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National CrossTalk Fall 1999
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2 of 5 Stories

Changes at "Oxford on the Pacific"
UC Santa Cruz turns to engineering and technology

By Kay Mills

Santa Cruz, California

THE UNIVERSITY OF California established its campus among the redwoods at Santa Cruz in the 1960s as an experimental alternative to the megaversity—the big, impersonal campuses like Berkeley or UCLA. Today, looking at UC Santa Cruz 36 years along, an outsider would say the campus is undergoing delayed growing pains as it tries to develop a presence in Silicon Valley, expand its engineering school, and double its graduate program even as undergraduate enrollment pressures increase .

But insiders here would say that there has been a rolling reassessment almost since day one—about engineering, about the role of the distinctive residential colleges, about the “narrative evaluation” system in lieu of traditional letter grades. UC Santa Cruz always has been experimental, said Manuel Pastor, himself a Santa Cruz graduate and now professor of Latin American and Latino studies. “The question now is, What’s experimental?”

Debate over changing the grading system occupied much of the faculty Academic Senate’s time last year. This year the ongoing reassessment is focusing more on the proposed Silicon Valley center. UC Santa Cruz Chancellor M.R.C. Greenwood has put her considerable energy behind giving UC a presence in an area that is producing cutting-edge technological change.

The dream moved a giant step forward last October when the University of California and NASA formally announced a partnership to create a research and development campus at Moffett Field near San Jose. Santa Cruz is the lead UC campus involved in the planning. Greenwood and others are excited about the possibilities for everything from nanotechnology (the extreme miniaturization of technology) and labor market studies (especially among the large Latino population), to recruitment of more first-generation college students who otherwise might not consider UC.

But some faculty members are concerned about planning for the center. They want to know who would teach there, whether a “UC-quality education” can be offered without considerable subsidies from programs on the Santa Cruz campus, and how many students, especially undergraduates, such a campus might realistically accommodate.

The UC Santa Cruz Academic Senate voted in March to ask the administration to work with its relevant committees on the timeline for producing and putting into effect a comprehensive academic plan for the new center. Part of the hoped-for “mutual agreement” would include the chance for the full senate “to express its support for that plan before it is implemented,” a polite way of reminding the administration of the faculty role in shared governance.

To understand better this debate about where UC Santa Cruz is going, one first must know where it has been. Clark Kerr, president of the UC system when it added three new campuses (in San Diego, Irvine and on the Cowell Ranch overlooking Monterey Bay at Santa Cruz), and Dean McHenry, the first UC Santa Cruz chancellor, had roomed together as graduate students at Stanford. They argued about the merits of small colleges like Swarthmore, where Kerr had done his undergraduate work, and large institutions like UCLA, which McHenry had attended. “We would always end up after our discussions and disputes saying, Would it not be nice someday to combine the advantages of the big campus providing the library, the research facilities, the cultural programs, and the small campus intimacy among students and among faculty members?” Kerr later said.

  Students discuss “self and society,” in a core course for freshmen residents of Adlai Stevenson, one of nine residential colleges at UC Santa Cruz.
At Santa Cruz, they tried to do just that. The heart of their plan was concentration on undergraduate studies, and the heart of that emphasis was the residential colleges. Each college would have from 250 to 1,000 students, with faculty members drawn from many fields. Each college was—and still is—headed by a provost, a tenured faculty member. Each college had its own classrooms, dining hall and residential dormitories. The colleges offered some courses, as did academic departments then (but no longer) called boards of studies. The original plan envisioned 15 to 20 colleges and as many as 27,500 students. The emphasis would be on the social sciences and humanities but there also would be professional schools, such as engineering.

For its first few years, UC Santa Cruz was the place to be. But as Harry Berger, Jr., retired professor of English literature who was one of the original faculty members, said, “Dreams are just that, dreams.” The UC Board of Regents fired Kerr in 1967, McHenry retired in 1974, the baby boom leveled off, voters in 1978 passed Proposition 13 that curtailed state revenue and thus spending, and neither Governors Ronald Reagan nor Jerry Brown was a great pal of the university. By 1975, enrollment was 5,500; it grew by fewer than 900 students over the next decade. The town of Santa Cruz, once an ardent suitor of the campus, grew cold to plans for its growth.

Veteran faculty sing the praises of those early students. They were bright, willing to take academic risks, delighted to be free of “grade grubbing,” and engaging to teach. One retired math professor remembers that UC Santa Cruz was attracting the best students in California, with seven times as many applicants as could be admitted. But long hair and love beads, protests and pot soon reigned on many campuses across the country, Santa Cruz not least among them. Rightly or wrongly, UC Santa Cruz soon was perceived as eccentric, odd, out of step, as many students looked at college as their ticket to better jobs rather than to development of inquiring minds. That, and several murders in the area in the early ’70s, caused many parents to send theirchildren elsewhere.

The media had flocked to tell the campus story —Time magazine called it “Oxford on the Pacific”—so the faculty never had to work hard to project its view of this experiment. When the story started to change, people committed to the dream were flummoxed. “The caricature of this place was not this place,” said Todd Newberry, retired biology professor. If he had it to do over, he said, he would leap at the chance again to be one of the founding faculty members. “But I would be much more robust about telling the world what we were doing.” Changes that began to occur at UC Santa Cruz were reflecting a national trend, “but our intention was to take cognizance of national trends but not to follow them, to show better ways.”

Dean Sung-Mo (“Steve”) Kang has ambitious plans for expanding the UC Santa Cruz engineering school. 
Another early faculty member was Stanley Williamson, who was teaching chemistry at UC Berkeley when Kerr and McHenry began to put together the nucleus of people for UC Santa Cruz. Williamson participated in those early planning discussions. Many of his graduate school classmates, he said, have had top industry and academic jobs but “none of them has had the chance to start something from scratch” like UC Santa Cruz. “When I came here, there was not a beaker on this campus.”

Retired now but still teaching occasionally, Williamson is optimistic about UC Santa Cruz’ future in the Silicon Valley. “It’s going to do both of us a lot of good. It’s a drag that it’s 40 miles away and that there’s an impossible mountain in between. But other than that I see an all-win situation, especially since the state is red hot to fund it, and not red hot to fund a lot these days.”

Reassessment at UC Santa Cruz accelerated in the late 1970s after McHenry retired. There were several short-term chancellors, then Robert Sinsheimer arrived as chancellor from Cal Tech, where he had chaired the biology department. Sinsheimer saw flaws in the residential college system—what some call the “Noah’s Ark Principle” of having two biologists, two historians, and so forth. He moved faculty pay, hiring and tenure decisions to the departments and set about a program of “normalization.”

“Everyone felt, rightly or wrongly, that Sinsheimer was brought in to shape us up,” Todd Newberry said. “No one was tending to the image. We never attempted to sell the place as truly alternative in the best sense of the word. Once UC Santa Cruz saw its image problem, it apologized,” he added. “The campus made a headlong dive for respectability instead of sticking by what I thought we did very well.”

“We weren't really as foolish as people thought,” said John Dizikes, who taught history for 35 years at UC Santa Cruz. The first administrators and faculty didn’t think they were recreating a college at Oxford or the Harvard houses but something that partook of elements at those places to provide “a serious, intense learning experience” in the sciences as well as the humanities. “The audacious aspect was to do it within a state university system, especially a very big one,” Dizikes said.

Newer faculty and the current chancellor think the original UC Santa Cruz colleges were not a sustainable vision. “The implications of the residential colleges were never financially costed out,” said Greenwood. It wasn’t possible to hire people college-by-college instead of through academic departments and maintain faculty credibility. “Kerr and McHenry had the philosophy right but, in my view, they had the financing wrong.” As one professor said, the same small college faculty lacked expertise to hire a physicist, a psychologist and a poet.

Fast forward to today. UC Santa Cruz is opening two new colleges, the first since 1972. College Nine admitted its first students last fall, with more expected once additional housing is completed this fall. College Ten is expected to open next year. An advisory group, convened to examine the state of the colleges, reported last fall that they are still effective units for organizing services for students and helping them develop a sense of place at the university. But “their profile as academic units has declined as the college curricula have been reduced and faculty affiliation with colleges has become of less significance.”

UC Santa Cruz has been directed by the UC president to enroll 16,900 students by 2010 to help absorb an anticipated growth of 63,000 students statewide. Its enrollment this academic year is 12,124. The campus’ long-range development plan, negotiated with the city of Santa Cruz, calls for 15,000 students. Even that number seems too high for some in the city and in Santa Cruz County who already complain about campus-generated traffic and the tight housing market. UC Santa Cruz administrators hope to accommodate some of the extra students at the Silicon Valley center, but no one knows how many because the academic plan has not been drawn up. Expansion of summer school is also under consideration.

If people know one thing about UC Santa Cruz, usually it is that they haven’t given grades in the past. Instead, students have received “narrative evaluations.” These written assessments discuss how well a student performed, whether he or she participated in class, how writing skills may have improved, what material was mastered, and where there were weaknesses.

This system is evolving, too. For several years students have been able to receive letter grades if they wish and, thus, grade point averages that some consider necessary for admission to graduate schools, especially professional schools such as law or medicine. After more debate, the faculty voted last year to start a mandatory letter-grade system for freshmen entering this fall. Narrative evaluations will continue as well.

Senior lecturer Carol Freeman, who heads the UC Santa Cruz writing program, chairs the Academic Senate Committee on Educational Policy, through which much of the grading discussion flowed. She likes the narrative evaluations herself and hopes the university can maintain both systems. “We don't know yet what effect this latest change will have,” she admitted. For their part, students “vociferously and, I would add, very intelligently supported maintaining narrative evaluations,” she added.

Many undergraduates found UC Santa Cruz attractive because of the narrative evaluations and see the latest move as another step away from them. Whitney Owens, a senior from Chico, California, who is majoring in history, plans to go to graduate school in a year or so and is not worried that having only narrative evaluations will make her less appealing to admissions committees. “To the contrary, they’ll have a better view of what kind of student I am,” Owens said, adding that she has never once taken a UC Santa Cruz course for grades. “I’m quite upset that they’ve instituted mandatory grades. I think students will be hurt by that.”

One element of the early days that has survived is the core course for freshmen. It may not be as freewheeling as the famed “chicken course” taught by Cowell College’s first provost, historian Page Smith, and biologist Charles Daniel, in which students examined the evolution of the chicken set against a historical perspective. But it still places freshmen in small seminars in their residential college with the same reading list throughout their college. For example, Stevenson College’s theme this past winter was “self and society,” for which students read Machiavelli and Shakespeare, the Seneca Falls convention’s declaration on women’s rights, and Nigerian Nobel laureate Chinua Achebe, among others.

If events in the early ’60s had turned out differently, there might be no need to establish a UC presence in the Silicon Valley because it might already exist. One of the two proposed sites for the new campus was in Santa Clara County, now popularly known as Silicon Valley, the incubator of the computer revolution. However, the UC regents made their site visit on a hot day. They found the redwoods and sea breezes along the Pacific Ocean in Santa Cruz much more inviting.

Computer scientist R. Michael Tanner is interim director of the planned UC Santa Cruz technology research center at Moffett Field, in the Silicon Valley. 
But Chancellor Greenwood and many others at UC Santa Cruz are optimistic that UC soon will have its billboard on US 101, the freeway across the heart of high-tech land. “The research capacity should have already been in the Silicon Valley,” Greenwood said. “This is the heart of the new economy."

Greenwood, a biologist, has been the chancellor at Santa Cruz since 1996. A Vassar College graduate, she earned her Ph.D. at Rockefeller University. She taught at Vassar and UC Davis before holding several administrative posts at that campus, followed by 18 months as associate director for science at the Office of Science and Technology during the Clinton Administration.

The idea for a Silicon Valley center obviously did not spring up fully formed moments before the announcement of the NASA link. A millennium committee, established by the chancellor to guide UC Santa Cruz into the new century, touted the idea of forming more partnerships outside Santa Cruz but still within the campus’ designated region of service, which includes Santa Clara County. Silicon Valley had a great deal to offer, the committee said, in terms of technology, business organization and changing demographics.

As the university became more serious about the proposal, it identified a preferred site at NASA Ames, received $1.1 million from the state for planning, and named R. Michael Tanner as the regional center’s interim director. Tanner, a computer sciences professor, had previously served as UC Santa Cruz’ academic vice chancellor and executive vice chancellor. NASA, which will work with the UC system on research in astrobiology, biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology at the research park, also committed itself to making 25 of that park’s 213 acres available to UC Santa Cruz.

Tanner said the center still faces the challenge of pulling everything together— an environmental impact report, a master plan for buildings and an estimate of accompanying capital expenses, an academic plan and an operating budget. The environmental impact report and the master plan for the center should go to the UC Regents for consideration this fall, Tanner said.

The Academic Senate Committee on Planning and Budget raised some of the faculty’s concerns about the Silicon Valley center in reports last year and this, urging in late January that the senate be “proactive,” and “set deadlines for the actions we expect of our administration at this critical moment in the development of UC Santa Cruz.”

In February the Academic Senate considered two resolutions through which it would assert itself more firmly in the planning process. One faculty member said later that some had considered these resolutions “unfriendly and critical.” No votes were taken at that session. When the Senate met again in early March, it was obvious that much scurrying and redrafting had occurred. A revised resolution outlining the hoped-for cooperation between faculty and administration passed easily.

“Often something provocative happens that gets people to the place where we can all work on this,” Chancellor Greenwood said after the vote. She felt progress had been made, and said the earlier discussion may have caught the attention of people who had not been paying attention.


John Hay, a professor of art history and chairman of the planning and budget committee, said he was pleased as well. “It was an example of the senate working the way that it should,” he said. Now, he believes UC Santa Cruz can advance the planning for the Silicon Valley center in a constructive way.

“At no point were we interested in shutting things down over there,” said Roger Anderson, a chemistry professor who as president of the Academic Senate sits ex officio on the planning and budget committee. But faculty members, he said, had been concerned about whether people would be assigned to teach at the new center, whether whole programs would be moved there, and how “student growth could be managed in such a way that we can keep the research and quality balance we need on campus.”

Scientists and technology mavens aren’t the only ones who see bright prospects for this center. Manuel Pastor, who co-chaired one of UC Santa Cruz’ Silicon Valley exploratory committees, believes there is a full range of issues that faculty and students could examine there. San Jose has an active labor movement, a business class that appears forward looking, and “exactly the kind of students we should be seeking,” many of them in their families’ first generation to consider college. So despite some professors’ qualms about the new center, Pastor added, “The idea that this is somehow a place where we shouldn’t be is foreign to me.”

The Silicon Valley center exists mainly on paper and in people’s heads now. Meantime, a highly visible expansion is occurring in UC Santa Cruz’ engineering program. In 1997, the campus formally established its engineering school, although it already had offered some computer engineering and computer science courses. The original concept for UC Santa Cruz included plans for a school of engineering, but the university dropped the idea when a committee headed by Stanford’s Fred Terman in the late 1960s said in effect that California already had enough engineers. With the help of $7 million in gifts from builder Jack Baskin, the engineering school now is expanding its size and scope.

Today the Baskin School of Engineering, as it has been renamed, has 52 faculty, 159 graduate students and 307 declared undergraduate majors. Its dean, Sung-Mo (“Steve”) Kang, new to UC Santa Cruz in January, has an ambitious plan to expand the faculty to 100 or 110 by 2005 and to double student enrollment even sooner. There are three areas which UC Santa Cruz is well poised to develop, he believes: information technology, biotechnology and nanotechnology. This work “can make significant contributions to the wellbeing of human beings,” he said.

Another area of change, less visible in bricks and mortar but real nonetheless, is graduate education. That level “has always been an afterthought on this campus until now,” according to Frank Talamantes, who became dean of graduate programs last August after teaching at UC Santa Cruz since 1974. He has the responsibility of doubling the number of graduate students, probably over ten years. Today there are 1,077 graduate students, or nine percent of the UC Santa Cruz student body; at UC Berkeley, by contrast, 27 percent are graduate students.

One of the reasons that Talamantes came to Santa Cruz, he said, was the opportunity, at a young campus, to try to change the culture to get more women and minorities into the sciences. A similar attraction brought Francisco Hernandez, vice chancellor for student affairs, to UC Santa Cruz. He believes that the residential college experience helps orient children of minorities and immigrants to university life.

Minority representation in the UC Santa Cruz student body—that is, African American, Latino and Native American students—has gone from 12.3 percent in fall 1989 to 15.7 percent in fall 1999, according to the California Postsecondary Education Commission. In that same period, both UC Berkeley and UCLA lost minority population.

Hernandez said the university is working with high schools in the region to increase the pool of minority applicants as well as the number eligible for acceptance. To those students who may think they want to stay in an urban area, Hernandez says, “If you want tar and lights and no trees, that’s readily available just over the mountain.” But he thinks many students need to be away from home and that if the university brings them to see the Santa Cruz campus, they may be hooked.

Runners at UC Santa Cruz, where groves of redwood trees and Pacific Ocean breezes are powerful student recruiting tools. 
UC Santa Cruz may be at one of the many turning points it has faced since Kerr and McHenry dreamed of their academic “city on a hill.” William A. Ladusaw, professor of linguistics and provost of Cowell College, said that universities in general and UC Santa Cruz specifically face many challenges today. “This is not a period when we can blithely carry on on inertia,” he said.

Nationally, Ladusaw said, research universities are reassessing their relationship with industry. In the past, universities liked to think of themselves as the incubators of change, but much of the technological innovation today is going on in industry. So a place like UC Santa Cruz must consider how it can best serve California: by teaching just students 18 to 22 years old, or by viewing its service to the state and its educational mission more broadly.

Another national trend involves reassessment of the ways in which curricular material is presented to students. Computerized or televised “distance learning” already is changing the role of the faculty member. But one of UC Santa Cruz’ core values involves intimacy—smaller-scale operations than undergraduates might find at other campuses. So, Ladusaw said, UC Santa Cruz also is wrestling with the question: “What’s the warm-and-fuzzy Santa Cruz way to do distance learning?”

A bigger question hovers over all these debates, Ladusaw added, one of basic outlook. “Are we abandoning the past or are we reinventing ourselves?” If one thing is clear, it is that UC Santa Cruz will go on debating this question for years to come.

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