Dean Frank Gilliam joined a UCLA Magazine roundtable hosted by Chancellor Gene Block and moderated by Dean Judy Olian to discuss the hard realities of the budget cuts on UCLA. Gilliam spoke of the effects the cuts have already had on graduate and professional education, and the severe break the cuts are making with the original master plan for higher education half a century ago. The following are excerpted passages:
Q: Please choose one single area where you see budget cuts affecting you or your unit.
Gilliam: The seed money that a dean might provide to promising faculty who have new and interesting research projects has dried up. It certainly hampers our ability to respond to the new issues that arise in our fields and to be able to build initiatives and projects and programs around new developments in scholarship and in practice. So that means we can't hire faculty in emerging fields where we should have some expertise. It means we're not able to deliver to the graduate students training and education in these new fields. It means that we, in some cases, aren't able to be involved in national and international discourse around these issues, when we should be.
Q: Looking forward, what do you see are the biggest risks?
Gilliam: It certainly does put in harm's way the future growth of the state. In a related way, it risks us not capturing innovation — as a place that discovered everything from the Internet to medical breakthroughs. And, in the largest scale, it raises the specter of the death of public education.
Olian: And what that means in terms of access.
Gilliam: The implication is that only people with money will be able to get a first-rate education, and that puts a stake through the heart of the master plan.
How do we convince the taxpayers that it matters to them that the University of California, UCLA, not just survive, but thrive and excel? What's in it for them that UCLA is excellent?
Gilliam: What we do not have is a systematic and disciplined communication strategy to talk to the public in ways that resonate. I think the governor was right in this way — and that's why it's gotten some traction — is to compare what the state provides to education with what it provides to things like prisons, and ask the public, "What are your values?" Historically, the people of California have had as part of our culture that we're going to be on the front edge; we're going to be leaders; we're going to be a place where new things happen. And it becomes readily apparent to people that you can't do that if you are spending four times as much to incarcerate people as you are to educate them [in the UC system]. We need a consistent message that comes out of all 10 campuses.
Olian: And what is the content of that message?
Gilliam: I think the content of that message, Judy, is what values do Californians hold dear? I think innovation is a value. I think the future is another value. And where we've got the message now is around government — the one thing that people hate and think is inefficient.
Olian: And what about changing the fabric by necessity to open it up to others from out of state, from out of the country?
Block: We do that now. Ten percent of our students are out-of-state and international. The question is, what's the right balance? The University of Virginia is 30 percent out-of-state, probably because Mr. Jefferson thought it was important to have a national complexion to the student body. We're going to be faced with some very real financial issues about that ratio, because of course the more out-of-state students, the more money there is for all students, to support the institution. It's a complicated issue, because there are so many Californians that want to come here. It will be a tough decision to make over the next few years.
Gilliam: I think it's two real simple words: equity and aspiration. I think that the thing that the master plan did is create equity. It said we will provide a world-class education to anybody who qualifies for a modest price. And it's aspirations. You hear it in Andriana's voice. It's that you could be a kid in the Central Valley and UC was within reach for you, and a world-class education. I take your question as: "Why don't we just say, look, the master plan doesn't work? We're going to kill it."
Gilliam: And I think you would have huge equity problems. I think you'd have huge aspirational problems. And a brilliant young student like this goes to Michigan. And guess what? Doesn't come back.
What do you see as the bright opportunities because of this crisis and through this crisis?
Gilliam: As a new dean coming in at a time when we're having difficulties, I figured, oh God, this is going to be awful. The faculty are going to be at my throat. And I found just the opposite, that they've redoubled their commitment to education. I have people teaching for free. I have people postponing leaves and sabbaticals that they'd planned for a long time. I've had departments having a series of retreats to rethink what it is they really want to be about, without much prodding on my part. I've had staff not complain. When the rubber met the road, they answered the call.