Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cuts bite in California

University faces hard times as budget gets squeezed.

Published online 22 July 2009 | Nature 460, 441 (2009) | doi:10.1038/460441a

On 16 July, the UC board of regents voted to give its president Mark Yudof the power to force university staff to take unpaid leave through a furlough plan. The cuts are meant to help the system offset about a quarter of its US$813-million drop in state funding this year. The measures would affect 108,000 full-time UC employees and would follow a sliding scale according to salary, with the lowest-paid faculty members drawing 11 unpaid days off — equivalent to a 4% pay cut — and the highest-paid staff drawing 26 unpaid days, or a 10% cut.

"The alternative is massive lay-offs," Yudof told the regents in San Francisco. "We have frankly just run out of money."

Those exempt from salary cuts include student employees, such as graduate students, as well as staff whose salaries are paid wholly from research grants and contracts. Most campuses have dramatically curtailed recruiting, including withdrawing job offers already made to candidates.

Marye Ann Fox, chancellor of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), said at the regents' meeting that several top researchers had already left the system. In written comments naming some of them, she mentioned Edward Yu, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who is moving to the University of Texas at Austin, and biologist Charles Zuker, said to be moving to Columbia University in New York.

The separate, 23-campus California State University (CSU) system is also struggling — its budget from the state for the new fiscal year is $584 million less than it was expecting. CSU executives are asking employee unions to agree to a two-day-a-month furlough, which represents a 9.5% pay cut, for 46,000 employees. The California Faculty Association, a key group that represents 23,000 faculty members from the CSU system, is voting on the proposed cut this week, with results likely to be tabulated on 22 July (after Nature went to press). If the faculty do not approve, CSU officials say that lay-offs are likely.

At the UC regents' meeting, meanwhile, some scientists argued that young faculty members will be hit particularly hard by the cuts, and that it is already becoming difficult to recruit and retain them.

Astronomer Mark Krumholz of the University of California, Santa Cruz, says that if the cuts continue for longer than a year, he would consider leaving. "In one year, I have brought in nine times my salary in grants," he says. "If I go elsewhere, that money follows me."

Krumholz spearheaded the writing of a letter sent this month to California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and members of the state legislature to protest against the cuts. It has been signed by more than 300 UC faculty members who are members of the US National Academies of Science or Engineering or of the Institute of Medicine.

Another signatory at the Santa Cruz campus, astronomer Sandra Faber, warned the regents that continued cuts would lead to serious harm. "The university is the most powerful economic engine in the state," she said. "Disinvesting in the University of California at this time is like eating our seed corn."

But the state continues to face a $26-billion budget deficit; it must balance its books for each fiscal year, which began on 1 July. "I don't really see a light at the end of the tunnel," Yudof said last week. With Russell Gould, chairman of the UC board of regents, he has announced plans to form a Commission on the Future of UC to examine the university's continued existence, its services and its funding model.

The cuts have even triggered fighting within the UC system itself, with some at the biggest campuses suggesting turning on the smaller ones. In a 15 June letter that made headlines last week, the chairman of UCSD's sociology department, Andrew Scull, and 22 other department chairs called on the regents to make the UC campuses at San Diego, Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Francisco into elite research institutions; other campuses would be downgraded to teaching institutions, with presumably smaller budgets.

As Nature went to press, the state legislature and the governor had agreed a plan to close the budget gap, involving some $15 billion in proposed cuts.

video of UC protests over the cuts


Reader comments are usually moderated after posting. If you find something offensive or inappropriate, you can speed this process by clicking 'Report this comment' (or, if that doesn't work for you, email webadmin@nature.com). For more controversial topics, we reserve the right to moderate before comments are published.

I wish to comment on UCSD chair of sociology, Andrew Scull's (alleged) suggestion to downgrade several UC campuses, including UC Davis, into teaching colleges. I read this in your article but I have not seen the letter. If your report is accurate, I feel compelled to say that I find Scull's recommendation offensive. As a typical professor at UC Davis, I have run a research lab doing cutting edge cell and molecular biology research for the past 20 years (some of it published in Nature). I would argue that we perform research of a quality that is quite competitive with much of the (high quality) research being undertaken by my esteemed colleagues at the institutions that Scull argues should be elevated to "elite research institutions". Accordingly I, like many other UCD faculty scientists, have maintained extramural research funding at a level that is significantly higher than my salary since the first nanosecond that I walked through the door at UCD. To deal with UC budget cuts, I could make a suggestion that I suspect Professor Scull would find as offensive as I find his - let us designate sociology (and comparable subjects) as "pseudo-science" and discontinue supporting it in favor of "elite" disciplines such as physics and molecular biology throughout the UC system! In fact I would not suggest doing this because it is as counter-productive, divisive, inappropriate and elitist as his own suggestion, and because I know as little about what is going on in sociology as I suspect Scull knows about cell and molecular biology research.

22 Jul, 2009
Posted by: Jonathan Scholey

I think the notion of designating some of the UCs as elite, and others as teaching schools reflects a certain level of discipline myopia. In my field, Evolutionary Biology, I'd definitely include UC-Davis, UC-Santa Barbara, and UC-Irvine in the elite group. As an example, UCI's Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Dept. has 5 National Academy members, making it, at least by some measures, about as elite as you can get. I'd imagine mathematicians, historians, chemists, etc. could each come up with there own elite list for the 10 UCs.

23 Jul, 2009
Posted by: Lex Flagel


Kevin said...

How about a newer article like

which shows that the administrators are not taking anywhere near their "share" of the burden of cuts.

Anonymous said...

It was rather interesting for me to read the blog. Thanks for it. I like such themes and anything that is connected to this matter. I would like to read more soon.

Anonymous said...

It is extremely interesting for me to read the blog. Thanks for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to this matter. I definitely want to read a bit more on that blog soon.

Anonymous said...

Rather nice blog you've got here. Thanks for it. I like such topics and everything connected to them. BTW, why don't you change design :).

Anonymous said...

You know what, buy GSM blocker to block all spy transmitters in your room or at work.