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March 14, 2005

Staff advocacy is “part of my job,” Denton says at staff forum

By Jennifer McNulty

During her first forum with staff, Chancellor Denice D. Denton expressed strong support for campus employees and emphasized that she will become more informed and involved with their issues.

Chancellor Denton greets staffers after speaking at the winter-quarter forum.

Photo: Louise Donahue

“I believe staff are the people who really make universities run,” Denton told the crowd that filled Kresge Town Hall last week.

“Staff have a core focus on the place that is different from that of students and different from that of faculty. They really think about the place and how to make the place better.”

An overflow crowd turned out for the chancellor’s first brown-bag forum since she took office on February 14, repeatedly greeting Denton’s comments with applause on an unseasonably warm day that prompted Denton to quip, “I’m lovin’ it here. I’m jealous of the group out on the patio. They get to sit outside.”

Denton credited staff members with easing her transition and responded to a question about her support of represented employees by describing her role negotiating labor contracts during her tenure at the University of Washington.

Denton, who was chair of the College of Engineering at UW before taking the UCSC job, said she and the vice president of human resources negotiated 22 contracts with 15 unions in less than a year, including a contract with the United Auto Workers that covered graduate students and research assistants. She attributed their success to strong relationships, solid preparation, and a common goal.

“After all, don’t both management and labor want things to be great on campus? I think so,” she said. “Let’s start there.”
Acknowledging that labor contracts in the UC system are negotiated at the systemwide level, Denton nevertheless made it clear that she sees advocating for staff as part of her job.

“I’ve got to learn what a chancellor’s role is vis-à-vis labor in this environment, and I’m on it,” said Denton. “I’m working on it. It’s a top priority. I’m going to be involved. I want to be involved.”

Denton was also asked about the controversy over comments by Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who suggested at an academic conference that women are underrepresented in science and engineering because of innate differences in their abilities.

Denton, who attended the conference and has been an outspoken critic of Summers’ comments, said the media storm has created a “global teachable moment” to reject, once and for all, the “centuries-long strategy” of using pseudo-science to dismiss entire groups of people as inferior.

“You do have to pick a side on this story, and then do something about it,” said Denton, who reiterated her commitment to increasing diversity at the University of California to ensure that everyone has access to the opportunities made available by higher education.

During introductory remarks, Denton mentioned that the people and “core values” of the campus, as well as its long history of interdisciplinary scholarship, are among the things that attracted her to UCSC.

“I really sincerely believe we can do great things here—continue to do great things,” she said, noting her desire to “build on our progressive traditions” and expand educational opportunities for everyone.

Denton reiterated her commitment to UCSC’s reputation for excellence in “student-centered undergraduate education,” which she intends to “move to the next level by enhancing graduate education.”

“When you expand graduate education, you’re expanding undergraduate education—you have more mentors in the shop,” she said.

In addition, Denton expressed a desire to increase UCSC’s “family friendliness,” expand the availability of child care on campus and in the community, improve “work-life balance” for employees, and engage the community in the campus’s long-range planning process.

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