UC faculty leader warns of more exits if research loses ground

Paul Thompson and Arthur Toga, experts in brain imaging, will leave UCLA for USC in the fall.
Paul Thompson and Arthur Toga, experts in brain imaging, will leave UCLA for USC in the fall.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

The systemwide leader of the University of California’s faculty said Friday that he hoped that the announced move of prominent neuroscience researchers from UCLA to USC reminds government leaders in Sacramento of the importance of research at UC.

Robert Powell, chairman of the system Academic Senate, said that much of recent proposed legislation and rules from state lawmakers and the governor stress undergraduate graduation rates, online education and upping teaching loads without recognizing UC’s strong international role in scientific and academic research.

While it is important to improve undergraduate education and make UC more efficient, he said, he wants to ensure that change does not come at the expense of graduate school training and the pursuit of new inventions and medical discoveries.


The news that UCLA neuroscientists Arthur Toga and Paul Thompson, and possibly 80 of their graduate students and lab staff, will move to USC does not signify any major exodus from UC, said Powell, who is a professor of chemical engineering & materials science at UC Davis.

But he said the exit has drawn much attention across the 10-campus UC system and has “reinforced my fears that Sacramento is not paying enough attention to the research mission of UC.” If faculty feel that they are forced to significantly reduce their research to meet future proposed guidelines for higher teaching loads, he said he feared more faculty might decide to leave UC for schools where research is more highly valued.

Meanwhile, UC statistics do not show any rush out the door because of budget problems of the past few years.

The resignation rate, not including retirements, for UC professors with tenure or on the tenure track averaged 1.4% a year over the last decade, officials said. That demonstrates a lot of stability even if some high-profile faculty like Toga and Thompson leave, according to Susan Carlson, the UC system’s vice provost for academic personnel.

Of the 306 UC faculty with offers from other schools last year, UC campuses were able to retain 72% of them, lost 18% and another 10% remain unresolved, she said. And 76% of UC hiring offers to faculty from other colleges were accepted last year.

However, where UC is falling short is in replacing faculty as fast as it did in the past. In 2010-11, when state budget cuts were deep, 428 faculty retired or resigned and UC was able to replace only 189 of them, according to Carlson. The picture improved last year when UC was able to replace all but 26 of 379 departures.


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