Q & A on Future Planning for the UC System: Interview with Catherine Cole
SOTA interviews long-time UCIRA friend and former Advisory Board member Catherine Cole (Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, UC Berkeley) about her latest research and call to action. Cole has been active with SAVE, a Berkeley faculty group, and has written occasionally on the Remaking the University blog and circulated a widely read “Open Letter to Students” trying to explain the budget-cuts early on in the summer of 2009. Cole teaches African Performance, Field Methods, Postcolonial Studies, and Disability Studies. She is the author of Performing South Africa’s Truth Commission: Stages of Transition (2010) as well as Ghana’s Concert Party Theatre (2001), which received a 2002 Honorable Mention for The Barnard Hewitt Award from the American Society for Theatre Research and was a finalist for the Herskovits Prize in African Studies.
Q: In your recent paper “Trading Futures: Prospects for California‘s University“ you describe a situation in which the UC administration is “in reaction mode. It is reacting to a very, very bad situation—namely the dramatic state de-funding of public education. And then the opposition such as protesters and activists have been preoccupied with reacting to the administration’s reactions.”[i] And you go on to say that, “We are all so myopically preoccupied with the current crises that we can’t seem to see or imagine a larger picture, much less a better one. We are not planning in the UC. We’re not planning across the three segments of higher education. Sure, we’re pushing around numbers about expected enrolments, access, and revenue streams. But we are not imagining or dreaming about a wide range of prospective futures. We are only coping.”[ii] Can you describe what coping looks like as opposed to vision? What happens when we just cope?
A: Coping means that a great deal of the institution’s energy is preoccupied with addressing immediate budgetary shortfalls. We know that our current budget problems are profound, but we don’t yet know their magnitude. As with so many sectors of California, the UC must wait until the state legislature makes budget decisions. In the meantime, “coping” is characterized by tremendous uncertainty, a great deal of anxiety, and an intense focus on the short-term. This way of navigating the future is, by definition, short sighted.
Q: Later in your “Trading Futures” essay you pose a question: “The UC has some of the best, brightest and most innovative faculty in the world. What would it mean for its faculty…to be at the center of devising a new future for higher education?” You have a proposal for what this might look like, can you describe that gathering and the traditions of faculty gatherings and community-centered design it will draw from.
A: In 1963 Clark Kerr described the University of California as a “multiversity,” an institution that is “so many things to so many different people that it must, of necessity, be partially at war with itself.”[iii] Kerr noted that while all communities should have a soul or a single animating principle, “the multiversity has several—some of them quite good, although there is much debate on which souls really deserve salvation.”[iv] At this moment when the entire UC system is plagued by long-term public defunding and short-term deficits, there is much soul searching about the sustainability and viability of the multiversity. While scenarios for disaggregation of the UC have episodically surfaced in the past, never before has this happened in the context of such extreme fiscal volatility and constraint.
In June 2009 UCSD professors created a firestorm of controversy by suggesting that some UC campuses be “downgraded” from research to teaching institutions. In September 2010, the UCLA Anderson School of Management proposed ending entirely their reliance on state funding. Recently UCB has touted a federal funding model, embracing an adaptive rather than deliberate scenario that would ultimately raise the question of how Berkeley would be a university “of” California in the future. In February 2011, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a peer flagship public university, began openly discussing its possible secession from the state system.[v]
Many radical scenarios for the future of California’s world-renowned university are being discussed, but often privately. These scenarios would have profound implications for California given the UC’s critical role in the state. There is a surfeit of big, conceptual questions facing the UC, yet there is also a deficit of formats in which such questions can be discussed openly, critically, and with intellectual rigor. The UC’s future, whatever it is, will be brighter if envisioned with widespread and energetic faculty participation in strategic planning. The UC once had a format for visionary faculty deliberation: all-UC Faculty conferences held annually for thirty years beginning in 1944.[vi] These annual events, sponsored by the Academic Senate, brought together faculty from throughout the system along with senior administrators to discuss topics of long-range institutional significance. The sole purpose of the conference, according to President Sproul, was “to stimulate thinking on all campuses of the University about major problems of the University as a whole, and to afford an opportunity for free, frank, and thorough discussion of those problems by a large number of interested members of the faculty.”[vii]
The project I am proposing aims to catalyze and revive such system-wide faculty conversations, and to do so by using a new format. Unlike earlier all-UC faculty conferences, our pilot project will be convened outside of any formal decision-making authority. We are operating on the premise that all senate faculty have a vested interest in and responsibility for making our university’s future, and that there is an urgent need for open, deliberative, collaborative, rational, imaginative, and time-efficient formats for engaging faculty in long-range thinking.
Neither a “conference” nor a “meeting” or “retreat” (the familiar formats in which faculty generally gather), our endeavor represents an experiment in process, one that uses planning techniques that are iterative, dynamic, participatory, and collaborative. While such models for planning are common in urban design,[viii] in business,[ix] as well as in public policy and non-profit organizations,[x] planning processes within higher education tend to be anachronistic and slow, dominated by linear and mechanistic thinking and lacking the agility that is needed in today’s dynamic climate.[xi] Participatory planning represents a “bottom up” approach which contrasts with the traditional “top down” model of the centrally designed master plan. “Charrettes” in particular are of interest to us, for they represent a time-compressed model of focused collaboration.
Figure 1: UCLA environmental and urban design studies group working at table. University of California, Los Angeles. November 1966. Photograph by Ansel Adams. Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection.
I am working on this project in collaboration with Ann Bermingham, the Acting Director of UCSB’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center. Called “The Uses of the University in 2050,” it consists of two events aimed at setting horizons of planning to the year 2050. The first will be held in February 2012 at UCSB and will focus on the multiversity. The second, held in fall 2012 at UCB, will look at the State and how its needs for higher education are likely to change in the next forty years.
At UCSB, we will ask: What are the virtues, strengths, and problems of the multiversity? Can the multi-campus system be sustained in the face of receding state and federal support? Would UC still be a “public good” if the multi-campus system were abandoned? Should UC campuses specialize? How are the disciplinary structures changing? What are the benefits and problems of housing Colleges of Letters and Science together with professional schools? In short, if we were able to design from scratch a UC-system for the year 2050, what would it look like?
A second charrette in Fall 2012 will be held at UC Berkeley and will be more external in focus and more broadly participatory. It will be aimed at: 1) setting horizons of planning to the year 2050 and thinking of California’s needs for the future, especially as these relate to the university’s past mandate and present aspirations, 2) getting faculty as well as administrators, staff, and students to think in a visionary and collaborative way about an issue of long range significance, 3) extending the impact of our project through greater public input and exposure, in particular using interactive digital technologies and an art exhibit from the highly significant yet largely unknown Ansel Adams Fiat Lux collection of over 1700 images of the UC taken the 1960s, and 4) providing us an opportunity to refine and scale up our participatory process, making modifications based upon what we learned earlier at Santa Barbara.
Figure 2: Graduate geology class with UCR professors Gordon P. Eaton and Frank W. Dickson at Joshua Tree National Monument. The towering rock forms are actually the granite roots of an ancient mountain range. University of California, Riverside. December 1966. Photograph by Ansel Adams. Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection.
The overall goals for the “Uses of the University in 2050” project are: 1) to create a new faculty collaborative format in which scenarios for the UC’s future are openly articulated, debated and critically engaged using the University’s multi-disciplinary research strengths; 2) to cultivate and inspire among faculty fresh strategic thinking about our institution; 3) to foster a conversation about the future among all UC stakeholders that is driven by long-term vision rather than short-term crises and guided by participatory processes; and 4) to harness the power of the university’s best asset–faculty research expertise—to address the real world problem of our University’s future. We will use the university itself to help frame and address the university’s present and future challenges, and use the insights and experiences of our non-UC community and policymaking partners to help envision how the UC should adapt, change and grow in the face of dynamic and volatile circumstances.
Figure 3: Berkeley Nobel Laureate and Professor of Chemistry Melvin Calvin and his group working in their laboratory. Calvin, the scientist who “unlocked the secrets of photosynthesis,” held a deep belief in interdisciplinary collaborations. He and his team worked in a “laboratory without walls.” Opening in 1963, the building now known as the Melvin Calvin Laboratory was designed with a doughnut-shaped exterior and an open interior with radial lab benches so as to foster cooperative teamwork. University of California, Berkeley. September, 1966. Photograph by Ansel Adams. Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection.
“The major test of the modern American university,” advised Clark Kerr, “is how wisely and how quickly it adjusts to the important new possibilities. The great universities of the future will be those which have adjusted rapidly and effectively.”[xii] As much as the university is a source of knowledge production, it can also benefit from outside expertise, particularly from sectors of California’s economy that have long had to be agile in order to survive. Universities are old institutions that are stereotypically recalcitrant to change. Yet we are at a historical juncture when the University needs to devise organizational processes for shared governance that are agile, lean and horizontal in addition to the slow, linear, and hierarchical organizational processes that have long been characteristic of the University and have served us well in establishing the UC’s unparalleled reputation.
Figure 4: In this image taken by Adams at UC Berkeley in 1966, we see the artist peering at us, the people of UC’s future. The Fiat Lux project was commissioned by UC President Clark Kerr to emphasize the prospective view for the University and to “present a sense of the opportunities which lie ahead.” Photograph by Ansel Adams. Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection.
Q: What is a vision for the future of the UC system?
A: The system doesn’t have a vision for the future right now. The Commission on the Future was supposed to produce that, but I think there is unanimous disappointment in its findings. The Commission’s final report doesn’t add up to a vision. A vision should be something that will inspire the State to invest in us.
The Commission on the Future’s final report ventures the courageous assertion, “The future cannot be avoided.”[xiii] Standing on a mountain of a year’s worth of planning and fraught subcommittee work, the Commission advises that in the coming years, “The challenge will be to strike an unerring balance between what to recalibrate or even discard, and what to protect. The goal must be for the University to emerge on the other side of the crises fit and ready to serve California as well and as far into the future as it has in the past.”[xiv] “Fit and ready to serve”? “Recalibrate,” “discard” and “protect”? This is a language of contraction and retrenchment. This is not the language of innovation. Yet historically California and especially the University of California have been defined by a capacity to innovate. What happened to innovation, that defining feature of the University of California’s “brand” identity?
If our vision for the future has become so impoverished that we only aspire to be “fit and ready to serve,” why should the electorate invest in us? If this is our highest goal, then of course higher education will be, in the words of UC President Yudof, “crowded out by other priorities,” especially when priorities like care of the sick, disabled, elderly, foster children, etc. are so much more compelling as necessities.[xv] Furthermore we must consider that getting an undergraduate education may no longer be a sustainable aspiration for many in America, given the escalating debt students must take on to get their degrees. With a rapidly shrinking middle class and skyrocketing tuition, many college graduates find that unlike in the 1960s when a college education was a passport to the middle class, today’s degree gains them admission to an endless cycle of debt and poverty.[xvi]
Our California leadership in higher education is not really grappling with this larger picture. “The reality is that California has essentially stopped innovating in the development of its higher education system,” according to scholar of higher education John Aubrey Douglass.[xvii]
Figure 5: A beginning sculpture class at UCSB works at evolving forms inspired by natural objects such as shells and thistles. University of California, Santa Barbara. April 1966. Photograph by Ansel Adams. Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection.
Q: How do the arts figure into future planning processes? Are there ways of seeing/being or artistic strategies that can become relevant in the kind of visioning you are describing?
A: The arts have a crucial role because artists are accustomed to thinking outside the box. And that’s the kind of thinking we need right now. Artists are also visionaries, able to see and imagine scenarios for the future that can operate on multiple levels, addressing both pragmatic constraints and larger, idealistic and intellectual aspirations. In many fields, the arts are collaborative–this is certainly true in my field of theatre and performance studies. A new future for the university may well require the collaborative creativity of the university’s best asset: faculty and their collective (and individual) ingenuity and intelligence. This may mean bringing together our brilliant faculty from multiple disciplines–economics and political science, physics and medicine, environmental design and business, photography and music–to actually collaborate in making the UC of the future. Faculty ingenuity is an underutilized resource: the UC often hires outside consultants to advise on organizational challenges when our own faculty could provide far superior advice Afterall, we have many faculty who advise that other President, the one in Washington!.
The UC’s organizational processes for faculty consultation tend to be linear and slow. There are well-known methods of visioning the future in ways that are time compressed and tend to produce creative innovation, as well as broad-based community participation (charrettes, scenario planning, “world cafe”, etc.). These methods often have roots in or connections to the arts. Charrettes are a perfect example of this, for the term actually arose from competitions within French art schools. Only later did charrettes become something that was client-driven within the fields of architecture and urban design consulting.
Finally the arts are important because in our field we don’t let lack of resources limit our vision. Rather artists often create a vision, and then seek resources. It’s a different way of working than is typical for the university. But I feel that the UC has let our budgetary crisis diminish our vision and expectations for the future. That can be quite a self-defeating, a way to ensure that the present crisis becomes the “new normal,” and that the new normal is neither excellent nor inspiring.
Another discovery I’ve made in the process of working on this project is the value of the history of artists who have come through the UC system. Ansel Adams is a case in point. Very, very few people–even long time UC career staff and faculty–know that the UC Regents own a vast repository of photographs taken by Ansel Adams in the 1960s of the University of California. This project, called “Fiat Lux,” was commissioned by Clark Kerr. He hired Adams and writer Nancy Newhall to document for three years all our UC activities on the (then) nine campuses as well as agricultural extensions, observatories, and all kinds of UC endeavors throughout the state. After Yosemite, the University of California may be the most documented subject in Adams’ oeuvre. The UC owns these images: over 6000 images in total, 1700 of which are scanned (available at the California Museum of Photography at UCR) and 605 signed prints (held at Berkeley’s Bancroft library). This archive is a rich repository of images providing a coherent and compelling picture of the University of California and its relationship to the State of California. Because Fiat Lux, which was commissioned by Clark Kerr in 1963, came to fruition in 1967 just as Kerr’s own administrative star was falling (fired by Ronald Reagan, etc.), the images have never really gotten the attention they deserve. A wonderful exhibition was mounted by Melinda Wortz at UCI in 1991, and that exhibit toured to five other UC campuses (Berkeley was not one of these). There have been some smaller exhibitions of the images on individual campuses (Riverside and San Diego). And the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM) did an exhibit on Ansel Adams in 2001–though this included images of Yosemite etc, so the BAM exhibit was more about the artist than the university.
Figure 6: UCSF Professor Marilyn G. Farguhar with path and electron microscope. University of California, San Francisco. April 1965. Photograph by Ansel Adams, Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection.
Figure 7: Self portrait of Ansel Adams with path and electron microscope. University of California, San Francisco. April 1965. Photograph by Ansel Adams. Sweeney/Rubin Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection.
In sum, these images just have not been properly seen–and now at this moment of crises and soul searching for the University of California, these images could provide a dynamic and compelling opportunity to reflect on who we were 50 years ago and to generate prospective visions about who and what UC wishes to be in the future. Adams can help us envision a longer horizon. These photos are “memories of the future,” which is a term often used in scenario planning. These images can also be an opportunity not just for internal discussions about our future, but also more importantly for external communications, visioning, and “branding” of the UC with the people of the State of California.
One hears these days various scenarios for the dissolution of the UC system. Such ideas have episodically surfaced in the past, but never in the context of such an extreme fiscal crises. And of course, UW-Madison is now leading the way in a break-apart scenario for public higher education. If the UC is considering a divorce, Fiat Lux is our family photo album. Let’s open it up. Let’s remind ourselves who the family is, and what we’ve done together.
Morale is so very, very low right now, I feel we have all succumbed to a pernicious “Gloom and Doom.: If we get stuck at that place, we’ll never be able to have a brighter future, because we won’t be able to imagine one. It’s interesting to think about commissioning new work from UC faculty and student artists that uses Fiat Lux as a frame. How do they “see” UC today in relationship to how Ansel Adams saw us then? I think we in the arts can play a special role here in helping people to imagine a viable, attractive, and–most important of all–an inspiring future for the University of California. The dedication to the Fiat Lux UC centennial book by Adams and Newhall published in 1967 says the project is “dedicated to those who will make the future.”[xviii] That’s us!
[SOTA thanks the UCR California Museum of Photography for permission to use these images)
[i] Catherine M. Cole, “Trading Futures: Prospects for California’s University,” talk presented at the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, UCSB, 17 February 2011, http://www.ihc.ucsb.edu/catherine-cole/ (accessed 11 April 2011), p. 2.
[iii] Clark Kerr, The Uses of the University, Fifth Edition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001; originally published 1963), p. 17.
[v] See Andrew Scull, et al., Open letter by 21 UCSD department heads, 15 June 2009, posted http://toodumbtolivearchive.blogspot.com/2009/07/june-15-2009-dear-i-write-on-behalf-of.html (accessed 11 April 2011); Louis Freedberg, “Chancellor: UC Berkeley Morphing into a Federal University,” California Watch, 23 February 2011, http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/chancellor-uc-berkeley-morphing-federal-university-8816 (accessed 11 April 2011); Jack Stripling, “U of Wisconsin at Madison’s Chancellor Defends Proposed Separation From System,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 25 February 2011, available online at http://chronicle.com/article/U-of-Wisconsin-at-Madisons/126532/ (accessed 11 April 2011).
[vi] Cole, “Trading Futures,” pp. 12-13.
[vii] Robert Gordon Sproul, “Opening Remarks,” Proceedings of the First All-University Faculty Conference, University of California, 1944, p. 5.
[viii] National Charrette Institute (NCI) together with Bill Lennertz and Aarin Lutzenhiser, The Charrette Handbook: The Essential Guide for Accelerated, Collaborative Community Planning (Chicago: American Planning Association, 2006); Urban Design Associates (UDA)–Ray Gindroz, Donald Carter, Paul Ostergaard, Rob Robinson, and Barry J. Long, Jr., The Urban Design Handbook: Techniques and Working Methods (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003).
[ix] James A. Ogilvy, Creating Better Futures: Scenario Planning as a Tool for a Better Tomorrow (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001); Peter Schwartz, The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World (New York: Doubleday, 1991); Kees Van der Heijen, Scenarios: The Art of Strategic Conversation (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1996).
[x] Judith E Innes and David E. Booher, Planning with Complexity: An Introduction to Collaborative Rationality for Public Policy (New York: Routledge, 2010); John M. Bryson, Strategic Planning For Public and Nonprofit Organizations, 3rd Edition: A Guide to Strengthening and Sustaining Organizational Achievement (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 2004).
[xi] Shannon Chance, “Strategic by Design: Iterative Approaches to Educational Planning,” Planning for Higher Education 38.2 (2010): 40–54.
[xvi] See Anya Kamenetz, Generation Debt: Why Now is a Terrible Time to be Young” (New York: New York: Riverhead Books/Penguin, 2006).
[xvii] John Aubrey Douglass, “Re-Imagining California Higher Education,” Center for the Studies of Higher Education, Research & Occasional Paper Series, 14.10 (October 2010), p. 2.
[xviii] Ansel Adams and Nancy Newhall, Fiat Lux: The University of California (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1967), p. 5.