This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

Block sums progress, strategies to deal with budget

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Although the numbers in UCLA’s budget looked bleak in 2009-10, the university made great progress during the year by many other measures, including with a record-breaking $1.1 billion in research funding, solid gains in fundraising and the appointment of respected, new leaders in key areas.
 
headsot block.small“Under very, very challenging financial conditions, we performed better than could have been expected,” Chancellor Gene Block told the Legislative Assembly in his State of the Campus address Thursday, Nov. 4. “In fact, if you didn’t know our budgetary situation, you would have thought it was a banner year for UCLA in many ways. And that’s through your efforts, and the efforts of staff and students as well.”
 
At their first meeting of the new academic year, Academic Senate faculty representatives heard Block sum up last year’s achievements, outline new and continuing challenges facing the campus, and describe key approaches the administration is taking to deal with these serious problems.
 
“We are going to be facing a very challenging budget situation that will last for a long time,” Block said. But he emphasized that he is optimistic about meeting the financial challenges ahead. “We are going to get through this,” he said firmly.
 
Two of the most important strategies in the chancellor’s approach for cushioning the budget blows will be to increase the number of out-of-state students attending UCLA and expand philanthropy’s role.
 
Over the past year, Chancellor Block said the campus suffered a $117 million budget reduction in its core funding in 2009-10 and, as a result, revamped academic and administrative processes to operate more efficiently, furloughed faculty and staff as part of a systemwide action taken by UC, and reduced hiring on campus.
 
“At the reception for new faculty at the residence this year, I saw the effect,” Block said. “It was actually very startling how few faculty we hired.”
 
Teraski shaking hands
Emeritus Surgery Professor Paul Terasaki greets well-wishers at the official opening of the Terasaki Life Sciences Building.
But in contrast to the sharp budget pain, UCLA managed to raise $379 million, up from the previous year. “This was a very solid year, including a very special gift from one of our own, Paul Terasaki,” said the chancellor. The $50 million gift by the emeritus professor of surgery is the largest ever given to the UCLA College. In recognition of the gift, UCLA's new life sciences building was named after him.
 
Faculty set a new record for research funding by amassing $1.1 billion in research contracts and grants. While some of the awards consisted of one-time stimulus funds, much of it was longer-term funding for basic research. “It was an accomplishment for our faculty who are doing extremely well,” Block said. “The environment, as you well know, is extraordinarily competitive now for federal funding.”
 
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A father and son try out the slide at the new Bright Horizons UCLA Westwood Child Care Center. Photo by Todd Cheney/UCLA Photo.
The campus also made progress on a number of quality-of-life issues for faculty and staff. Last summer, UCLA opened the new Bright Horizons UCLA Westwood Child Care Center, adding 200 spaces to the number of child-care spots, and continued to “grow” the Tie-Ins program that enables faculty and staff to enroll their children in select public schools close to campus. About 300 children of employees are currently in the program. And a site study for a project to build 850 housing units on campus for faculty/staff housing has been completed, advancing plans for the chancellor’s longtime goal in this area.
 
The campus is also adding to its housing stock for undergraduate and graduate students, with construction under way on 580 additional units for graduate students and 1,500-plus units for undergrads, along with meeting spaces similar to those available in Covel Commons.
 
“It was a year filled with real accomplishment,” said the chancellor, citing a wide range of international outreach activities, reaccreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, elections to prestigious scholarly organizations and the awarding of Nobel Prizes to two alumni, Richard Heck this year and Elinor Ostrom in 2009.
 
But the year also had its low points, Block noted. In addition to the deaths of a number of emeriti faculty, “we lost Coach [John Wooden]. Coach had a profound influence on this institution at every level. And he is missed.”
 
In the new academic year, financial challenges persist. In the final state budget for 2010-11, roughly half of the funds that were cut from the UC budget in the previous year were restored. After cutting $637 million in 2009-10, the legislature restored about $356 million. But that includes $106 million in stimulus money, one-time support that the campus cannot count on remaining in the budget, Block said.
 
While it is a start in the return of state funding, there are more challenges ahead. The return of retirement contributions will eventually “put us back to a fully funded position for the current retirement system,” Block said, but it will come at an enormous cost to the campus — 20 percent of employees’ salary within a few years. Employees’ contributions will be rising as well.
 
Alex Ortega2-prv
Alex Ortega, a professor of public health and psychiatry and bio-behavioral sciences, helped UCLA break a record for research contracts and grants in 2009-10. He received a $10 million grant from the NIH for a project to reduce cardiovascular disease risk among Latinos.
For state-funded positions, the total cost of these contributions to UCLA could run as high as an estimated $86 million a year; for non-state, medical center, auxiliary and research employees, the cost could grow to $301 million annually.
 
“We need to take steps to ensure that we can deal with this enormous new cost that we have not paid in a long time. We have to find new ways to deal with it because I don’t think anyone is going to bail us out,” Block said.
 
One major approach will be to increase the number of nonresident undergraduates without reducing the number of California students served, the chancellor said. Ultimately, UCLA could admit 2,400 more non-resident students over the next three to five years for a total of 4,800, double the number that attended in 2009-10.
 
The move would generate a substantial increase in revenue even after more faculty and staff are hired to meet the increased teaching loads, Block said. To accommodate more students, UCLA would have to provide more student housing, classrooms and other services to make sure this can be done “without degrading the quality of education,” said the chancellor.
 
The second major strategy will be to increase UCLA’s efforts at fundraising. While the campus continually ranks among the top 10 public and private higher-ed institutions for raising the most money, UCLA can do more, particularly in the area of alumni giving. Only  about 16.7 percent of alumni give annually, he said.
 
The university will continue to look for more ways to operate more efficiently and streamline processes, to enhance intellectual property revenues and create more self-supporting, revenue-generating programs. Launching high-quality online degree programs, such as the successful Master of Science in Engineering program, can help UCLA become more self-sufficient. 
 
“I hope that the state will come back with additional support,” the chancellor said. “But I don’t think we can plan for that to happen. We’ve got to take this responsibility on ourselves and find ways to keep this great university funded appropriately.”  
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