Chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles
United States of America

Vice Chancellor Economou proposes to change the process by which the funds used to support UCLA research centers are allocated.

We are requesting that the Chancellor and Executive Vice Chancellor drop all plans to implement this ill-conceived and disastrous plan.

Dear Chancellor Block and Executive Vice Chancellor Waugh:

We understand that you are now considering implementation of Vice Chancellor Economou’s revised “Proposal For Rendering Function 44 Resource Allocation Transparent and Equitable.”

We, the undersigned, believe that the Economou proposal will have a disastrous impact on UCLA’s research infrastructure, and its capacity to pursue the campus-wide priorities of research, diversity, civic engagement, and financial security.

The Economou proposal will have the immediate impact of eliminating numerous campus structures and units that fund faculty research and student training and support, at a time when our faculty and students are already under a grave threat of diminishing budgetary support. Our chief concerns are as follows:

1. The Economou proposal limits the university’s ability to build capacity in areas that are campus-wide priorities by assigning to individual Deans and Vice Provosts the responsibility for forwarding proposals to be considered for function 44 support. The perspective of Deans/Vice Provosts is necessarily parochial, which the proposal’s project–focused approach merely amplifies. At the same time, however, a dean’s discretion over ultimate deployment of these resources to support divisional needs is also reduced, since decisions concerning allotments will be made by a yet to be determined external review committee. The expected consequence of such a process is that a set of short-lived projects will secure funding and more programmatic campus needs will remain unmet.

2. The Economou proposal completely discounts the broader essential roles that function 44 funding has played at UCLA by focusing entirely on project-specific endeavors. Our campus organized research units and research centers have deployed their resources across all sectors of campus to advance the hiring and progression of underrepresented faculty, to facilitate student progress and training, to support fund-raising, and to further linguistic development, interdisciplinarity, international linkages, archival and library development, and linkages with socially and politically important constituencies outside UCLA. These campus research units also forge community ties, enhance community trust, and promote civic engagement of faculty and students, all of which are crucial factors in UCLA’s broader goals. These pursuits have built the university campus infrastructures that support scholarship and research development holistically while simultaneously engaging community support for university-wide initiatives. To casually dismiss them as 'entitlement' programs ignores years of internal and external reviews that affirm these centers' significant contributions to their respective fields and the broader campus community.

3. Vice Chancellor Economou’s proposed three-year review cycle effectively precludes competition by small units that do not have large administrative structures (often supported in larger units by other pots of general funds). Therefore, the proposal applies a model of research exploration and development that is more consistent with South Campus funding models, but more elusive in North Campus research activity and support. External funding levels for the latter essentially preclude support of the infrastructure necessary to compete under the proposed new rules.

4. The Economou proposal privileges projects that will have ready access to external funding (i.e., emphasis on investment return). However, historically, the broad based use of function 44 funds at UCLA has served to adjust in some sense for the fact that certain valued sectors of the academy simply cannot attract significant levels of external funding for operational support. This is an extremely valued function for university administration that will not be fulfilled elsewhere. The kinds of projects that can readily identify potential funders do not need access to the limited function 44 funds. Indeed, many of the entities listed in earlier versions of the proposal as being deprived of function 44 funding (i.e., 8 units, including the Anderson School of Management, the School of Law, and the School of Public Health) are simply not in desperate straits regarding research support. Telling in this regard is the recent Report on the 2010-11 UCLA Faculty Welfare Survey, which examined the impact of budget cuts on faculty morale, productivity and retention. It found that not a single member of the Anderson faculty respondents “expressed a concern about any of the potential effects” of budget cuts on research. Moreover 2/3 of management faculty, followed by half of the law faculty reported that they were not affected in any way by budget cuts.

5. The Economou proposal represents a de facto disestablishment of all Organized Research Units (ORUs) and so-called “small c” centers on this campus, since these units would relinquish all support within 3 years, and, even if successful upon application, could expect no more than 6 years of support from the SRSI. This is in direct conflict with long-established policies and practices, which require an academic or fiscal rationale for disestablishment of an ORU. As indicated in the report of the Research Centers Task Force (2010), the vast majority of ORUs received stellar assessments in the external and internal academic reviews that were conducted by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. With respect to fiscal exigencies, this proposal does not argue that the proposed changes are due to financial constraints. Rather, it argues that others should have an opportunity to “compete” for funds long-designated for other purposes.

6. Though the Economou proposal is framed in terms of a “fairness” doctrine, in truth the impact of implementation will be disproportionately felt in sectors of the campus that have already been severely affected by university and societal budget woes. This proposal directly threatens a host of grant programs offered by the affected centers, including Title VI language fellowships, ethnic studies research and training, women’s studies research and training, labor studies, international studies, and a host of other programs that annually distribute millions of dollars to our campus constituencies. Furthermore, these institutions bring in research grants that provide indirect costs to their divisions. The project-specific focus, and limited scope of the proposed initiative will not and cannot replace these revenue sources. The elimination of the core administrative units that allow these institutions to survive effectively destroys their ability to maintain these valued campus resources and research infrastructures. Moreover, and critically, this proposal eliminates the abilities of many units to meet the commitments to their endowments—thereby jeopardizing yet another crucial source of campus support.

We also have very serious concerns about the manner in which the Economou proposal was developed. The bodies that are credited with drafting the initiative (as listed on earlier versions of the document) are simply not representative of either campus scholarship more broadly, or the interests embodied by the many areas of research supported by the currently funded research units. The OVCR Cabinet has solid representation from the Center for Health Sciences (both associate VCRs and 4 of the 8 Assistant VCRs). Likewise, the Academic Senate Council on Research (ASCR) has only 2 of 11 members who are not from the science/engineering complex. There is no representation on either the OVCR Cabinet or ASCR by the sectors of campus and scholarly knowledge that we represent.

As others have noted earlier (please see responses to the earlier draft in the appendix of the revised proposal), we find no compelling rationale in the Economou proposal or earlier versions for targeting the function 44 fiscal category, rather than any other pool of discretionary funding on campus. In fact, function 44 funds are used to support concerns beyond the research centers targeted by this proposal, including operational support for certain deans.

Given the crucial role of function 44 funding for campus-wide priorities and interests, we strongly believe that their distribution should remain the Chancellor’s responsibility, as currently structured. If a more effective review structure is needed to ensure that the funding has been most effectively deployed, then that aspect of the process should be examined. To essentially destroy the ability of the campus research infrastructure to continue to build capacity in the areas served by the existing centers seems shortsighted, counter-productive, and likely to undermine UCLA's long-term interests.

We believe that Vice Chancellor Economou’s proposal is simply unacceptable. It will clearly have a very dramatic, deleterious, and disproportionate impact on the sectors of this campus that are already resource-thin. We implore you to halt any attempts to implement such an ill-conceived plan.

The UCLA Petition Against Economou Function 44 Proposal petition to Chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles was written by Righteous Cause and is in the category Education at GoPetition.