UC San Diego profs come up with budget fixer: Close UC Merced

July 9, 2009 

UC Merced is the target of a group of 23 San Diego professors who have proposed the University of California shutter the campus to save money.

The proposal was written as a letter to leaders at the UC San Diego campus and University Office of the President. The letter was sent anonymously to the Sun-Star on Wednesday afternoon.

As part of a three-point plan, the professors suggested that either one or two campuses should be closed to create an eight- or nine-campus system. They also put Riverside and Santa Cruz on the chopping block.

UCSD professor Andrew Scull, chair of the sociology department, confirmed that he was the author of the letter. Twenty-two other department chairs in San Diego also signed the letter. There are 111 departments on campus, according to the UCSD Web site.

Officials at UC Merced and the University Office of the President passed the idea off as an improbable course of action crafted by employees upset by impending pay cuts.

"At a time such as now, when the UC Office of the President is proposing system-wide salary reductions in the form of pay cuts and furloughs, it is no surprise that employees would go public with alternate plans of action," UC Merced spokeswoman Tonya Luiz said.

UC President Mark Yudof said he was utterly opposed to closing campus doors.

"I am 100 percent behind Merced, Riverside and Santa Cruz, and do not see the call to reduce expenditures on those campuses, beyond their proportionate share of the systemwide deficit, as a solution to our budgetary ills," Yudof said in a statement to the Sun-Star.

Scull said he received an e-mail from the University Office of the President thanking him for the budget suggestions.

Pete King, a spokesman at the systemwide offices in Oakland, said an automatically generated response is sent to each sender due to the high volume of responses. More than 3,000 budget reduction suggestions have been sent to Yudof's office and all suggestions will be reviewed, King said.

Scull said the letter was crafted after an informal campus meeting in June, at which UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox explained how systemwide budget cuts would specifically affect the San Diego campus.

"It was disastrous," Scull said of the cuts to the San Diego campus. "It would result in the end of the campus as we know it."

Scull said the decision to suggest campus closures was not taken lightly.

"In that kind of situation, you have to contemplate very, very unpleasant choices," Scull said. "It seems to all of us that choices none of us want to see happen nonetheless have to be faced."

The wording in the letter is more brusque.

"We suggest, more generally, that in discussions system-wide, you drop the pretence that all campuses are equal, and argue for a selective reallocation of funds to preserve excellence, not the current disastrous blunderbuss policy of even, across the board cuts," reads the letter. "Or, if that is too hard, we suggest that what ought to be done is to shut one or more of these campuses down, in whole or in part."

Scull still stands behind the statements, he said Wednesday.

UC Merced responded with a statement through Luiz late Wednesday:

"The University of California is a 10-campus system of prestigious research universities that has managed to weather the storm of financial crisis time after time in the hundred-plus years since its creation.

"We share President Mark G. Yudof's position that the system must be united in facing the tough economic road ahead. UC Merced is the system's youngest and smallest campus, having officially opened its doors in 2005, and it is making great strides as it matures into a full research university campus.

"UC Merced stands behind its track record of success and looks forward to a bright future of serving the people of California, the nation and the world."

This is not the first time campuses -- or parts of them -- have come under pressure during economic crises. UC Riverside was the target of a similar campaign in 1993 and a newly-formed school of architecture at UCSD was disbanded around the same time.

The University of California must cut costs to cope with a combined $800 million funding shortfall for the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years.

A 9.3 percent increase in student fees will produce an additional $211 million to cover one-fourth of the shortfall. Systemwide pay reductions could chip in an additional $195 million.

The rest of the cuts will probably be dealt with on a campus-by-campus basis.

The UC Board of Regents is scheduled to meet July 14-16 to vote on how to impose an 8 percent pay cut on all university employees earning more than $46,000 yearly. All other salaries -- with the exception of student workers -- would be cut 4 percent.

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dgaines@mercedsun-star.com.