In a communication that is perhaps a week old, Chancellor Linda Katehi calls it, “Defining the future of UC Davis.” And with talks of “a path to academic excellence” and “a drive for economic growth,” reading between the lines it sounds a lot like a recipe for population growth in Davis.
What becomes clear is that the decline of state revenues is pushing UC Davis toward a different path that will invariably rely more on private growth and less on public assistance.
She writes, “Today we find ourselves at a defining moment in our history as a campus. The state, faced with increasing needs and dwindling revenue, is no longer able to provide sufficient support to sustain the excellence of its public universities. Reduced state funding is a chronic challenge and not a temporary condition. Private philanthropic support, although very important and growing, cannot balance out the state budget reductions and has forced the University of California to substantially increase tuition.”
She acknowledges the need for efficiency and cost-cutting efforts: “As you are all aware, since the fall of 2009 we have made and continue to make every possible effort to become more efficient and to reduce costs. Our Organizational Excellence Initiative and other cost-cutting efforts are visibly reducing expenses and improving efficiency.”
But clearly that is not enough.
The Chancellor writes, “Nonetheless, we have now reached the point where there is a clear choice. We can either accept that permanent reductions in state support will define a new status quo for UC Davis in which our ability to sustain excellence is constrained by limited resources, or we can take control of our destiny by developing new strategies and adopting new budget models that will move the campus forward in the coming years.”
“I am committed to the latter course of action, and propose a strategy below to accomplish that goal,” she writes.
Few would argue with her goal to make UC Davis into a world-class university and find ways around current state budget constraints, but the devil is always in the details.
The Chancellor writes, “Almost unique among the 10 campuses of the University of California, UC Davis has a physical footprint that is compatible with larger undergraduate and graduate cohorts; more than 6,000 acres and 17 million square feet of maintainable space.”
Moreover, these circumstances combined with the kinds of infrastructure investments in the past ten years, has according to the Chancellor, positioned the campus “well to leverage our resources through careful and strategic planning.”
At first, the plan seems fairly mundane. She talks about increasing the enrollment of the campus and pursuing an increasing blend of out-of-state students that would augment the university’s coffers.
The specific proposals need to be unpacked, however. She talks about bringing “the benefits of a UC education to a greater number of deserving students” and becoming financially stable.
She talks about internationalizing the campus, “to create a more diverse educational climate and to prepare future global leaders.”
But the big part of this is talking about adding 300 new tenure-track faculty positions, which would bring the total to about 1800. That would represent about a 20% increase in faculty, and obviously a corresponding increase in students.
Current enrollment is about 33,000 – a 20 percent increase would explode the campus to nearly 40,000 students. It also means corresponding growth for infrastructure and support staff.
That will require “Improve our existing infrastructure and make investments needed to sustain and grow excellence across the campus” and “Boost regional economic development and create new jobs on and off campus.”
As one person put this, it is a radical plan that if she were able to pull it off, would change Davis just as much as the giant growth of the 1960s and 1970s that turned Davis from a tiny town to the modest city of 65,000 that we are today.
Of course, she reminds us, “Throughout the process, we must always remember that our focus is on innovation and excellence; not growth simply for growth’s sake, but rather creating a university that can sustain its rising trajectory through its own efforts, leveraging the state’s support and rising above the fiscal limitations we now face.”
That is fine. The city, of course, has its own interest for attempting to leverage the growth at the university and turn it into the kinds of high tech spinoffs that can benefit Davis’ economy.
At the same time, we need to be very wary of what these kinds of massive and radical changes can do to our community.
As the Chancellor writes, “We also look forward to strong partnerships with our Davis and Sacramento communities and the surrounding region, with a shared goal of creating positive outcomes for our campus and its neighbors.”
But the university does not always work well with its neighbors. Recently Sue Greenwald was troubled by the expansion plans for the conference center at the Hyatt. In this case, there is the potential for fiscal impact, “Expansion of the Hyatt Place hotel on the UC Davis campus has the potential of affecting the Transient Occupancy Tax collected by Davis hotels, as well as the sales taxes generated by travellers staying at Hyatt Place and other hotels.”
This was of course done without the consultation of the city of Davis.
So, the city did not want to antagonize the university by opposing this, particularly when the city is planning its own Hotel Conference Center that figures to have similar impacts on the university. The city also has to be mindful that the university operates on its own and has a history of failure to consult with the city prior to huge changes that occur.
The Hyatt Center is a good example of this. As the city staff report noted, “Hotel occupancy has dropped in Davis over the past decade. Causes include the national recession and increased competition from hotels outside Davis, including the Hyatt Place hotel.”
Moreover, as the city staff report noted, “The UC Davis Conference Center has not provided the benefit to the economy that was originally anticipated.”
They continue, “In April, the City Council approved comments on the Initial Study for the Hyatt Place expansion. The comments included a need for a full economic study for an adequate baseline for the analysis of the fiscal impacts of the project, and the potential for urban decay.”
According to their EIR: “The Hyatt Place Draft Environmental Impact Report concludes that the project will not result in hotel closures that would lead to physical blight. This conclusion is based on a market analysis and impact study prepared by the HVS consulting firm. HVS concluded that the Davis hotel market appears poised to benefit from a new supply of hotel rooms that could help fill the accommodated demand and create induced demand.”
This is a good example of a university initiative that may have hurt the city and has not helped the region.
So, when Chancellor Katehi talks about an Innovation Hub, she wants to work with the regional partners. However, is she going to be responsive to the inevitable concerns of long-time Davis residents to massive growth at the university and the pressures it will put on the city to grow?
The Mayor has put a premium on the notion of establishing partnerships with the university, but a partnership has to work both ways.
As the Chancellor writes, “As we examine this idea and the opportunities it may bring to UC Davis and the region, we need to remember that success will require openness to new approaches and the development of a new activity-based budget model that provides incentives for success. Further, it will require a culture of creativity, team work, regular assessment, continuous improvement and discipline.”
One can interpret that to mean a number of different things, including the willingness for the city of Davis to expand and change its views on growth
This is certainly something to watch. To date, few have taken notice.
—David M. Greenwald reporting