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Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday, November 6, 2009

UCOF at UCSD

On Friday, November 6, the traveling medicine show called UCOF arrived in La Jolla to "listen" to the UC San Diego community. Commission members included UCSC Chancellor Blumenthal, Cynthia Brown, Mary Croughan, Keith Williams, CFO Peter Taylor of UCOP, and student regent Jesse Bernal.

The audience peaked at about 125 but was down to less than 100 by the time public comments began. There were approximately 12-20 faculty at the most (not counting the faculty/administrators who made formal presentations).

Each of the Commission members (except Cynthia Brown who deferred to Blumenthal) made opening remarks in which they began with standard boilerplate rhetoric about "excellence" and then described the charge of their workgroup. Some high and low points:

--Blumenthal's remarks were mainly about downsizing. He said not all campuses will have all programs, and coined a new term "inter-institutionality" that he claimed will replace interdisciplinarity in the 21st century.

--Croughan talked about "industry engagement."

--Williams talked about on-line education.

--Taylor actually spoke about the possibility of working for a "dedicated tax" for higher education (probably the most positive note from any of the commissioners).

--Bernal did not advocate for students as much as show that he is quickly learning how to use bureaucratic rhetoric.

Presentations by UCSD administrators were weak, ranging from banal boosterism to a pitch for more graduate and fewer undergraduate students (or we'll lose our prestige) to a fundamentalist reading from the privatization bible--more foreign and out of state students for revenue (Dean of our Business School, as you might have guessed). Staff presentations, on the other hand, were excellent. They advocated for students, argued for an "education model" instead of a business model, etc. It was pointed out that the absence of any regents made it hard to take the exercise seriously. The most valuable intervention was by one of our building maintenance carpenters who explained how he and his crew have to repair all the shoddy work done by private contractors hired by the University, thereby costing the University more money. He talked about lay-offs and shortened hours in his department. He talked about his life as a worker who had dedicated himself to UCSD and his son, a first generation college student in the UC, who was now in danger of having to drop out for financial reasons. Very powerful.

Public comments in general were good. One student pointed out that for many disciplines Blumenthal's notion of inter-institutionality will make interdisciplinary work on a single campus nearly impossible, a sharp irony given the endless UC rhetoric over the last decade about the latter. Another student said she felt betrayed by the UC system because of fee hikes and told the commissioners she did not trust them. There were about 12-15 public comments each limited to one minute. Very little exchange with the Commission afterwards. Croughan said regents did not attend because they will be visiting campuses later this academic year. Taylor was somewhat perturbed by an audience member's reference to Bob Meister's claim about how student fees are used. The Commission members then went off to have longer meetings with UCSD Senate committees.

In short, a kind of theatrical non-event for the campus community at large--another episode of the Done Deal.

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