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'Percolating' higher-ed questions the focus of Friday symposium

| 07 December 2006

In an era when universities face growing scrutiny on a number of fronts, are existing models of governance up to the task? That's among the central questions to be explored by a distinguished group of academics and policymakers when they meet Friday, Dec. 8, for "Governing the Academy: Who's the Boss?," a symposium sponsored jointly by the Institute of Governmental Studies and the Center for Studies in Higher Education.

"If you look at higher education today, governance is one of the key issues," says Judson King, a former UC provost who now serves as CSHE's director. Throughout the United States, he explains, the public's mistrust of institutions generally is growing - a process helped along by corporate and government scandals - and signs point to a "transfer of suspicion" to the academy as well.

"How the university is governed, how to respond to the change in public confidence - this is one of the areas of greatest foment," says King. "We want to sensitize people to the importance of the issue in a broad, long-term context."

Berkeley political-science professor Jack Citrin, the associate director of IGS, says that the catalyst for Friday's event was the controversy over executive compensation in the UC system, though that's not expected to be a focus of what's being billed as "a critical examination of higher-education governance."

"One reaction to that, both within the university and outside, had to do with who governs - the ways in which these decisions were made, who should be making them, to what degree should the regents be more involved," Citrin says. "So that's a governance question, as opposed to the specific decisions that were made, and were they right or wrong."

The compensation controversy, he observes, spotlighted questions of governance in the UC system that had previously been raised in other contexts at other universities, such as Harvard, "with the faculty essentially forcing out the president." Similarly, UC's troubles "focused attention within the university as to what should be the role of the regents, what should be the role of the president, how are university rules for this and other issues developed, and how are they implemented?"

The aim of the symposium, he adds, "is not to go over old ground..As in most instances in American politics, inertia governs until some event - often bad news, like a Katrina or a scandal - gets people to say, What are we doing wrong here? What are we doing right?"

Both men cite the changing nature of the relationship between the academy and the outside world, a trend King says cuts across both public and private universities nationwide. The UC system's current struggle to win back public trust, he says, is "a microcosm of what's going on nationally."

"We've always thought of the university to some extent as a kind of self-governing institution," says Citrin. "But it's pretty clear now that with respect to admissions decisions, curricular decisions, funding decisions, questions of ideological balance and academic freedom - there's been a fairly high level of percolation on these kinds of questions."

Noting a view of the academy in which the administration is seen as management, the faculty as labor, and students as consumers, Citrin says, "I would add, who are the shareholders? Is it the taxpayers, or the parents, or the investors, such as donors and corporations that fund research? That's the background for the symposium."

At Friday's event - to take place from 1 to 6 p.m. in the Geballe Room at Stephens Hall - King will act as moderator for the opening panel discussion, "The Academy: National Trends and Critical Issues in Governance," while Citrin will moderate a session on "Sharing Governance in the Academy: Trustees, Administration, and Faculty." A third panel, to focus specifically on the UC system, will be led by political scientist Bruce Cain, who heads UC's Washington Center.

Participants will include Karl Pister, former chancellor of UC Santa Cruz; former UC regents Velma Montoya and William Bagley; Tim Gage, former director of the California Department of Finance; Ted Lempert, former chair of the state Assembly Higher Education Committee; and Lawrence Coleman, a former chair of the systemwide Academic Senate and the UC system's current vice provost for research.