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UC Berkeley Web Feature

A town hall meeting with UC President Robert Dynes
The 'power of 10' keeps the university resilient in the face of 'dark forces,' he tells faculty

— The University of California community should take "a very, very active role" in the search for a new leader for the UC system, President Robert Dynes urged Berkeley faculty at a town hall-style session of the Divisional Academic Senate Oct. 4. "Please don't look at your navel and debate this too long," he warned, as the UC regents have already begun their national search for a UC president, and in short order "it will be done."

A cautionary note ran through Dynes' remarks Thursday in Booth Auditorium on the university's strengths going forward, despite what he called "dark forces" threatening its ability to fulfill its mission. The leader of the UC system through a tumultuous four-year period — punctuated by intense media scrutiny of executive compensation practices — Dynes recently announced his intention to step down as president by June 2008.

'In my opinion it's extremely important that the faculty, staff, and students play a very active role in the choice of the next UC president.'
— Robert Dynes

Public universities are subject to political and financial pressures that their private counterparts don't face, and the University of California is "under great stress," said Dynes. Why, he asked, do we nevertheless continue to be competitive in faculty recruitment, government contracts, and other measures of success? As a large, 10-campus system, UC is blessed by "the promise and the power of 10.... We use that strength of 10 campuses to advantage," he said.

As examples of how size works to UC's advantage, Dynes cited the system's large digital library, which can provide scholars at even its newest campus, UC Merced, with access to a world-class collection;  the multi-campus collaborative research conducted by the California Institutes of Science and Innovation (which includes Berkeley's participation in QB3 and CITRIS); and the Cal Teach program, through which all of the UC campuses are working to generate credentialed science and math teachers for the state's K-12 schools.

Dynes noted that UC also can leverage its collective power to negotiate with scholarly publishers (as it has with the academic-publishing giant Elsevier) or to compete for federal research dollars, with UC campuses collaborating in those efforts rather than competing with each other.

 UC President Robert Dynes
UC President Robert Dynes

Elaboration on the forces that threaten UC came during the question-and-answer period, when Dynes cited, for one, a recent editorial by State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, in which he suggested that the State of California cut off budget support for UC. (State support accounts for a shrinking but still significant portion of the UC budget.) That possibility is also contained in a 60-page report from the treasurer's office, released Oct. 1, enumerating a variety of steps that the governor and legislators could take to reduce the state's persistent budget deficits.

In place of state funding, the notion goes, UC would rely on student fees, private donations, and other sources. "It's conceived by some of these dark forces," Dynes said, that the Berkeley campus in particular, given its stature, "could charge a lot higher fees" and still remain competitive.

Asked to comment on the search for UC's next president, Dynes said the job requires an academic with a strong appreciation for UC's tradition of  shared governance. Without that, he warned, "the forces (and I include the regents in those forces) would drive a wedge between the administration and the faculty in a way that would not be helpful for the well-being of the university."

Dynes said there are many inefficiencies in the UC system and strong pressures to eliminate them. "For decades we've decentralized the university, allowed campuses to do their own thing. On some issues — not academics — we've gone too far," said Dynes, citing duplicative employee-ID and student-record systems as two examples. UC's next leader needs to pay keen attention to those administrative matters, or else recruit someone to oversee that effort, he suggested.

The next UC president should also cultivate "a very close relationship with the governor and legislature," Dynes said. With Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, he noted, the university already has such a relationship. "He understands the value of UC …. With the legislature the message is more mixed," especially in an era of term limits.

Thursday's event was sparsely attended and marked by only a few challenging comments — the most pointed from a long-time campus secretary and union member, who contrasted the financial struggles of UC lowest-paid university employees with the money paid to top administrators, "including yourself." Dynes replied that figures quoted in the press on UC compensation had been misleading and that efforts to raise staff and faculty salaries are ongoing.

"The budget we received from the state this year is one of the first where we've actually received monies enough to raise salaries of both our faculty and the staff, to drive it toward competitive salaries," he said.

A physics professor and former chancellor at UC San Diego, Dynes began his term as UC president during the tumultuous 2003 gubernatorial recall campaign. He led the university through not only the compensation controversy but the appointment of six new UC chancellors, three lab directors, a new executive vice president for business operations, a general counsel, a new provost, and numerous vice presidents.

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