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UC President reflects on his legacy during Davis visit

| 10 September 2003


At last week’s Council of UC Staff Assemblies meeting at UC Davis, CUCSA chair David Bell presented a plaque to President Atkinson lauding his
"outstanding service to the university" and "unwavering commitment to staff."

Debbie Aldridge photo/UC Davis

More than 30 staff delegates from across the UC system, comprising the Council of UC Staff Assemblies (CUCSA), heard outgoing UC President Richard Atkinson talk at the council’s quarterly meeting Sept. 4 at UC Davis’ Mondavi Center.

Atkinson’s last day in office is Oct. 1, when Robert Dynes, chancellor of UC San Diego, will assume the UC system’s top administrative post.

The president’s visit to Davis came only a few days after the UC system announced it would be unable to consider the applications of about 1,600 transfer and freshman students seeking winter admission. [The decision does not affect Berkeley, which did not accept any winter applications.]

It was “stunning,” Atkinson said, for the university to have to make the announcement. “For the last 40-some years the UC system has been able to grant admission to any eligible student” — a reference to the promise of the state’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education. “This is very disturbing. I feel bad for those students who are being turned away, and for their parents, too.”

This year, legislators displayed an almost “cavalier” attitude toward the UC system in budget negotiations, Atkinson said. “The budget cuts were unconscionable,” he noted, adding, “This situation could get worse next year, given the budget constraints.”

[Editor’s note: On Mon., Sept. 8, the state’s Department of Finance advised all state agencies, including UC, to begin preparing plans to accommodate a budget-cut scenario of up to 20 percent for next year.]

Beyond budget issues, delegates were interested in increasing the voice of staff in the UC system. Linda Brewer, a staff delegate from UC Irvine, asked Atkinson whether he thought a staff representative might be admitted to the Board of Regents as a non-voting member.

“I’m in favor of it,” Atkinson said. “There’s no real opposition to it, but some regents do, however, have a concern about the board becoming too large.”

A progressive, inclusive ap-proach is reflected in Atkinson’s other achievements, which were briefly summarized at the meeting.

On his watch — even with voter passage of Proposition 209 and the elimination of race-conscious admission policies — UC pursued initiatives to preserve access and student-body diversity. The university launched outreach efforts to K-12 schools through an array of mentorship programs; guaranteed a spot in the UC system for eligible students who graduate in the top 4 percent of their high school classes; and enacted a “comprehensive review” system for all undergraduate campuses — ensuring that students from all backgrounds receive individual assessments that go far beyond simply tallying up grades and test scores.

During his tenure, which began in August 1995, Atkinson also boldly challenged the SAT as the best test for college admissions. After much debate nationwide, the outcome is that students will take a new, modified version of the test across the country beginning in 2005.

Hassan Ghamlouch, a staff delegate from UCLA, applauded Atkinson’s work on the SAT changes. “He brought up a controversial issue and worked to improve the admissions process, and this will benefit not only UC students but those attending other universities across the country,” he said.

Putting a face on the position
David Bell, CUCSA chair and a staff delegate from UC San Francisco, welcomed the encounter between the president and staff. “It’s of paramount importance for staff to have a connection with UC leadership. I think we need this type of relationship, as we’re in a new era with all the changes taking place in the UC system,” Bell said.

Zack O’Donnell, chair of the UC Davis Staff Assembly, agreed with Bell. “It’s good to put a human face on the Office of the President.”

The Council of UC Staff Assemblies is an advisory body made up of staff delegates from each of the 10 campuses, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Office of the President. CUCSA meets quarterly, rotating among campuses and labs, to discuss issues of importance to staff and to provide feedback to the Office of the President and the UC Regents.