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October 6, 2003

New UC president to host web chats, plans 'traveling inaugural'

Robert Dynes says 20 percent budget cut would be 'devastating'

By Louise Donahue

The new president of the University of California has hit the ground running.

Robert Dynes will host his first web chat on Wednesday, from 4:30-5:30 p.m.

Robert Dynes is skipping the traditional inaugural festivities, opting instead for a “traveling inaugural” that will take him to all the UC campuses. At each stop, Dynes plans to meet with students, staff, faculty and alumni as well as elected officials and business people and other Californians.

Dynes, a devoted runner, will invite people on each campus to jog with him. “I plan to do all of these in the first six months, so put on your sneakers,” he advised newspaper editors from the UC campuses in an interview October 3.

Speaking on his second day in office, Dynes said he has two key priorities: preserving UC’s excellence and preserving access to UC for students from all backgrounds.

“It’s a big challenge, I know it’s a big challenge, and I have to say that my adrenalin’s pumping, my mind is churning like mad, and I want to get on with it.”

Dynes touched on a range of issues—from budget negotiations to employee morale—but also emphasized his eagerness to listen to others, both on and off campus. “The university of California is great because the people are great. The students are great, the staff is great and the faculty are great. And that in part is why I’m so excited by taking this job on. I want to hear from as many people as I can.”

Dynes will do just that when he hosts a series of “web chats,” with different segments of the UC community. The first chat, from 4:30-5:30 p.m. on Wednesday (October 8), will focus on alumni issues; the second, 10 –11 a.m. on Oct. 14, will concentrate on staff and faculty issues; and the third, 4-5 p.m. on Oct. 15, will look at student issues.

“That web chat will be me sitting at my terminal trying to answer questions and chat with various people about issues,” Dynes said.

UC as a state investment

“The most immediate issue is the budget because it affects so many areas,” Dynes said. “My goal is to convince the state what a very good investment the University of California is. The money that is invested in the University of California will be paid back many times in the decades to come.”

Dynes declined to be specific about budget cuts, but was not enthusiastic about one idea: increasing the number of out-of-state students. “That’s not my favorite response, because if we accept more out-of-state students we either displace in-state students or we find facilities for those out-of-state students, and that’s something we haven’t thought through.”

“I am not willing to accept the 20 percent budget cut at this point, although we’ve been asked to go through that exercise. A 20 percent budget cut is a devastating budget cut for the University of California. I can’t imagine reducing the budget by that amount,” he said, noting that such a cut would be equivalent to the cost of two or three campuses. “I won’t accept that, and I will make as persuasive arguments as I can that the university has already taken such difficult cuts that it’s inappropriate for us to take any more.”

Efforts to improve efficiency

“I will say that we have some pretty vigorous exercises going on throughout all the campuses to try to improve the efficiency and reduce the duplication that occurs from campus to campus, and I think we can save sizable amounts of money there, and so I think it’s appropriate for us to look inside our own house first and figure out ways to reduce our costs that will not compromise the quality of our mission,” he said.

“I understand that that’s a slightly fuzzy answer, and I’m not going to give you any more precise answer than that, because I’m not ready to take the 20 percent cut,” he added. “I have to convince the folks that control the budget that an investment in the young people of the state of California is actually a very good investment and it’s not giving money away, it’s investing in the future.”

Dynse said he strongly believes in the master plan for higher education, which sets aside space in the University of California system for students in the top 12.5 percent of their high school classes. “I think it’s one of the strengths of California and one of the strengths of education in California.”

Partnership agreement may need another look

The “partnership agreement,” however, may need revision, Dynes said. Under the agreement, the state agrees to fund UC enrollment growth and UC agrees to keep tuition level. “My own view is that it is time for us to sit down with the governor and the state legislature and recraft an agreement, or recraft an understanding, of the University of California’s support and where we’re going to be going with all of that. Hanging on to that old agreement may not be as fruitful as sitting down and just deciding we’re going to redefine it,” Dynes said.
Asked about employee morale problems, Dynes said he thinks the situation varies from campus to campus. “There clearly are some best practices out there that other campuses could learn from,” he said. One small example, he noted, was that at one campus staff members were brought into budget discussions. “It made a big difference,” he said.

Dynes, who was chancellor at UC San Diego before becoming UC president, would like to continue one practice from his old campus: e-mail communication. At UCSD, the campus website included an e-mail link to Dynes. “I read every e-mail that came to me. I could not answer every email, but I read every e-mail. Now, if there are a hundred thousand of them in the first week, I won’t be able to do that, but I don’t expect there will be. I will try to read every one of them.”

Dynes offered his views on other topics, including:

UC quality: “I have this view that an undergraduate education in the University of California is a marvelous education independent of which campus. It is my opinion that a person who graduates from any of the campuses of the University of California, is limited only by their motivation and their abilities, not by which campus they came from.”

UC's role in the state: “As I traveled around the state of California and around the country this summer listening to folks and trying to get their opinion about the university, I’ve come to realize that California really is the envy of the world, in spite of all the difficulties that we’re going through right now—the political difficulties, the budget difficulties. Much of the success of California, in my opinion, comes for the University of California. We’ve had a huge impact on California.”

Interdisciplinary collaboration: “My opinion is that the nature of creativity occurs at the seams of traditional disciplines. The most creative things occur when you have someone from another discipline who brings a different language, and a different set of questions, to you. And the collaborations that occur across the disciplines are marvelous… Bioinformatics, for example, wouldn’t have existed if computer scientists and biologists didn’t get together.”

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