PERSPECTIVE ON EDUCATION : If UC Slips, All of California Slips : Continued pay cuts will drive off the best and brightest faculty. A personal report from the trenches.
A year ago last month, I turned down a $100,000 raise and the opportunity to jump several rungs up the academic ladder. It must sound crazy to decline the position of dean at a major Eastern university, with a $170,000 salary, an endowed chair and several million dollars to help build the computer sciences department. But I decided to remain with UC Berkeley, where I head the computer science division in the electrical engineering/computer sciences department.
There is no single reason for my attachment to the University of California in general and Berkeley in particular. Part of it is loyalty to a university that educated me (UCLA), my sisters (UC Irvine and UC Davis) and now my two sons, who attend UC Santa Cruz. In large part it is loyalty to a world-class department and great colleagues. Just this year, three members of the department were elected to the National Academy of Engineering, bringing our total to 68, one of the highest in the country.
Another crucial reason for my staying is that I have faith in Berkeley’s Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien to lead us out of this mess, battered but intact.
Just as important for me is Berkeley’s proximity to Silicon Valley, which offers an unparalleled chance to influence the computer industry, to the ultimate benefit of California. Within the past decade, Berkeley/Silicon Valley interactions have given rise to three significant developments contributing 50,000 jobs and $10 billion to the state economy. Our team, for example, in collaboration with IBM and Stanford, helped develop the RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) technology, a widely used computer-chip design that has increased performance and lowered costs. The two leading makers of desktop computer work stations, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard, base their systems on RISC technology.
With the prospect of a third year of severe budget cuts, however, I am beginning to wonder if I made the right choice. Despite 32% inflation since 1986-87, the entire UC system will receive less money from the state this coming fiscal year than seven years ago. Berkeley’s reputation in computer science is still intact--our graduate department is ranked among the top four in the country--but another year of cutbacks will find faculty sending out resumes; within two years, if funding continues to shrink, people will begin to leave. If we drive away our top faculty, it will take decades to repair the damage. Under those circumstances, I, too, would seriously consider leaving.
Why would losing a few faculty make a difference? Because the best will be the first to leave, and undergraduates will be the first to suffer, since outstanding researchers are also outstanding teachers. (Half of our division’s members of the National Academy of Engineering also have received the campus’ distinguished teaching award.) Since faculty and student interaction with top-ranked scientists is what makes a great department, the quality of the department will quickly decline.
And who will bid for these researchers, the top 1% in the nation? With funds dropping for public institutions around the country, the private universities will come out the winners.In computer science, our main competitors are MIT, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon.
The ultimate loser, apart from economic and creativity concerns, will be California’s young people. Private universities do not have the commitment to broad-based education that public universities do, nor do they educate as many students. Even if top UC faculty left for Stanford and kept the creativity edge within the state, the fact is that only 40% of Stanford’s undergraduates come from California, as opposed to 88% of Berkeley’s undergraduates. That’s 2,600 California students at Stanford versus 19,000 at Berkeley.
Such losses to UC and the state are not easily made up. It takes no effort to destroy a great university, but rebuilding can take decades of time and tens of millions of dollars.
As I look ahead to a 5% pay cut next year, do I regret not accepting last year’s offer of a 140% raise? Not yet. The university has weathered hard times before, most notably after the passage of Proposition 13, and I see in Chancellor Tien a commitment to maintain Berkeley’s excellence for the sake of UC and the state. But as a former undergraduate and graduate student at UC, and now a faculty member, I hope the people of this state will see that we need great places like Berkeley and that cutting the University of California’s throat is hardly a wise investment in our shared future.