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“Uses of the University 2050” an All-UC Charrette

From February 23-26, 2012 colleagues from throughout the UC system will come to UC Santa Barbara to discuss the future of the University of California. The meeting has been organized by Professors Catherine Cole (UCB), a board member of the Berkeley Faculty Association, and Ann Bermingham (UCSB), the Acting Director of the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center.

The project is inspired by the thirty-year history of All-UC Faculty Conferences that took place between 1944 to 1976 and in which faculty from all campuses and all disciplines came together for two days to discuss a topic of system-wide importance. At the end of these conferences the deliberations were presented to the President of the University. The upcoming Santa Barbara meeting, while not officially convened by the Academic Senate (as were past all-UC faculty conferences), nevertheless draws upon and invokes this UC tradition. It is intended to stimulate faculty re-engagement in envisioning the future of the University.

In addressing questions of long-term institutional significance, the meeting will use an iterative planning process known as a “charrette.” Charrettes were introduced as part of urban design in America starting in the mid-1960s, and they have now become an established practice to enlist community participation in planning, designing, and visioning. While not a panacea, charrettes represent a method of approaching the future– with all of its uncertainties–that is worthy of consideration in higher education.

Catherine Cole explains: “We want to see if the charrette method can help enlist faculty productively and effectively in addressing the complex and difficult problems that public higher education faces today. We also approach the weekend with the assumption that finances are only part of the UC’s present problems. The larger questions we must address are about institutional vision. Our challenges cannot be addressed by fiscal management alone.”

While the fiscal crisis cannot be overlooked, the organizers of the charrette believe that our problems arise from a crisis in vision as much as they do from lack of revenue. The University of California is in reaction mode. While the administration is reacting to the dramatic state de-funding of public education, many faculty and students are preoccupied with reacting to the administration’s reactions. The charrette organizers contend that reactions alone are unlikely to create a future that any of us reallywantto inhabit. “We are all so myopically preoccupied with the current crises,” Cole observes, “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 are only coping. And we’re barely doing that.”

The charrette is called “The Uses of the University 2050,” taking its title from Clark Kerr’s famous collection of essays on the University of California. The date of 2050 was chosen to stimulate long-term thinking.

To prepare for the charrette participants have read Kerr’s book and have had preliminary seminars on it. “Kerr’s book is a blue print of the modern research university, and it explains how the UC came to be the institution it is,” observes Ann Bermingham.

How will UC need to change to meet the challenges of 2050? How can it best serve the needs of the citizens of California? How can it remain a public institution? Is the University best served by remaining a single system with a central administration? What is the place of undergraduate education within the research university? These are some of the questions that need to be considered as the institution goes forward. Unlike the recent Commission on the Future convened by the UC Regents, or Kerr’s legendary California Master Plan of Higher Education, the upcoming charrette to be held at UCSB is a participatory, interdisciplinary, ground-up mode of planning, and one that makes use of a broad range of faculty experience and expertise. Faculty from all ten campuses and from Colleges of Letters and Sciences, as well as professional schools will participate. “My hope is that participants in the UCSB charrette will return to their campuses invigorated and inspired to continue the charrette process on their own campuses as together we plan and make the UC’s future,” says Bermingham.

The organizers have been successful in attracting support for the charrette from the UC-California Studies Consortium Systemwide Workshop, the University of California Humanities Research Institute, UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang, UCSB Executive Vice Chancellor Gene Lucas, UCSB College of Letters and Science Executive Dean David Marshall, the UCSB Interdisciplinary Humanities Center, the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts, Berkeley Faculty Association, the UCSB Faculty Association, and the Berkeley Townsend Humanities Center Laboratory “Making UC Futures.” “We are tremendously grateful to the Berkeley Faculty Association for their interest and support,” said Catherine Cole.

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