Can the UC Be Saved?

When I came to UCSB in 1986 as a newly minted PhD, I thought I was the luckiest assistant professor in the country. Until a year ago, that original thrill never wore off. I loved the fact that the UC offered affordable access to everyone who met its rigorous entrance requirements. I loved the fact that, in my department at least, we demanded critical, original thinking even in our lower-division freshman courses. I loved the stellar quality of my colleagues and their research. And I loved the fact that as a mentor of doctoral candidates I had the privilege of working with the best and the brightest students anywhere in the country.

In the past year it has become apparent that most of what I loved about my job is slipping away. Deep cuts in funds for recruiting graduate students seriously threaten our future as a first-tier research university. And because graduate-student teaching assistants form an integral part of our undergraduate teaching mission, the quality of undergraduate education is seriously compromised. Departments across the system have been forced to eliminate discussion sections from large freshman classes; professors feel compelled to eliminate assignments that teach analytical skills rather than rote learning. But until this month-when the office of the UC President released its “charge” for commission on the future of the UC-I would never have dreamed that we would be asked to consider cost-cutting measures, such as online classes, that would completely dilute the quality of education that we stand for.

In the meantime, the governor’s long-term agenda of withdrawing state funds from the UC is forcing students to work long hours and assume crushing levels of debt. The question is: Will those who govern California and its system of higher education act quickly enough to bring their agendas into compliance with the will of the people, who support publicly funded education by a ratio of two to one? If not, it will only take a few years for the university to become an empty shell. Most faculty in the system are looking hard at jobs in other states. I myself have come to the conclusion that I would rather change professions than stick around and watch the deliberate dismantling of the best public research university in the history of this country. - Sharon Farmer, professor of history

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