Michael Brown, elected Academic Senate chair in September, began his UC career more than 30 years ago as a student at the Irvine campus.
The son of a U.S. Air Force serviceman and a licensed vocational nurse, Brown was born at the old Parks military base outside Pleasanton and largely grew up in San Bernardino. He credits his parents for instilling a love for education in him.
"My dad called himself a fugitive from reform school," Brown said. "He didn't have a high school education. He enlisted, lying about his age, and, when he got out of the service, he went to a business college. My parents believed in education and made sure all their children went to a four-year college."
The Brown children all earned their educations at public institutions. One brother and a sister graduated from UC San Diego and UCLA respectively, and another brother from the University of Kansas. Brown earned a bachelor's in psychology at UC Irvine and master's and doctorate degrees in counseling psychology at Southern Illinois University – Carbondale. In 1993, after teaching at Ball State and Wayne State universities, Brown joined the faculty at UC Santa Barbara's Gevirtz Graduate School of Education in the Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology Program, now a department.
He is a fellow in the American Psychological Association and focuses on research issues related to career counseling for ethnic and racial minorities.
Brown has a long track record of service on department, campus and systemwide committees including a 16-month term as vice chair of the Academic Senate.
"Michael Brown epitomizes the word ebullient," said William Drummond, journalism professor and chair of the UC Berkeley division of the Academic Senate. "That means he has an energetic and almost effervescent personality, and it's affecting everyone around him."
Drummond decribes Brown as down to earth and willing to ask for advice. Academic Senate meetings are filled with raucous laughter thanks to Brown's sense of humor, Drummond said, and there's a great sense of teamwork.
"Michael wants to educate kids," said Drummond. "I think that's the wellspring from which this ebullience springs."
Brown himself sees tremendous challenges ahead for the University of California. Here ihe answers questions about the future of our university and the faculty's role in shaping it.
Q: What issues are facing the Academic Senate?
A: There are huge challenges in terms of our public standing with respect to the budget and our public mission. The faculty has expressed great concerns about salary uncompetitiveness, not just for faculty but also for staff and our graduate students. We're also concerned about the stratification of our campuses and the corporatization of them, largely as a consequence of an eroding level of public support.
The faculty has expressed a view that there's a great need to better state our case to the general public and to be responsive to what the public expects of us.
I would like to think this would be solved in the next day or two, but these challenges require a concerted and sustained effort.
Q: How does the faculty fit into this effort?
Whatever UC is, it's because of its faculty. They are the ones closest to our mission of teaching, research and public service that actually happens in our classrooms, labs and clinics.
The plate is full of things to do. The challenges are great but UC is a great institution. I think it speaks highly of the greatness of the university that we have great challenges to meet.
Q: What are some of these challenges?
There are the restructuring efforts of the Regents and the Office of the President to show we're handling our resources correctly. Faculty want to make sure with all the shuffling and reorganizing that we can still effectively maintain our institution. Some functions may devolve to the campuses. We want to make sure that what comes to the campuses comes with resources to handle it.
The faculty has a huge stake in the choice of the next institutional leader. This person needs to inspire and generate the confidence of the university faculty, students and staff and the international community. UC has a global reputation. We think that person will be critically important in efforts to address the effect our state's fiscal woes have on the university.
Q: What can individual faculty members do?
These are important times for faculty to step up. We stabilize this institution. We call it to a sense of community. We are here not just for ourselves but for our students. We teach the students. We motivate, we inspire, we do all those things and we need to do it more because we are so greatly challenged. Help where you can and don't think any task is too small. Maybe we can turn this thing around.
The challenges we face have not quite affected our classes yet – but the eroding forces are there. We need to stave that off. We can't let that happen. We need to pull together to fight for the ideals that make this university.
Q: What motivates you?
What UC represents to me and so many others is hope – hope to better oneself and better the community and to make a contribution beyond your own life and family. Anyone with chutzpah and hard work can take this wonderful university education and rise to make great contributions not just to their own life but also to the world.