April 9, 2009
Everybody knows that times are tough. The economy continues to stumble. UCLA and other college campuses grapple with budget difficulties. But, “UCLA is going to survive these financial challenges,” Chancellor Gene Block reassured a standing-room-only audience in the Faculty Center’s California Room on April 8. “We remain strong.”
The chancellor’s remarks, made during a Town Hall for staff and faculty sponsored by Staff Assembly, were followed by a spirited question-and-answer session. While much of the discussion focused on financial challenges, the chancellor also touched on a few new initiatives and promising opportunities based on President Obama’s economic stimulus package.
UC is taking a hard hit as a result of California’s weakened economy, Block said, but added that “across the entire country … public and private institutions are all struggling.” Private universities, many of which are very dependent on their endowments, are especially affected, he said. “In a strange way — though we’re not better off — we’re able to deal with this crisis a little more effectively because we’re more diversified in our support,” he said.
UCLA continues to enjoy an outstanding reputation worldwide. Applications to the university continue to grow — almost 56,000 applicants competed for some 5,000 places in next fall’s freshman class.
“But you all know that not all the news is good these days,” said Block, who said he has asked deans and vice chancellors to prepare for budget cuts of five percent for 2009-2010.
“That’s deep, but not incredibly deep,” he said. “It’s not nearly as serious as at many other institutions … and will get us through to where we need to be next year.”
Already, deans and administrators are improving efficiencies by such means as combining administrative units. Yet UCLA, said Block, is “very sensitive to those areas where under-investment will slow down progression of our students and adversely affect their education.” Targeted investments are being made in selected areas of the College of Letters and Science, for example, to ensure that classes and other essential elements remain available.
“What we’re trying to do is protect our human capital and to keep the school running properly,” he said. “And that is a challenge.”
Faculty and staff recruitment has slowed nearly to a halt. UC President Mark Yudoff recently announced that his staff has begun working on a contingency plan in case furloughs and/or temporary and permanent salary reductions become necessary in response to state budget cuts.
Employees who can afford it might consider participating in the Staff & Academic Reduction in Time (START) Program, Block suggested. Unfortunately, no voluntary early retirement program will be offered, as happened in the 1990s, because funding for those incentives came from the UC retirement program, which has been weakened by the economic downturn and the long contribution “holiday.”
Motivation and training
In response to a question about how to motivate staff at a time when wages are frozen, Block responded, “I find that staff are incredibly motivated. Self-motivated people do an excellent job because they believe in quality.” Employees, he suggested, might do well to get additional education or training in the current environment. “In a bad economy … think about where you want to go with your life,” he suggested. “What’s your plan and what types of tools do you need to get there? If you need additional skills” — many of which can be developed through UCLA employee training programs — “this is a really good time to get them.”
The federal economic stimulus package and its potential to benefit UCLA also came up during questions. President Obama’s stimulus plan, Block said, “has electrified the campus with all the new opportunities,” prompting a surge of grant-writing. The bottom line is there may be significantly more research money coming to UCLA, Block said. “That will maintain jobs and create jobs … so it could have very positive effects at UCLA,” he added.
Along the lines of government action on the budget, Block also encouraged employees to vote in the upcoming May 19 ballot. The UC regents recently voted to endorse California Proposition 1A, known as the Budget Stabilization Act.
Chancellor Block also talked about several new initiatives, including the Bruin Scholars Initiative, a five-year fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $500 million undergraduate and graduate student financial support.
The Chancellor’s Office is also spearheading the creation of a new UCLA volunteer center under Assistant Chancellor Antoinette Mongelli. While many staff and faculty members are already very active in this arena, Block said, the new center will seek to closely match community needs with the interests and skills of volunteer staff, faculty and students.
“UCLA has to become a better partner with Los Angeles,” Block said.
One way the campus is forging new relationships to do just that is by participating in the new CleanTech Los Angeles program — a collaboration among the Mayor’s Office, UCLA, USC, Caltech and other local agencies — to establish Los Angeles as the global leader in research, commercialization and deployment of clean technologies.
“I want to thank you for all the things you do,” Block told his audience. “Your efforts make a huge difference in the product that we deliver in terms of our education of undergraduate and graduate students.”
He also welcomed advice and comments from employees on the budget and other issues of concern. To learn more about the budget, go to www.ucla.edu/about/budget; click “How to help” to make suggestions. If you have other non-budget-related suggestions or questions, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Your message will receive a response from the appropriate campus administrator or office.