Thursday, December 08, 2011

Meeting of Faculty in College of Biological Sciences w/ Chancellor Katehi #UCDavis

A few days ago I got the following email:
Good Afternoon,

To all “Faculty Members Only” of the College of Biological Sciences:

Chancellor Katehi has requested a meeting with the faculty members of the College of Biological Sciences.  For this particular session, the invitation is extended to faculty members only.

This will be an opportunity to ask questions and to hear the Chancellors plans for moving forward.

Date:                     Thursday, December 8, 2011
Location:              Conference Room – Life Sciences Building / 1022
Time:                     1:00 pm – 2:30 pm

And today was the day.  It was a very hectic day for me.  AM kid related duties.  Then I dropped off two pairs of broken glasses to get soldered (one of which had broken on the day of the major post-pepper spray rally at UC Davis.  Then off to lab where I had only a short period of free time before lab meeting (alas, unlike last week, this meeting was indoors).  And then off to the meeting with the Chancellor.  Here are some notes from that meeting --- more of a stream of consciousness than detailed notes in many cases but hopefully this will give a gist of how the meeting went.

I got to LS1022 a few minutes early, and chatted with a few of the faculty from the College of Biological Sciences who were milling around.  Then the Dean showed up and we all waited for the Chancellor.  We were told she was running a few minutes late and the room started to fill up.  And then she arrived with her chief of staff Karl Engelbach.

And then she gave a very brief mini introduction - said she was here to listen to faculty concerns - explained why she was late - said she had learned a great deal in the last few weeks and truly seemed a bit humbled by the whole thing.  That lasted just a few minutes and then the next 1.5 hours was spent on faculty asking questions or making comments and Katehi responding.  It seemed inappropriate to live tweet the meeting ... so I am going to have to go on my notes and my brain to try and convey what happened.

The first question / comment was about students.  One faculty member said that the students really seemed to have two main complaints - increases in tuition and fees and decreases in quality of education.  This person said they agreed with the concerns of the students and wanted to know in particular what Katehi planned to do in terms of quality of education.  Katehi then responded with some comments/ideas including (1) that the state has major money issues that will be here for some time and that the same issues are seen everywhere in the world - the economy is hurting everything (2) that the current plan for how to deal with the squeezing economy is not working - and that she agreed that something new needs to be done - she made an important point - that the world is changing a lot faster than the university is and that at full UC Davis speed we cannot likely match the changes that occur in the world around us (3) that students just cannot be asked to pay more anymore.  Throughout the discussion of these points the Chancellor seemed to be really trying to interact and get a feel for what the faculty thought about these issues (at least to me).

The next question/comment was a critique regarding past changes made by Katehi/the administration which the questioner said we too much "in the box" - as in - too much business as usual.  Interestingly (to me) this comment related to the centralization of administrative functions which the questioner clearly did not like and this person suggested that actually decentralization might be better and more cost effective.  That is - having the administrative functions closer to the users (i.e, the departments and the faculty).  I am not sure I bought this point - I mean - yes - having more direct contacts with grants and accounting and HR and legal and such people could be useful but I think I agree with the Chancellor on this in that there was enormous redundancy and some of this could be eliminated to save money.

The next question was about the quality of education at UC Davis and the questioner expressed concern that students are getting less quality as class sizes are going up and TAs are being cut and lecturers are being cut.  And the concern was expressed that this will damage UC Davis in many ways including that students will not have as positive an experience and that this in turn might affect long term interactions with alumni.  In addition the suggestion was made that students never remember the large classes fondly and that the key to positive alumni interactions is small classes.  I definitely did not buy this point - I think certainly eliminated TAs and lecturers is not a good idea but I also feel that large classes can be taught well or poorly and that it is not as simple as saying we just need smaller classes.  When I was at Harvard as an undergrad my favorite classes including small ones (e.g., Creative Writing, Conservation Biology tutorial) as well as big ones (e.g., Stephen Jay Gould's History of Earth and of Life class).  I think class size is less important than instructor passion ...

But Katehi certainly seemed open to the notion that quality of instruction was critical.  And then she recounted a story about her daughter (but first apologized if anyone had heard the story before) having a wonderful experience with education at a very large school (U. Indiana).  The key to the story was a TA who wrote to Katehi and her husband to nudge them to encouraging their daughter to switch from studying business to studying English.

Other people chimed in on this issue and expressed concern about the possible plan for UC Davis to add more students in the future.  They said that we should figure out how to improve the quality of education before increasing the number of students on campus.

Alas - I am going to have to summarize some of the other points without providing too much detail as I have to get my kids to sleep soon so here are some other points raised:

1. Many suggested that the Chancellor needs to reduce her separation from the people of the University and to not be locked off with administrators all the time.  The wording one person used was "we should deprofessionalize the administration".  That is, too many administrators who were removed from the daily lives of the constituents - the faculty, staff and students.  There were many comments about having the Chancellor and hopefully others in the administration spend more time outside of the Administration building (Mrak Hall) and more time with students, staff and faculty. Katehi agreed with the need for this.

2. Multiple people expressed concern with the Chancellors new "Advisory Board", in particular the corporate members as well as one ex-UCD administrator (I note - I critiqued this group as soon as someone pointed it out to me).  Katehi accepted the critiques and said that the Board was announced before it was completed and that also it was really supposed to be a UC Davis advocacy group - to fight for UC Davis - and not an advisory group to her per se.  Katehi noted that people were selected for this group in part if they were UC Davis Alumni.  And some in our meeting supported her appointment of such Alums.  But others expressed frustration that this group was just unseemly.  I pointed out that the naming of this group was yet another sign of poor communication and a lack of rapid/nimble responses to critiques.

3. There were many concerns expressed with top down decision making that did not include discussions with the faculty.

4. Katehi suggested that there was enormous pressure from outside UC Davis for growth (e.g., to take more students) and for certain types of changes.

5. Katehi said that the UC Davis budget still needs to be completely reworked and that what we have is a "legacy" system which does not work and is very opaque (even to her).  She noted that in the past everyone on campus - every group - has expressed concern to her that they believe that their group subsidizes everyone else on campus.  That is - everyone thinks they are getting the shaft and that they deserve more financial support than other groups.  (I note - this could be because the central UC offices or the UCD administration takes too much of the money and thus everyone is right - everyone may be getting the shaft).

6. Katehi, in response to a question, said she believed they had done a decent job of reducing the size and cost of the administration but that it was very difficult to move fast in such things.

7. There was a very strange question about pepper spray dosage - Katehi wisely did not answer and after a moment of hushed silence she said "I do not know what to say to that" or something like that

8.  There was a question/statement about "salary recovery" for faculty.  Apparently, there has been some reduction in the College budget where one of the possible (or even the only) solution presented to some faculty has been that they will have to recover more of their salary than they currently do (I think most recover summer salary or some equivalent).  I am not sure what the issue is here as I have not heard any discussion of this.  But clearly people were very upset by this issue - pressure to recover more salary without apparently alleviation of some teaching.  Katehi seemed to not know what had been told to faculty and my guess is that this was a College of Biological Sciences level issue and perhaps she had no direct way of knowing about it.  And I note - I am not sure what the complaint here was - I personally recover more of my salary than I have to via grants and I have never complained about it since I would like to free up funds to be used for other purposes.  But perhaps I am understanding the issues here.

9. There was a concern expressed with a claim that the University Counsel got in the way of many initiatives and also seemed to insulate Katehi and others from the campus.  Apparently, the University Counsel reports to the UC Office of the President and not to Katehi.  Such a structure, if true, seems like it might introduce a lot of complications.  Whatever the structure, clearly some of the faculty in the college are not happy with interactions with the University counsel.

10. One concern I did not expect related to UC Davis joining the NCAA Division I in sports a few years back.  One person raised this as an issue and said that much money could probably have been saved by never doing that.  It was suggested that Davis could give up it's move to Division I.  Katehi, who was not involved in the move to Division I, said that turning back the clock on this would be hard - much money had already been spent on the changes and it was possible to stay in Division I and yet retain some of the old flavor of UC Davis where sports was less about a few big programs and more about broad participation.

11. A final, somewhat funny, concern was that for the construction going on on campus, someone suggested that they may want to remove the total amount of $$ being spent on projects from the signs at the project sites.  A few million here to there on those projects may make students feel like they are really getting screwed when asked to pay more.  Someone else later also noted that one could simply put all such projects on hold and take the $$$ from them an apply it to teaching and students.   Katehi said that was not possible for many projects since the money came from sources in many cases that stipulated that it could only be used for those construction projects.

That's about all I can recall.  I note - I think Katehi handled the discussion very well overall.  She seemed truly interested in hearing what people had to say and in changing the tone and pattern of the UC Davis administration as well as in really turning the pepper spray incident into a catalyst for improving the lives of students on campus.  As many know - I personally did not make any calls for Katehi to resign but I also have not signed any letter of endorsement as some faculty have.  I am more and more confident that Katehi will really try to do a better job with many issues in the future in response to this incident and since overall I thought she was doing a good job as chancellor before I am hopeful for the future of UC Davis.  I still am reserving judgement about whether or not real changes occur.

1 comment:

  1. Nice summary, thanks. But did anyone bring up the issue of police violence on campus?


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