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November 22, 1999

Santa Clara Valley regional center discussed at forum

By Jennifer McNulty

As the academic planning process gets under way to establish a UCSC regional center in the Santa Clara Valley, faculty and administrators are working together to embrace the opportunities and address the challenges that face the campus as it seeks to become the "UC of Silicon Valley."

During a mid-November Academic Senate forum on the regional center, Executive Vice Chancellor and Campus Provost John Simpson announced the formation of an academic planning committee that will develop a framework for the academic activities associated with the center. Simpson has asked the senate's Committee on Committees to recommend faculty members to participate on the academic planning task force.

Simpson made his remarks during the forum, which was attended by about 75 members of the campus community. Academic Senate Chair Roger Anderson, a chemistry professor, called the forum to facilitate discussion about plans for the regional center. Anderson and Simpson were joined by six other panelists, including Manuel Pastor, chair of Latin American and Latino studies.

Plans for the new UCSC facility have progressed since the idea was first proposed by members of the Millennium Committee. Since then, a task force cochaired by Pastor and Francisco Hernandez, vice chancellor for student affairs, has assessed UCSC activities in the region with an eye toward building on strengths and satisfying unmet needs.

A regional center would augment and enhance the offerings of the main campus by offering research, teaching, and community service opportunities for UCSC faculty, students, and staff, while also raising UCSC's profile in the region. A site analysis is under way.

"One of our responsibilities as a UC campus is to provide leadership and to share our resources with the community," said Chancellor M.R.C. Greenwood. "In Silicon Valley, what we have to offer complements alliances and affiliations that will be valuable for faculty, researchers, and students."

During the forum, Pastor expressed strong support for a regional center, calling Silicon Valley "the hyperactive edge of the new economy." In addition to obvious benefits to the fields of technology and engineering, the region offers tremendous opportunities for those in the arts, humanities, and social scientists, said Pastor, citing the region's vibrant economy, its diverse population, the valley's revitalized labor movement, pressing social problems associated with a widening divide between the wealthy and the working class, and new digital arts technology--even a generation of new writers emerging from Silicon Valley.

Raising UCSC's profile over the hill will also help the campus attract more of the region's top high school graduates and would bolster existing outreach efforts, helping to increase the diversity of the student body at UCSC, said Hernandez.

The Santa Clara County region is home to numerous high schools and community colleges whose graduates would be poised to take advantage of UCSC classes offered in the area. A regional center would help UCSC accommodate its share of "Tidal Wave II" students who will soon flood the UC system. Recent reports suggest that UC's systemwide enrollment will surge by 40 percent in the next decade. Even with the new Merced campus, each campus will need to increase enrollment to accommodate this anticipated growth.

A regional center would likely serve a greater number of "commuter" students and working professionals than UCSC currently accommodates, according to Connie Martinez, UCSC's director of strategic initiatives, who is coordinating the planning effort. "We have deep roots in the community through extension's work," said Martinez, former vice president of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network, a nonprofit group established to enhance the economic vitality and quality of life in the Silicon Valley. "We want to make the transition to the university easier and more inviting."

In addition to raising the profile of UCSC in a vital region of the state, a regional center would facilitate outreach and teacher preparation work being done through the UCSC Educational Partnership Center and the New Teacher Center, and it would help solidify the campus's relationships with industry, government, and community organizations over the hill. Such affiliations would help UCSC in its mission of educating the workforce of the 21st century.

At the forum, Martinez, who has conducted dozens of interviews with UCSC faculty and administrators in recent months, said she has identified widespread support for the research, educational, recruitment, and fund raising opportunities that exist for UCSC in the Santa Clara Valley area, including a strong desire to improve the campus's reputation in the region.

Her meetings with campus members also revealed challenges, including concern that:

  • The speed of the planning process will move ahead too quickly and quality will be sacrificed, or too slowly and opportunities will be missed.

  • The faculty will be divided, physically and philosophically; ladder faculty won't want to drive over the hill; and "nonentrepreneurial" faculty will be left behind.

  • The range of opportunities will dilute the focus of the project.

  • Resources will be insufficient or diverted from the main campus.

  • Industry partnerships could compromise academic freedom.

  • Offerings will not meet UCSC standards; academic oversight will be inadequate; cultural differences between Silicon Valley and Santa Cruz will preclude successful research partnerships.

  • Opportunities for development, outreach, and lifelong learning will distract from UCSC's commitment to undergraduate education.

  • UCSC's efforts will duplicate what Cal State University and community colleges do best.

  • Short-term thinking will preclude a full understanding of the scope of the endeavor.

Martinez has identified "critical success factors" that will help increase the probability of success, including focus, timing, involvement, incentives, and communication.

"Like it or hate it, Silicon Valley is filled with tremendous challenges and opportunities," Martinez told the gathering. "But all sectors--industry, education, community, and government, agree that the number one issue in the region is education."

George Brown, chair of the Physics Department and speaking as the chair of the Academic Senate's Committee on Educational Policy, said a regional center could play an important role in helping community college transfer students make the transition to a four-year institution. He also encouraged faculty members to consult with colleagues at other institutions to explore models for economic and pedagogical relationships between "parent" campuses and "satellite" operations.

Physics professor David Belanger, speaking as the chair of the Graduate Council of the Academic Senate, cautioned that a regional center without a research component would be a "second-class campus" and would tarnish UCSC's reputation. Eager to bolster UCSC's graduate enrollments, Belanger said a highly visible Santa Clara center could help attract graduate students to UCSC in fields such as digital arts, adaptive optics, economics, ethics, and many more.

Belanger and others said "an excellent transportation system" between UCSC and the regional center would help create an "integrated intellectual community."

Alison Galloway, an associate professor of anthropology representing the Academic Senate's Committee on Planning and Budget, expressed concern about "a lack of clarity about who will be served" by a regional center, saying that "you can't plan academic programs without some of these answers."

Galloway urged Simpson's academic planning task force to identify precisely what students would be served and what their specific course needs would be, and she sought assurances "beyond the tenure of the present administration" that funding for the center would not be taken from the main campus's budget.

Simpson acknowledged that many of the questions that had been raised were "entirely warranted, and I am doing what I can to allay those fears and get it right."

Among supporters of the regional center who spoke in favor of the project, sociology professor Paul Lubeck cited existing research endeavors in the region and issues such as immigration that "bridge the humanities and social sciences."

Anujan Varma, a professor of computer engineering, is enthusiastic about the research opportunities such a center could offer those in his field, which is networking.

"A regional center would give the campus more exposure and allow us to do bigger things than what we're doing now," he said before the forum. Exposure is key to attracting funding opportunities, he noted. "For engineering, this is a matter of survival."

Talk of a regional center has piqued the interest of some arts faculty, as well. Sharon Daniel, an assistant professor of film and digital media, is working with colleagues at seven other UC campuses to establish a multicampus research group and a systemwide Ph.D. program in digital arts. In an interview before the forum, Daniel said that a regional facility might serve as a hub for participating researchers and students, providing a valuable boost to those efforts while greatly expanding Daniel's own resources.

"My own work requires high band-width communication infrastructure, as well as fast and flexible multidimensional database technology," she said. "I believe very strongly that artists should be involved in the design and creation of new technologies, not just as end users."

Daniel conceded that there is some concern from advocates of traditional art practices about the resources required to pursue research and instruction in technology-based art practices, but she believes that new relationships made possible through a regional center in Silicon Valley present opportunities in which the university can interact "in relevant ways with what's happening in culture and society."

"As the academy, we need to be actively engaged in new developments in the world, such as the design of new information and communication technologies that so profoundly shape our cultural and social experience," she said. "Through engaged participation, academics can be critical and help shape changing social and cultural conditions. I think I can make political and cultural change through participation as well as critical analysis. I think that faculty at a research university like UCSC should probably do both."

In a sentiment articulated by several people at the forum, anthropology professor Shelly Errington said: "I think this is a very good idea with all kinds of opportunities. My concern is not about the content but the process. The Academic Senate as an organized body should have a say in the planning. A handpicked committee won't guarantee a high state of morale and enthusiasm on the part of faculty."

Simpson credited the Millennium Committee with laying the groundwork for the regional center several years ago, and he noted that several other UC campuses envy UCSC's preparedness as it anticipates the upcoming enrollment boom. "Other campuses will follow our lead (planning regional facilities), and frankly, I'd like to keep that advantage," he said.

A team is currently exploring possible sites for the center including sites in downtown San Jose and at the NASA/Ames Research Center at Moffett Field. A total of $2.5 million in seed funding for the center is included in President Atkinson's proposed university budget for 2000-01. Planners hope to announce the selection of a site by spring.

More information about the regional center is available on the UCSC Web site at: www.ucsc.edu/general_info/regional_center/

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