UC President Yudof: A Year in Review (Abbreviated Version)

Mark Yudof is the current president of the University of California system and is completing his first academic year as president after having begun his term on June 16, 2008. The following interview took place on April 16, and any references made to recent events should be taken from that perspective. This interview has been abbreviated due to space restrictions. It can be viewed in its entirety online at www.newuniversity.org.

New University: You recently completed budget consultations with the chancellor and the senior fiscal team for each University of California campus to address the budget. What, if any, unique approaches to the budget reduction have been taken at the UC Irvine campus that you are aware of and have been discussed about the UCI campus?

Mark Yudof: My recollection is that some new programs were slowed down and that the number of new faculty searches had been limited.

I have dealt with all the campuses; I would say Irvine is one of the very best run campuses. It is very efficient. I was very pleased with my interactions. Chancellor [Michael] Drake and Provost [Michael] Gottfredson, they always have a plan and they take these matters seriously, so I came out of a couple hours-[long] meeting feeling pretty good. It is not a great situation, but the leadership on campus had done their consultations and was addressing the critical financial issues.

New U: Regarding different ways that different campuses have approached the issue — for instance at UCI hiring freezes have been used since March 2008, primarily with non-academic staff, though measures have been taken to slow down the process of hiring academic staff as well — have hiring freezes been effective at all on other campuses and if so, how?

Yudof: Functionally, yes. Whether they have a formal freeze in every case, I don’t know, but even in institutions that will have a formal freeze, often the provost will communicate with the deans and the dean with the department chair and so forth and say, ‘you’re going to have a heavy burden of justification if you want to replace someone who’s retired or left for another institution.’

So, I would say on the ground, maybe not a formal freeze — and some of them have formal freezes — but functionally the idea is, in general, where it does not compromise student services and the academic program, you have a very rough road to replace someone who has stepped down or retired.

New U: Beyond the Office of the President, the UC Regents recently endorsed Proposition 1A. How did the regents decide to endorse the proposition and how will students, if the proposition passes, be affected?

Yudof: The way it works under state law, regents in an open session can endorse a statewide ballot measure. The pros are that Proposition 1A would extend some taxes by a couple of years, so there would be more money in the state budget and if it did not pass, there would be an additional $8 billion shortfall, and we are very fearful that higher education would have to absorb a significant part of that, so there would be more cutbacks on campus.

In the university’s perspective, the biggest pro is that it may avoid some additional budget cuts, but on the negative side there may be some caps on expenditures for various things that would be in the [state] constitution [and] in the long run might diminish funding for social services, for K-12 education, higher education and the like.

New U: Regarding your first year as president of the UC system as well, what have you been unable to accomplish in the first year that you hope to accomplish within your tenure as UC president?

Yudof: I am a deep believer in the wisdom of increasing the number of transfer students from community colleges. They do well at the university, if we do it right; they are more diverse students, [and] we are not hanging them by their numbers necessarily. If they do well at community college, we can admit them regardless of their SAT scores or high school [grade point average]. It is closer to home, community college, and it is cheaper for families in the state to have two years of community college.

There are other things along the way. The medical school at [UC] Riverside I think is very important and so far we have not secured state funding for that. A lot of our building projects, capital projects, are currently being held up; we have people working on that [and] we are hoping that the state will release funds so that as many buildings can be completed in a timely fashion.

New U: You mentioned earlier that one of the most important things in your position has been putting together a team to work with. What have been the challenges in putting together this team?

Yudof: There are a lot of challenges. No matter how bad the economy is, the best people always have job alternatives and we are trying to get really strong people, and they have jobs by and large.

So, one challenge is just to convince them to come here, and we are not located on a campus; a lot of people who work in higher education, for reasons I fully understand, would prefer to work on the Irvine campus or the Davis campus and not to be in downtown Oakland.

We also live in an environment where every time you report a decent salary, or a high salary in some eyes, there is critical media coverage, but the fact is there are different markets for people. It is just a reality of life. You have to pay more for a lawyer that you are hiring or maybe for an engineering professor than you do maybe for people holding other types of positions. So, it is an environment where people are very concerned about public expenditures and salaries, so that sometimes has been difficult.

New U: The relationship between service workers and their UC employers has been one issue that has been pretty popular within the last year. How do you feel relations between service workers and their employers have changed during your presidency?

Yudof: It has not changed enough. It needs to improve a lot and we put out a ‘facts and myths’ memo on [the] financing of the university because there are many myths out there.

The [American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees] leadership described the settlement as historic and generous in their press release, and it is. There will be 4 percent across-the-board raises this year. There will be no other group of employees who will get across-the-board raises.

The recent friction that you have heard about is that we were so generous in raising the entry-level salaries because we feel we have a moral obligation that our least well-off workers — we cannot bring them immediately into the upper-echelons of the middle class, but they should be treated fairly — there is some squeezing between the entry-level salaries, the minimums are so high and some of the employees who have been there for a much longer period of time. Their salaries are getting crunched together. We are discussing that with AFSCME and I think we will be able to resolve it.

We all understood we needed to resolve it, but this rhetoric about; ‘there has been a breach of contract’ is wrong [and] some of the outlandish behavior of the unions is wrong. [But] my hope is that things will settle down and we will get on a more even keel. We are negotiating with other groups, but we have to look at America today. People are being laid off [and] there are salary reductions. There may be salary reductions and furloughs here; I have not ruled that out [though] we have not done it.