One of UC’s most influential officials will visit campus on Tuesday, giving staff and students an opportunity to air their grievances amidst recent cuts to athletics and other campus programs.
UC Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lawrence H. Pitts will address UC Davis students and staff at an open forum on Tuesday at the ARC Ballroom. His visit is part of a UC-wide tour in which Pitts will appear at each campus hoping to better understand the issues and needs of the various UC communities.
“Since we have almost no students or faculty at [the Office of the President], I welcome the chance to talk directly with campus groups to get their thoughts and suggestions about how to help the University move forward during these difficult budgetary times,” Pitts said in an e-mail interview.
As Provost, Pitts currently serves as the highest-ranking academic officer in the UC system, earning an annual salary of $350,000, though the UC furlough system has temporarily reduced his pay to $315,000. He is responsible for systemwide academic affairs, which entails setting academic policies for student admission, retention, graduation and developing academic priorities as well as long-range plans to maintain UC’s position as a leading public research institution.
Some campus community members expressed skepticism towards the intentions behind Pitts’ visit.
“Shared governance in the university is a sham,” said Dr. Jerold Theis, professor in the department of medical microbiology and immunology at the UC Davis School of Medicine and vocal critic of the UC administration. “All the power lies within the administration, the Academic Senate can only recommend. All substantive recommendations by the Academic Senate on the [UC Davis] campus in at least the last five years have been ignored by the administrative officers.”
Theis, who said he will not attend the forum, does not see anything extraordinary about Pitts’ visit.
“It is in Pitts’ own best interest to maintain the status quo, that is why his forum will offer placations and vague promises,” Theis said. “Looking to any of the sitting officers for substantive change is useless. What this place needs is a high colonic irrigation.”
Darcy Ward, a fourth year neurobiology, physiology and behavior major who organized last Wednesday’s demonstration in response to athletic cuts, expressed frustration after UC Davis’ decision to eliminate four athletic teams, including the women’s rowing team, of which she is a member.
“At the time of the protest, we were frustrated with the athletic department’s closed door policy making,” Ward said, noting that administrators claimed the decisions surrounding athletic cuts were too complex to be understood by student and coaches.
“These administrators are supposed to be mentors, people we can look up to as role models, for advice and guidance, and yet they are telling us we are too stupid to know what is going on,” Ward added.
Ward plans to attend Tuesday’s student forum, hoping for any sign of some transparency in the UC system.
On Tuesday, Pitts may be faced with many other students upset over the recent athletic cuts.
Though he has only held the official title of Provost since the regents’ last meeting, Pitts served as the interim Provost beginning in February 2009. At the regent’s meeting in late March, UC President Mark Yudof recommended Pitts’ permanent appointment to the position, a decision the board agreed with.
“Larry is an accomplished academic leader, and a passionate and able advocate for UC and higher public education generally,” Yudof said in a public statement.
Tuesday’s event begins with a staff open forum from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. followed by a student open forum from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Pitts will meet with the Academic Federation from 2 to 3 p.m., and the Academic Senate from 3 to 4 p.m.
Pitts acknowledged the increasing burden budget cuts have placed on UC students.
“The stresses on students, including huge increases in fees and reduced class offerings in some cases, should not be part of the student experience,” he said.
Pitts also responded to the recent UC student protests.
“I believe the student demonstrations have actually helped the public understand how much trouble public higher education is in,” he said. “I wish students didn’t have to demonstrate, but I understand why they feel they must.”
In addition to meeting with students, staff and faculty, Pitts will meet separately with the UC Davis vice chancellors, deans and the Academic Senate’s Executive Council.
MEGAN MURPHY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.