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Capitol visits highlight value of investing in UC

19 March 2009

The UC system's annual gathering in Sacramento carried an air of unmistakable urgency this year, as representatives from all 10 campuses — led, for the first time, by President Mark Yudof — sought to showcase the system's vital importance to the state and the nation.

California's deepening budget crisis cast its shadow over the 2009 edition of "UC Day at the Capitol," a 50-year tradition that brings hundreds of faculty, staff, students, and alumni to the seat of state government to make the case for public higher education. This year's event was held March 10, just weeks after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a spending plan that reduces the system's state funding by roughly $450 million over the next two years.

In meetings with California legislators and their aides — the governor did not attend — the UC delegates aimed to counter what Yudof called the state's "declining investment in human capital" by playing up the bottom-line value of the university as an engine of economic growth.

President YudoffPresident Yudoff

"It is human capital that will make this state strong. It is human capital, by which I mean educating the young people," declared Yudof. "The best tech transfer we do every year is the graduating class."

UC's contributions to the California economy were underscored during a faculty forum moderated by Yudof in the Governor's Council Room. Speakers included Berkeley engineering professor Arun Majumdar and James Wilcox of the Haas School of Business, who emphasized the public-policy value of research by UC faculty across a range of disciplines.

For example, Majumdar, who directs the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, discussed the need for continuing research into "smart buildings," which — by providing the kind of real-time usage feedback that Toyota Prius drivers now find on their dashboards — could dramatically improve the nation's energy efficiency. He also urged a speedup in the development of more efficient batteries, lest the United States go "from importing oil to importing batteries."

Wilcox talked about efforts by Haas researchers to find ways to prevent foreclosures by "refloating" the mortgages of so-called "underwater" homeowners, perhaps by encouraging banks to restructure loans in return for part-ownership in the properties. Beyond the faculty forum, Wilcox also met privately with aides to Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), and with Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), who chairs the chamber's Banking and Finance Committee.

Also representing Berkeley was Berkeley law student Lucero Chavez, who argued the case for access and affordability for students in a variety of venues, including a face-to-face meeting with Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo), who serves on the Education Committee.