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“A decade ago, UCLA and Berkeley were receiving funding on a per-student basis that was comparable to USC and were in a position to compete on a selective basis with elite private universities,” former UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale told the Academic Senate (the body that represents the school’s faculty) at a private retreat in 2002. “The current resource gap could lead to a concomitant quality gap between these campuses. UCLA could [be unable to] compete with its current resource base.”
Carnesale’s warning focused on the long-term future, but the root of his concern is already at hand. At the time of the 2002 meeting, USC received $27,000 per student, mostly from tuition, and UCLA $18,000, mostly from state support. That concern has since spread throughout the faculty. Without mentioning USC by name, UCLA’s Academic Senate warned of a “competing private university’s” poaching attempt on the linguistics department. Another report suggested that “a slowdown in recruiting . . . along with reduction in staff and services has created a perception among the faculty that the unit is in decline,” and warned that UCLA was struggling to retain its faculty. The department heads wanted the resources to keep their best talent, and some felt they weren’t getting it.
Many at UCLA and USC complain that Los Angeles’ fast-growing housing costs have made it more difficult to recruit faculty from outside the area. As real estate prices in Los Angeles continue to outpace the rest of the country, both universities have realized it is often easier to conduct raids across town.
How many poaching attempts USC has conducted is uncertain; neither university is keen to publicize data that could depict it as either opportunistic or vulnerable. A UCLA spokesperson says that actual losses are low, though he was unable to document this with exact numbers. In any event, the attempted raid on UCLA’s linguistics department would not have counted in retention statistics, since Stowell’s dean stepped in before USC could make a dollars-and-cents offer.
There is no disputing the competition’s impact on the internal workings of both universities. For Stowell, the fact that UCLA pays so many of its faculty off-scale — in other words, retaining them by offering nonstandard salary raises even during state budget freezes — is itself an indication of the number of poaching attempts the university is fighting off. Rather than raise salaries across the board, the university has doled out big money to keep its stars.
“The upside is that this is the way the UCs have stayed competitive,” says Stowell. “The downside is that it has introduced inequities in the faculty.”
For the most part, the effort has kept UCLA’s brightest talent on board. Professor Terrence Tao became the first faculty member in university history to win a Fields Medal (the “Nobel Prize of mathematics”), soon followed by a MacArthur Fellowship. Though UCLA lost its international-relations-school dean to USC last year, it recently recruited general and former presidential candidate Wesley Clark as a fellow.
But talent is expensive, and faculty like Stowell say that other parts of the university must foot the bill. UCLA’s professional schools now cost nearly as much as those at comparable private institutions. Jared Fox, former president of UCLA’s Graduate Student Association, says his university is able to support fewer and fewer graduate students as a result.
“The common argument is that law-school students will be able to pay their loans back,” says Fox. “We’re seeing fewer and fewer who can afford to go into public service, which is one of the things that public universities are supposed to encourage.”
Lately, money woes have even extended to UC’s leadership. Since the fall of 2005, the regents have grappled with the fallout of a series of San Francisco Chronicle articles that raised questions about the system’s top administrative salaries. Congress has reprimanded the regents over their handling of compensation, as has the university’s own task force. At a recent regents meeting, UC student body president Anu Joshi harangued the university’s leadership for denying her the chance to speak on the issue at their meetings. Hours before, the UC’s systemwide Academic Senate went so far as to replace its head for the first time in history — some reports say it was because he failed to stress the faculty’s concerns to the regents.
To compensate for dwindling support, UCLA has raised student fees for four years running while maintaining its public mission by increasing aid to its neediest students. Regardless, last year, UCLA’s research funding was the second highest in the nation, according to a University of Florida study. USC ranked 24th, but its faculty is growing, and its departmental rankings are rising fast.
“The best parallel to USC is NYU,” says Kelley, who taught at New York University before Columbia. “Twenty-five years ago, NYU was considered a private service institution, nothing out of the ordinary. Then they said we’re going to spend our endowment on principal to buy top faculty, and they shot up overnight.”
On a chilly spring morning in March, billionaire real estate developer Edward Roski Jr. and his wife, Gayle Garner Roski, have taken the stage of Watt Hall to assist USC’s own quick ascent. Four decades ago, the couple met on this campus. Ever since then the Roskis have been proud Trojans. Today they are proving their loyalty by making what USC calls the largest single donation to a visual arts school in the United States.