|First lady Michelle Obama speaks at UC Merced's first commencment ceremony.|
By Terri Hunter-Davis
For the University of California, 2009 was filled with the trials of state funding slashes resulting in layoffs, furloughs and fee increases that brought about campus protests reminiscent of the 1960s.
In spite of those challenges, UC continued to achieve marks of distinction, among them Nobel honors, major advances in stem cell, energy and anthropology research. The year also brought a visit from a first lady and long-overdue recognition for students whose studies were derailed by World War II. Here are a few of the highlights of 2009 that demonstrate the role UC plays in serving the people of California and advancing the world's knowledge of science and health.
The new year was only a few days old when the financial bad news started. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed 2009-10 budget appropriation for UC fell millions short of what the university had requested. In a May 19 special election, voters nixed several propositions that would have generated new state revenue. As a result, the university's total budget gap grew to a projected $531 million. By the time of the election, UC already had frozen senior managers' salaries, cut bonuses and incentive pay, downsized the Office of the President, reduced freshman enrollment for 2009-10 and raised student fees by 9.3 percent. By summer, it became clear that the funding shortfall was far worse: $813 million. In July, the Regents approved a plan to enact systemwide furloughs, ranging from 11 to 26 days, depending on pay bracket — amounting to a salary reduction of 4 to 10 percent — over a 12-month period beginning Sept. 1, 2009. Cost-cutting efforts at campuses included layoffs and reducing faculty recruitment.
Stem cell breakthrough
Despite the funding cutbacks, UC researchers continued to lead the nation in high priority discoveries. Of the many developments in health and medical research throughout the year, one of the most significant came at the very start: UC Irvine announced in January that a therapy it developed would become the first embryonic stem cell treatment tested in humans. The treatment, based on stem cells that are destined to become spinal cord cells called oligodendriocytes, successfully enabled rats to overcome paralysis. The trial, conducted by Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., was set to include patients with a specific type of spinal cord damage.
Eligibility changes open UC doors to more Californians
At their February meeting, UC Regents approved significant changes to the university's requirements for freshman admission. Based on recommendations from UC's Academic Senate more students will have the opportunity to have their applications reviewed for admission. The new requirements are expected to widen the door of opportunity for many more high-achieving students from all ethnic and racial groups as well as those from low-performing schools. Based on 2007 data from the California Postsecondary Education Commission, it is estimated that 21.7 percent of California high school graduates would be entitled to a full review of their applications compared with 13.4 percent of graduates estimated to be UC eligible in 2007.The most significant change was the elimination of the SAT subject examinations as a requirement. Instead, applicants must take either the ACT with Writing or the SAT Reasoning Examination, thus aligning UC's test requirements more closely with those of other public universities. The changes will take effect for the fall 2012 entering class.
New nursing school approved
In March, the Regents approved the establishment of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, which will welcome its first students in fall 2010. The school is named in honor of the historic $100 million philanthropic grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. It is the nation's largest grant for nursing education. UC Davis is launching the new school with a vision to develop highly skilled and well-prepared nurses as leaders in health care to ensure patient safety, improve quality of care and health outcomes, guide policy decisions and discover knowledge to advance health.
Stimulus funds create jobs
With the national economy still reeling from the recession and California's budget deficit growing, spring brought UC a measure of hope: the release of money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. President Obama signed the stimulus act into law in February and began releasing funds to public schools and universities in April. Over the course of 2009, UC campuses would receive hundreds of millions of dollars to help fund research and other educational efforts. California businesses are benefiting as well: At the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, $38.2 million in Recovery Act subcontracts has been awarded; 58 percent of that has gone to small businesses.
The world's largest laser — perhaps the key to harnessing the immense power of the sun and stars to supply energy on Earth — was unveiled in May at the opening of the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Throughout the year, solar energy remained a high research priority. Researchers at UC Merced, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara are collaborating on a research program that aims to find ways to make solar energy more efficient and cheaper to utilize. The program is part of UC's Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives collaboration program, funded by the UC Office of the President.
UC Merced students launched a successful campaign to entice first lady Michelle Obama to address the inaugural graduation class at its first full commencement ceremony. It was a fitting honor for the 4-year-old campus, the 10th in the UC system.
|New UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann.
Two campuses announced new chancellors in the spring: Susan Desmond-Hellmann at UCSF, and Linda Katehi at UC Davis. Both assumed their new posts in August. The UC Regents named Paul Alivisatos director of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in November.
Accountability initiative documents excellence
The university took steps to ensure that standards of excellence are monitored and maintained, starting with the system's first accountability report, issued in July. The report presents 131 measures of university performance in 15 categories, including student success, financial aid, diversity, sustainability, research and budget. Numerous polls ranked UC campuses among their top colleges, providing external validation of the University of California's reputation for stellar learning and research.
Charting the future
July also saw the launch of the UC Commission on the Future. The commission held its first public forum in September. Its five work group held meetings at all 10 campuses through the fall. The commission closed the year with town hall meeting in December. The commission, co-chaired by UC President Mark Yudof and Regents Chair Russell Gould, is charged with shaping a far-reaching vision to ensure excellence and access to UC while addressing financial challenges resulting from the state's diminishing support for higher educaiton. Preliminary recommendations are expected in March 2010.
Responding to H1N1
The newly emerged H1N1, or swine flu, virus made an impact throughout the UC system. As the pandemic grew, UC began preparing for how its medical centers would treat cases and how campuses would deal with a potential public health threat as students began returning for classes in late August and September. At the same time, UC lab detectives stepped up efforts to understand how the virus mutates and spreads.
|UCSF's Elizabeth Blackburn won a Nobel prize for medicine.
In August UC Irvine celebrated the ribbon cutting ceremony for its School of Law and welcomed its inaugural class. These first 61 students were selected from more than 2,700 applicants and rank among the top 15 percent of first-year law student sin the nation. A generous donation from the Donald Bren Foundation launched the school and made it possible to give the inaugural class free tuition.
The 56th and 57th Nobel prizes awarded to UC researchers and faculty were given in October. Laureates included Elizabeth Blackburn of UCSF, for medicine or physiology; and Oliver Williamson of Berkeley, for economics. Carol Greider, who shared the award with Blackburn, studied under Blackburn at UC Berkeley and received her undergraduate degree at UC Santa Barbara. Elinor Ostrom, co-awardee with Williamson, received her undergraduate, master's and doctorate degrees at UCLA. At UC Berkeley, faculty members Lin He and Maneesh Agrawala were named MacArthur Fellows — bringing to 43 the number of Berkeley "genius" fellows since the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation instituted the awards in 1981.
Revising the family tree
A partial skeleton of humankind's oldest ancestor, the 4.4-million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus, or Ardi, was reconstructed by an international team of scientists that included professor Tim White of UC Berkeley. Until now, the oldest fossil skeleton of a human ancestor was the 3.2-million-year-old partial skeleton of Lucy, discovered in the Afar depression of Ethiopia, near Hadar, in 1974 and named Au. afarensis. Ardi's discovery revolutionizes our understanding of human evolution.
|Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas discusses the UC Regents' vote to reopen Martin Luther King Jr. hospital.|
Serving the underserved
The troubled Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital in Los Angeles, closed in August 2007, will be rebuilt; UC and Los Angeles County will create a private, nonprofit corporation to run the hospital. The UC Regents approved the partnership at their November meetings. The hospital, slated to reopen in phases starting in late 2012, will include a 120-bed facility, for which UC will provide physician services.
Preserving access in face of fee increases
The extreme state budget cutbacks forced Regents to increase student fees at their November meeting. Regents approved a $2,504 fee increase for undergraduates that will be implemented in two phases over 18 months. The first phase starts in January and increases fees $585 (and becomes annualized). A fee increase of $1,334 goes into effect for the 2010-11 summer/fall sessions. Following the fee vote, student protests erupted on the UCLA campus, where the Regents were meeting, as well as at Berkeley, Davis, Santa Cruz and at the UC Office of the President headquarters.
Despite the budget setbacks, the university sought to protect access for needy students through the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan. The financial aid program, first approved by the Regents in February, initially covered systemwide fees for undergraduates with incomes below $60,000. Regents raised the income ceiling to $70,000 at their November meeting, helping to reduce costs for as many as 52,000 UC. The university had already furthered its commitment to more financial assistance with the October launch of Project You Can. The four-year initiative aims to raise $1 billion for student support across all 10 UC campuses.
As the year drew to a close, an effort to right a long-ago wrong came to fruition. The UC Regents agreed, at their July meeting, to reverse the university's stance against granting honorary degrees, in order to recognize a very special group of students. They were Japanese-American students whose UC studies had been abruptly ended with the start of World War II and the enactment of Executive Order 9066, which led to the forced relocation of Japanese nationals and American citizens of Japanese heritage from the West Coast. At the time of the 1942 internment order, there were about 700 Japanese-American students enrolled at the four UC campuses then in existence: Berkeley, Davis, Los Angeles and San Francisco. All were forced to leave. Many never returned to UC; some earned their degrees from other universities; others never returned to college.
By December, commencement ceremonies had been set to grant degrees to the students (or their surviving families) at San Francisco, Davis and Berkeley (the Los Angeles commencement will be in spring 2010). As Frank Inami, who was a junior electrical engineering major at Berkeley in the spring of 1942, said: "I can proudly say I too have graduated from UC."