UC Board of Regents Debate Financial Strengths, Weaknesses Encompassing Online Education

Published in the Daily Nexus on January 17, 2013


 

During yesterday’s UC Board of Regents meeting at UCSF Mission Bay, University officials and legislators met to discuss issues of faculty diversity and online education, with most Regents supporting efforts to increase diversity while the Board expressed mix feedback to the launching of UC online classes.

As the Educational Policy discus- sion began at 9:30 a.m., Provost Aimée Dorr presented research on the level of diversity seen in University faculty and Regents largely agreed on increasing diversity levels but made no set plans for such efforts. However, online edu- cation created a heated debate amongst Board members, as many applauded the new efforts as cost-cutting and tech-savvy while others questioned the program’s effect on the unique quality of a UC education.

Dorr’s research findings revealed that just 8.6 percent of male faculty members identify as racially or ethnically underrepresented while 30.5 percent of female faculty come from similar demographics.

But Dorr gave evidence of past diversity efforts, recalling the UC Office of the President’s recent reception of National Science Foundation funding, which will finance diversity-friendly activities amongst faculty and adminis- trators.

However, many Regents voiced dissatisfaction with the report and Dorr conceded that the University lags in this area due to the privileged bias often seen with lower levels of diversity.

“My own view is we should be doing more — much more,” Dorr said. “We have a state that is very diverse and we have an undergraduate student body that’s incredibly diverse; diversity sort goes down at, sort of, each step as you go up.”

Other Board members called the report inefficient, as Regent Monica Lozano cited its inability to examine statistics at the campus level to measure campus climate.

“So if we’re just looking at a number — as opposed to ‘how does this translate to the experience on campus?’ — I just feel like we’re not really getting to the objective that was set when we asked for these accountability reports,” Lozano said.

Regent Fred Ruiz pointed to low diversity as a pressing issue altogether, stating it is “unacceptable” and clearly prevalent, regardless of how it is interpreted.

“I just don’t get it … I think the Academic Senate has a great diversity statement but it’s all words and there’s no substance to it,” Ruiz said.

While Student Regent Jonathan Stein also explained the need for faculty to be as diverse as the increasingly diverse populations of UC students, he also addressed other areas of diversity concerns.

Despite extensive and largely supportive discus- sion of more representation for minorities, Stein said the Board failed to acknowledge the voice of LGBTQ faculty members.

“I want to conclude with a question that pertains to a piece of this which we haven’t touched on,” Stein said. “Do we have any sense of what percentage of our faculty is self-identified as LGBT?”

While agreeing the issue is “important,” Provost Dorr did not feel data on the LGBTQ population should be collected as suggested by Stein, who said select departments and other campus entities have already launched such efforts.

Dorr said data collection is difficult since LGBTQ faculty members are often not responsive about their sexual or gender-related identities.

“I do know a lot of faculty who still do not wish to self-identify, certainly not to be known [openly], because they encounter a lot of problems,” Dorr said.

Later into the meeting, Regents debated the qual- ity and efficiency of its online program, which is now offering over 20 classes to raise additional revenue by reaching a new audience of non-UC students, while offering UC student with more convenient options.

Points of discussion included the feasibility of the business model in a market populated by numerous free alternatives, particularly the Harvard-MIT site called edX, which is just one of a host of other more prestigious and affordable competitors.

Student Regent Jonathon Stein said online courses cannot provide students with the well-rounded expe- rience of a traditional school setting. Nonetheless, Governor Jerry Brown said ongoing financial constraints within the University’s budget make these classes an even more appealing option.

“Let’s get real — I’m proposing five percent more in your budget [and] you’re proposing 11.6 percent; how do we make up the gap? Either students make it up in tuition increases this year and forever, faculty does something different or … the people of California decide they want invest more than they have historically in higher education,” Brown said. “There’s a brute reality out there and it is the gap between five and 11.6 percent growth.”

With online courses ranging in price from $1400 to $2400, Regent Hadi Makarechian voiced concerns that prices were unrealistic, questioning Provost Dorr on the project’s decision to spend $4 million on marketing alone.

“Of the $6.9 million we’ve spent, you’ve spent the majority on marketing,” Makarechian said. “I don’t know who’d pay $2400 to take one course.”

Dorr said that course — a precalculus class — actually cost $1400 and added that marketing expenses were related to “development” on cam- puses.

UC Berkeley Law School Dean Christopher Edley Jr. developed the idea for online courses when he was appointed to lead the Community College Transfer Task Force by UC President Mark Yudof in 2009. He said the courses made an elite UC educa- tion accessible to more students and introduced the idea for a “charter UC campus” that would focus solely on online delivery. Such a system would cater to qualified high school graduates who are unable to attend a UC university, while providing all UC campuses with desperately needed revenue, Edley said.

“The gap to which the governor referred — between the five percent and 11.6 percent — is very much on my mind,” Edley said. “The other gap that’s on my mind, is the shortfall of about 40,000 students in our enrollment at the UC that was identified by the polling commission.”

Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, an ex-officio Regent, said implementing an online component to the UC system is necessary, as technology continues to provide users with instant communication, entertainment and now, education. As a result, the University should adjust itself to the times, treating online education as the next step in the evolution of higher education, Newsom said.

“You can’t educate this next generation like we were educated. You can’t educate my daughter, a dig- ital native, as I was educated, a digital immigrant,” Newsom said. “[Technology] is going to hit us hard in education.”

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