University of California, San Diego


October 10, 2001


SUBJECT:  The Problem of Institutional Growth

Dear Colleagues:

Our series of internal communiqués on campus growth issues continues with this message from Michael Bernstein, Professor of History and Chair of the San Diego Division of the University of California Academic Senate. Shared governance is a pillar of any academic institution, and it will be a critical factor in how well UCSD manages unprecedented campus growth this decade. In this message, Dr. Bernstein rightly cautions that growth and the opportunities for change it offers should not detract from our core activities and longstanding commitments. UCSD is a university campus; by definition, it should achieve distinction across the spectrum of scholarly disciplines. As we strive to launch new initiatives, we must work equally hard at building or sustaining the excellence of our existing departments and programs.

                                                Robert C. Dynes


San Diego Division

October 10, 2001

[Note from Dr. Bernstein: The views and opinions expressed here are my own. They do not necessarily represent the views of the members of the Academic Senate or of the Senate Council.]

The rapid growth of an institution may disguise a complicated problem. As UCSD undertakes the task of absorbing 10,000 more students and 400 more faculty, it is prudent to consider the risks inherent in that enterprise. Previous communiqués have made vivid many of the challenges rapid growth poses for the campus. I would like to draw attention to another, more subtle difficulty that expansion can create.

As any institution grows, new initiatives threaten to divert attention from existing activities. The excitement surrounding the opportunity to do new things can distract us from properly sustaining the old. While growth can offer a chance to prune away "dead wood" and rejuvenate standing programs, just the opposite may occur if it is mismanaged. Existing enterprises may simply be left standing-in-place, or they may be drained of the funding and attention necessary for their continued excellence or improvement.

A public university cannot conduct its business under circumstances of its own choosing. That UCSD must absorb a growing student population is a responsibility placed before us by the California Legislature and the University Regents. We thus cannot systematically control enrollment growth. But we can take steps to avoid its pitfalls. Why we grow has to do with many factors beyond campus control; how we grow is within our power to decide. Before hastily embracing new initiatives, we would do well to ask ourselves how the resources available for growth might also be marshaled for the benefit of standing activities that have been underfunded for decades.

UCSD is an outstanding research university, one that justifiably enjoys great visibility and respect. Even so, while many of our departments and programs are world-class, several are quite far from that status. Virtually all of our academic units have the potential to be excellent if adequately supported. Maintaining the future quality of this institution will have a great deal to do with improving the strength of existing departments and programs that clearly need such enhancement. It does not serve the interests (nor does it insure the future) of our many excellent units if we do not bring others, on the cusp of genuine distinction, up to the "high-water mark."

The education of our students is another arena in which the campus has always struggled with constraints imposed by relatively modest resources. It would be most unfortunate if the opportunities afforded by expansion are not used to reallocate significant support to undergraduate teaching - for he improvement of classrooms, library facilities, and student research opportunities; for the augmentation of our student outreach, admissions, and recruitment processes; and for the creation of ladder-rank faculty positions in areas of teaching (such as foreign languages and literatures) that have for too long been neglected and left to the uncertainties of temporary provision.

At the same time, the mission of our graduate programs has not always been upheld by sufficient funding for fellowships and career placement services. Here too, growth might become the means by which to improve on what we already do. All that promise will be lost if new resources are simply siphoned off for the creation of new programs. At every stage of growth, we must evaluate how we are executing those missions to which we have long been committed.

Nowhere is the problem of growth more apparent than in the relationship between our research and art-making enterprises and the units detailed to their support. UCSD's enormous research and artistic portfolio now literally dwarfs current campus allocations to sustain it. Principal Investigators and Artists, in our laboratories, offices, and studios, now must devote increasing proportions of their time to management, grant-writing, and promotional efforts, rather than to doing research and to making art. The campus clearly needs to think long and hard about how it distributes resources to the "non-academic" side of the house. After all, the demoralization of many staff colleagues, who feel overworked and underpaid, has become a serious institutional liability. Failure to address this problem is not an option.

The danger of growth lies in underestimating its "opportunity costs." What we choose to do will necessarily determine what we choose not to do. While we must clearly embrace the opportunities growth affords - more students, more faculty, and more staff - we must avoid the tendency to overlook or ignore the complicated dilemmas it places before us. Decisions regarding the balance struck between new initiatives and existing campus activities are difficult, at times even divisive. But an institution avoids making them at great risk. With all of the opportunities and challenges that expansion will place before us, we should make very sure that growth works for UCSD, not the other way around.

                                         Michael A. Bernstein
                                         Department of History
                                         Chair, UC Academic Senate: San Diego Division