Campus Town Hall Forums Launch Strategic Planning Process

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UC San Diego launched the first strategic planning process in its 52-year history with two 2012 town hall forums that explored how the campus educates its students and serves its community.  Several hundred participants joined Chancellor Pradeep Khosla at the Price Center December 6 and the Faculty Club December 10 for what he called “a brainstorming session to take a fresh look, understand how we got here, and then figure out what it is we want to be 50 years from now.” 

Chancellor Khosla:  “We have to have shared aspirations, and we have to be bold in multiple ways.”

The Chancellor began both forums with a presentation, “Defining UC San Diego’s Future,” that mapped out goals and stages of the project.   As a baseline assessment, he examined how UC San Diego compares with peer institutions in core areas like total research support (6th in the nation) and endowment assets (147th).  He was particularly concerned about UC San Diego’s relatively high student-to-faculty ratio of 31:1 and its relatively low rate of alumni giving.

Strengthening UC San Diego’s quality and impact in an era of shrinking funds will be a challenge, but the Chancellor expressed confidence that “we will generate new sources of revenue” with innovative ventures in graduate education and technology transfer.  He emphasized that the university’s primary mission is education – “Students should be front and center in everything we do” – and added, “In the broader context, our existence is to enrich human life, and we enrich human life in many, many ways.”

Forum participants responded to five questions.  While the audiences at these forums were faculty and staff (subsequent forums will involve students and other stakeholder groups), many spoke from the perspective of alumni and parents of students.

What are the UC San Diego’s strengths that brought you here?

  • The sheer beauty of the San Diego region has always been a draw, but UC San Diego’s intellectual vigor and interdisciplinary prowess are major recruitment tools.
  • Students inspired by their educational experience, and especially by faculty mentors, often seek campus employment and leadership positions after graduation.
  • Innovators from the private sector have joined UC San Diego as faculty or staff because it provides opportunities to do cutting-edge work in emerging fields.

Do current UC San Diego degree programs meet the needs of today’s students and of the San Diego community?

  • UC San Diego graduates who cannot find jobs question the value of their degrees.
  • Classroom-based theoretical learning should be matched with hands-on practical experience like internships that apply knowledge to real-world career situations.
  • Masters’ degree programs for professionals looking to advance in their careers or change fields offer enormous opportunity for revenue and community relevance.

How would you improve the student experience at UC San Diego?

  • Expanding programs to improve analytical thinking and writing skills may present the best opportunity to ensure student success at UC San Diego and beyond.
  • Sustained mentoring by faculty and staff can help students navigate the campus bureaucracy and take fuller advantage of educational and extracurricular activities.
  • “Capstone courses” help students connect the disparate lessons they learn and grasp how to use their knowledge to solve problems in a rapidly-changing world.

How can UC San Diego better serve the San Diego and California community and economy?

  • The Preuss School is a model of how UC San Diego can serve urgent community needs through innovative solutions and engagement with diverse populations.
  • UC San Diego should strive harder to apply its research and technology advances to such interdisciplinary regional problems as air/water quality and transportation.
  • Events that can lure “non-students” to campus – performing arts, sports contests, free public lectures – should be promoted more vigorously throughout the region.

If you were the Chancellor, what are one or two things you would like to do to make UC San Diego a better institution?

  • Create opportunities for alumni to work with students as mentors and tutors.
  • Increase undergraduate access to such centers of excellence as SIO and Calit2.
  • Forge a new culture that discourages risk aversion and rewards bold enterprise.


Melvin Leok, Associate Professor of Mathematics:  We should focus on teaching our students to be able to synthesize what they know in the application of unknown problems.  That’s what distinguishes a research university experience from a place where faculty might do less cutting-edge research.  You can’t just prepare them for a single career because chances are that industry might not exist 20 years from now.  . 

Sarah Ross, Director of Student Affairs-International Education, International Center:  It helps immensely when students are welcomed into a designed community that will support them.  Other colleges have had success with staff and faculty mentors for each class.  This has broken down the huge numbers by making it more personal and having those adults there for them for their entire careers on campus. 

Mark Adler, Director of Oncology Strategy, Moores Cancer Center:  A weakness of the University and a very correctable one is an issue of two words: enterprise value.  I’m not speaking in Wall Street terms.  I’m talking about rewarding individual fiefdoms for taking steps that are truly good for the enterprise.  There’s a fragmentation of motivations.  If you look at individual incentives, very few point to enterprise value.

Gordon Hanson, Professor, IR/PS, and Professor of Economics:  When IR/PS launched its Master of Advanced Studies program, we thought we could get 12 students in the first year.  We got 25 students right off.  We were stunned that people were willing to pay full price for an untested program.  But these students have very specific needs, and these programs require a new set of capabilities that we’ve been learning on the fly.  If we want to do this as a university, we’ve got to think about building that administrative capacity not just on a unit-by-unit level but on a university level.

Doug Easterly, Dean of Academic Advising, John Muir College:   In the 12 years I’ve worked here, we’ve more than doubled the number of transfer students, and we’ve greatly increased the number of international students.  Their expectations and the applicability of their courses have changed vastly.  It’s hard to explain to a transfer student, “We don’t think you write well enough.”  Or for an international student who’s paying a large amount of money for a specific goal to understand the whole idea of liberal education and why it’s important for accreditation for a university. 

Byron Washom, Director, Strategic Energy Initiatives:  UC San Diego is the most incredible incubator between operational people and faculty where operational people are building research opportunities and faculty are winning competitive procurements.  When I bring my colleagues from the World Bank, the Department of Energy, energy companies, and state agencies, they see it, and they feel it.  One of the times they get it the most is when they engage with students.  That’s why I’m pushing so hard to have more student internships.  The private sector is hungry for our students.

Elaine Tanaka, Alumna and Volunteer Faculty, School of Medicine:  One thing I would do to make UC San Diego a better educational experience would be to involve our alumni more.  It is somewhat difficult as an alumnus if you just want to give free time to get involved in teaching.  Alumni are very busy and don’t have the opportunity to keep knocking at the door and saying, “Hey, I’m really interested in education.” 

Gene Sandan, Assistant Dean of Academic Advising and Alumnus, Thurgood Marshall College:  I’d like to suggest that we see what we can do as individual staff and faculty members to make sure we really reach out to students from marginalized groups so we can improve 6-year graduation rates.  We need to become part of an equity-minded perspective where we’re developing programs and services for our underserved populations that will encourage their successful graduation.

Valerie Dixon, Director, Conflict of Interest Office:  I see so many faculty and staff who want to work outside the University, start businesses, transfer their technology, and leverage their experiences and skills.  They tell me it’s very difficult because there’s no one-stop-shop on campus that gives guidance not only to faculty but to staff.  You’d be surprised at how many of our staff are entrepreneurial.  If we could focus on growing from the inside out, that would be a great opportunity to better serve the economy.