by Fernando Quintero
Vowing to make himself more accessible to students and the public at large, new UC President Richard Atkinson scheduled a press conference, met with editorial writers and had a cyberspace chat with students--all in his first three days of office.
On Oct. 2, his official first day of work, Atkinson successfully met one of the toughest challenges of his new job: meeting the press.
As heir to an office with a sometimes tumultuous relation with the press, Atkinson managed to mollify reporters from throughout the state and nation with his wit and seemingly direct style at a press conference held in Oakland.
"The San Diego press didn't ask these tough questions," he remarked to a burst of laughter.
Naming Berkeley as a model, Atkinson vowed to preserve excellence and diversity at the nine-campus system in light of the debate over affirmative action and the state's continued economic woes.
"The stunning results" of the National Research Council's study that named Berkeley as the nation's top school for doctoral programs "has stunning results for all of UC" because it brings up the standard of quality for the system as a whole, Atkinson said.
"We need to keep convincing our legislators and the public that providing quality education and cutting-edge research is key to the economic future of the state as well as the country."
One proposal Atkinson said he plans to pursue is to concentrate specific graduate studies and research to individual campuses.
"Not every campus would do everything," he said. "For example, we will offer a full array of undergraduate courses in physics at every campus. At the graduate level, there would be more specialization in that area."
One of his main goals is to push the UC system further along the information highway and encourage more interactive, computer-based education.
Atkinson has also asked the UC Regents to recommend names of business professionals who have experience in "downsizing companies," and will develop a task force with faculty and business leaders to look at cutting administrative costs.
"If you look at the statistics, we've had dramatic funding cutbacks: 13 percent in the last 31/2 years," he said. "Maybe there should be more, but we have come a long way in increasing efficiency."
Regarding concerns over access in light of the regents' recent review of affirmative action policies, Atkinson said he was "fairly optimistic we can ensure diversity at the graduate level. At the undergraduate level, we have to work very hard to ensure diversity."
He cited the importance of outreach--part of Chancellor Tien's recent Berkeley Pledge is to maintain undergraduate diversity on campus--and private fund raising to maintain equal access to the university. Atkinson said he also favors the idea of targeting schools that have a low percentage of students entering the UC system.
He said he would like to see more students involved in public service, specifically, in public education working as readers, mentors and teaching assistants in elementary and high schools. He said he would work to provide an academic component to their experience so they could receive college credit for their efforts.
He said recruiting and retaining faculty was a major concern because UC salaries for faculty lag nearly 11 percent behind comparable universities. He added that Berkeley was especially in need of funds for maintenance of buildings and grounds.
The planned opening of the 10th campus near Merced depends on enrollment projections, he said. Several estimates on the increase of college-age students after the turn of the century have been made, ranging from 16,000 to nearly 30,000 more.
"Clearly there'll be an increase, but the question is, when will the tidal wave hit?" Atkinson said he has talked to representatives from the Hewlett Foundation and the Rand Corp. to further study enrollment projections.