with protection for the most vulnerable.

The one reservation I have concerns a cap on the graduated scale of salary/furlough cuts: I favor a graduated scale, but with a fixed maximum percentage in the 10%-12% range or a maximum absolute amount. It would also be helpful to know when the reduced income would become effective -- in the next several months? next academic year?


Joseph said...

Presumably this proposal would lead to the shuttering of the UCLA sociology department to "preserve the excellence" of the better rated sociology program at UCB?

Tony said...

Wow , it certainly didn't take long for the elitist mentality to take over down at UCLA. Save us, take them we're better than they are! Reminds me a lot of a book I once read where all the animals were equal, but some were simply more equal than others. Disgusting!

Jami Joelle said...

Rather than look at the 8% cut and issues of transparency, the UCLA sociology (SOCIOLOGY!!) department is proposing to lift 3/10 schools above the budgetary murk. According to some of the top UCLA sociologists, it is necessary to let most schools, and therefore thousands of students and workers suffer more and only allow the successful (?) programs at the successful (?) institutions survive.

I'm not originally from California, but I am reading a book called "Paradise Lost: California's Experience, America's Future." The UCLA sociology faculty who are proposing this are following the same model that got California, and thus the UC system, into this mess in the first place. EN

Kirsten said...

There is so much I agree with in this letter, but like the Scull-and-assorted-chairs letter from UCSD (also posted on this site), it is flawed by the narcissistic and false idea that three campuses are "premier" and the others second-rate. If one looks at measures like grant-getting and undergraduate selectivity (with the correspondingly higher graduation/retention rates that come with this), then yes, the nine campuses that teach undergraduates rank in rough order of the date of their establishment. That means they get differential base funding (weighted to benefit the oldest campuses) as well as a deeper endowment. But looked at purely from the perspective of faculty research productivity and impact, there is no clear evidence that any one _campus_ is more distinguished than the next (only that some have a higher total number of the specialized departments and centers that bring in grant money). Joseph is right: any difficult winnowing on the basis of excellence would have to be done department by department, and the 'big 3' would NOT always come out on top.

What a pity that some UC faculty seem more interested in crowding aboard the life-raft than in working together to prevent the ship from sinking.

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