UC Davis Agricultural and Resource Economics

Five Serious Problems at UC Davis

During the debate about the semester conversion proposed by the UC Davis administration, the faculty have identified serious problems that ought to be analyzed and solved by the process of shared governance.

A list of these problems, without implied priority, reads as follows:

  1. Admission of 1432 students above the planned, budgeted and agreed upon enrollment target (a 9 million dollars of foregone revenue per year)
  2. Declining graduate/undergraduate ratio in relation to research
  3. Time to degree of undergraduate students
    1. Minimum progress
    2. Maximum numbers of units for a single degree
    3. Maximum number of switches among declared majors
  4. Formula for distributing teaching funds to Departments and its tendency to induce overvaluation of course units
  5. Criteria and mechanism for allocating faculty FTE over the next decade
    1. Long Horizon And Short Notice
    2. Unspecified Criteria For Selecting Proposals
    3. Provost's Academic Advisory Council Versus Academic Senate
    4. Bypassing Departments

Admission Of Students Above Target

State funding for teaching has two components: a historical base and a target enrollment (measured in FTE, Full Time Equivalent) for which the state has agreed to pay UC $6,800 per FTE. No state money can be obtained for any FTE student enrolled over the planned and budgeted FTE target. A target can be missed and, in general, will be missed. But a rational behavior suggests taking corrective actions to keep actual enrollment as close as possible to planned and budgeted enrollment. On the contrary, the UC Davis administration has consistently overshot its target during the past years and, furthermore, the discrepancy between actual and planned enrollment has increased systematically.

On November 14, 1997, DATELINE announced that Fall enrollment stood at 24,299 students. "We are proud to attract so many high-quality students---students who represent the extraordinary diversity of the state" declared Carol Wall, vice chancellor for student affairs. Attraction does not appear to be a problem, while paying for it, indeed, is.

The 1997-98 UCOP (UC Office of the President) Budget for Current Operation (page 191) lists the following figures for UC Davis under the heading "1997-98 Budget Plan"

General Campus19,700
Health Sciences1,832

On page 3, DATELINE (Nov. 14) reports the actual headcount for Fall 1997

Headcount Fall 97
General Campus
Undergraduate Colleges19,132
Graduate Studies2,653
Graduate School of Management103
Health Sciences
Veterinary Medicine670
Grand Total24,299

It is well known that from 1993-94, when the RSVP system and the 10-day drop deadline were introduced, the average conversion ratio (actual student credit hours divided by 15) for undergraduate students fell to .925. The same ratio for graduate students stayed at 1.0. Hence, in order to compare the budgeted and the actual headcount enrollments, we must convert the undergraduate headcount to its FTE measure by multiplying 19,132 by .925 which is equal to 17,697 FTEs.

Therefore, the actual FTE enrollment for Fall 1997 is

Fall 1997 FTE
General Campus
Undergraduate Colleges17,697
Graduate Studies2,653
Grad. School of Management103
Health Sciences1,933
Grand Total22,864

The over-enrollment is the difference between the actual FTE enrollment and the planned/budgeted enrollment, that is 22,864 - 21,532 = 1,332. In terms of headcount, the over-enrollment can be computed by noticing that budgeted Health Sciences students are 1832 FTE while the actual enrollment is 1,933. Assuming that all these students are graduate students, no difference exists between their FTE and headcount measure. Hence, Health Science students were over-enrolled by 101 admissions. The remaining 1,232 FTE students, if divided by .925, result in 1,331 headcount. Therefore, the over-enrollment in terms of headcount is measured at 1,432 students.

How much does this over-enrollment cost UC Davis? This cost has two components: foregone income due to over-enrollment of 1332 FTE students and the loss due to higher unreimbursed costs incurred from educating the excess students. Part of this loss is opportunity cost of faculty and staff time that could be spent doing other things. Part of it is out-of-pocket expense such as additional temporary lecturers, additional TAs, additional supplies, etc.

The loss due to foregone revenue is as follows. The State of California and UCOP have agreed that the marginal cost of a UC student is $6,800. Therefore, by admitting 1,432 students above the budgeted target, UC Davis did not receive from the state $9,057,600 ($6,800 times 1,332). Is there a rational explanation or an arcane social justification for this self-inflicted financial loss (foregone revenue) of 9 million dollars per year? The UC Davis administration is obliged to answer this question before it will be able to repair its credibility which was devastated by the gross and disingenuous attempt to blame the curriculum for a "serious financial problem" which does not exist. The $9,057,600 yearly loss due foregone revenue can be easily eliminated next year and thereof if the admission of students will be placed on target with the planned and budgeted trajectory.

Furthermore, the over-enrollment of 1,432 students has imposed a serious negative externality on the City of Davis. Assuming 4 students per appartment, the City of Davis had to provide 300 more apartments than necessary only because of the admission procedures adopted by the UC Davis administration. Furthermore, by contributing to lowering the rental housing vacancy rate below its historical floor, the UC Davis administration made housing more expensive for all students.

Declining Graduate/Undergraduate Ratio And Research

Research institutions with a high graduate-to-undergraduate ratio have a high quality research status. UC Berkeley has always enjoyed a ratio in excess of .36.

UC Davis never reached that peak, but over the past decade it has witnessed a dramatic fall of the ratio (UCOP Budget for Current Operations):


It is incontrovertible that without input there cannot be any output. As the input declines, so does the output. Therefore, in spite of all the lip service paid to research by the UC Davis administration, the UC Davis campus has experienced a substantial decline of research, in the aggregate, during the past decade. The decline of the graduate/undergraduate ratio is in line with the decline experienced by UC Davis in recent national polls.

A separate measure of decline is gleaned from DATELINE (November 14, page 3) which gives the headcount of enrolled graduate students in the Fall 1996 and Fall 1997. These numbers are 2,856 and 2653, respectively. It is imperative that the enrollment growth planned for the next decade admit a number of graduate students in excess of undergraduates. The Committee on Planning and Budget Review of the Academic Senate (CAPBR) must be more vigilant and assertive than in the past.

Time To Degree Of Undergraduate Students

It is well known that the percentage of undergraduate students completing a degree in four years is dismally small. My assessment of this issue begins with the recognition that students are rational human beings who minimize cost of achieving whatever objective and, if allowed, maximize information by extending its collection time. Hence, "lack of compliance" by undergraduate students with the wishes of the administration and the faculty (that they graduate in four years) is entirely justified.

There are three aspects of the problem that can be improved with little effort: a) minimum progress, b) maximum number of units for a single degree, c) maximum number of switches from major to major.

Minimum Progress

Minimum progress is defined by the Academic Senate as 12 units per quarter averaged over a period of three quarters. But, in order to graduate in 4 years, the average unit load ought to be 15 units (180/4/3 = 15).

Students are athletes. They do whatever it takes to achieve the objective. Faculty are coaches. If coaches are "understanding, permissive, compassionate, tolerating, and overlooking," athletes under their tutelage will not perform. If the jumping bar is placed at level 12, it is unrealistic to expect that the average student jump over it at level 15 or higher.

Minimum progress, therefore, should be redefined at 13 units (Regulation A552 (A)). After three or four years, the issue should be revisited to evaluate the impact of a 13-unit minimum progress. It should be raised, if necessary, in order to obtain a general compliance with the goal of a 4-year stay at UC Davis.

Maximum Number Of Units For A Single Degree

Data on the total number of units taken by UC Davis students to complete one degree are, again, dismal. Using the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences as the source of information available to me at the moment, only 53 percent of students graduates within a 195-unit limit; 38 percent accumulates between 195.1 and 225 units; 9 percent graduates with more than 225 units. (Summer 1996 - Winter 1997).

The College of Letter and Sciences has a limit of 225 units, after which retention in the college is subject to approval by the Dean. But 225 units are 45 units (one entire year at a 15 unit average load) above the 180 units required for graduation. As long as the Academic Senate will be tolerant of such a grave academic misbehavior, students will always find it rational and convenient to stay in the system. This tolerance penalizes other students of California who will not find admission to UC Davis only because their legitimate place is still occupied by some of their public-money-squandering predecessors.

The maximum number of units that can be accumulated for a single degree should be set at either 190 or 195 units.
Maximum Number Of Switches Among Declared Majors

A third crucial issue which contributes significantly to lengthening the stay of marginal students in the UC Davis system deals with the multiple switchings from major to major in search of the path of least resistence.

At present, a student can switch from a major to another major any time he/she wishes. In doing so, students lose some of the credits accrued for previously declared majors. This is one of the principal reasons for the necessity of accumulating units in excess of 180 for graduating with a single degree.

Students who switch several times from major to major are very marginal students who should not be allowed to abuse the public funding of education. They will have to be better advised in high school, junior colleges and at UC Davis, but they cannot be allowed to wander blindly all over the spectrum of majors in search for their "true vocation".

The Academic Senate should consider placing a limit on the number of switches allowed for a single degree. My proposal is one switch.


With a minimum progress at 13 units, a cap of 190-195 units per degree, and only one possible switch of major, the goal of graduating the vast majority of students within four years becomes attainable.

Students are rational and malleable human beings. They will adjust their behavior within the reasonable and feasible confines suggested above.

Formula For Teaching Funds And Overvaluation Of Courses

Provost Grey, some Deans, and other administrators have advanced the idea that our courses are undervalued in terms of credit units assigned to them. I wish to advance the idea that our courses are tendentially over-valued because of the formula used to allocate teaching funds.

It is well known that departments obtain teaching funds in relation to the amount of teaching they offer. This amount is measured by the headcount of each class times the number of course units. It is obvious, therefore, that the more units are assigned to a course the more money a department obtains. This is a serious case of moral hazard. I venture that, in every department, department chairs have gone to the faculty with the proposal to raise the number of units of some courses in order to fill the departmental coffers. The faculty, obligingly, complied.

In order to make a credible argument that our courses are undervalued, the administration must first decouple the allocation of teaching funds from the number of units assigned to courses.

Faculty Fte Allocation: Criteria And Process

The letter by Provost Grey (November 4, 1997), announcing a call for pre-proposals of "creative thoughts for the campus's future," is remarkable for four aspects of bad administration. First, the brief time interval allowed for considering the call and submitting meaningful proposals. Second, the unspecified criteria to be used in judging the pre-proposals. Third, the advising process which relies on the Provost's Academic Advisory Council rather than on the standing committees of the Academic Senate. Fourth, the bypassing of Departments and their chairs in soliciting proposals directly from individual faculty.

Long Horizon And Short Notice

The planning horizon is eight years, the increase in student enrollment is of 3,000 FTEs, the faculty FTEs to be allocated are 500, and the related resources equally enormous. In spite of this considerable portfolio of interests at stake, the faculty was given less than a month to formulate their proposals. No advanced signal of this momentous process came from the Academic Senate which, as in the case of the semester conversion proposal, was kept ignorant of it.

Unspecified Criteria For Selecting Proposals

The Institutional Planning Principles which accompany the call of Provost Grey were not announced in advance and have not received the scrutiny of the Academic Senate committees. Personally, I found that some are vacuous and some are outright unacceptable. Without discussion and general consensus on the criteria to use in allocating resources, the next phase might reveal arbitrariness and be a source of deep conflicts.

Provost's Academic Advisory Council Versus Academic Senate

Although the administration may have the authority of managing and allocating resources, when it comes to defining academic criteria for old and new programs the Academic Senate is in full authority. With all respect for the colleagues sitting on the Provost's Academic Advisory Council, I submit that they are not fulfilling a useful function in the shared governance process. The Academic Senate is articulated in standing committees that are competent in formulating programmatic guidelines involving the academic and educational direction of UC Davis. The Provost should not pre-empt these legitimate functions by appearing to ask for advise from a collection of faculty members who can speak only for themselves, no matter how prestigious an academic career they have compiled. In other words, shared governance cannot pass through this committee. It must involve the legitimate standing committees of the Academic Senate.

I respectfully invite my colleagues on the Provost's Academic Advisory Committee to resign.

Bypassing Departments

At first sight, the idea of soliciting proposals from individual faculty may appear to be innovative and progressive. Indeed, it is revolutionary in the sense that, if pursued, it will generate administrative chaos.

Departmental colleagues and chairs who were kept in the dark about a funded proposal of an individual faculty may question research ideas and resource allocation of that project. The department, instead of functioning as the nurturing ground for the project may become the turf for further animosity and boycott.

The truth is that, for some time, the UC Davis administration has had a policy of weakening the authority and the administrative structure of Departments. The Provost's initiative is the last in a long series of actions in this direction. In support of this interpretation of the administration's behavior, I can point to the Institutional Planning Principles number 6B (Interdisciplinary programs and graduate groups need to flourish) and 10B (Barriers to faculty entrepreneurship must be lifted).

It is well known that very few graduate groups are functioning well and deserve to exist. Furthermore, "interdisciplinary programs" constitute the mantra of the sixties and seventies which has become rather boring and stale in the nineties. These program should be the exception rather than the rule. If a program is scientifically justified and sustainable it ought to be institutionalized into a department (or institute), thus avoiding the departmental overlapping which often disrupts an efficient functioning of teaching, research and administrative activities.

The Provost's call to lifting "barriers to faculty entrepreneurship" must be viewed with great suspicion if those barriers are identified with departments and their structure. Academic departments were invented more than two hundred years ago as an organic administrative unit for research and teaching and these units have served science and the university pretty well. Today's administrators have nothing more intelligent to propose than boosting interdisciplinary programs and graduate groups and diminishing the authority of departments which they regard as barriers to their desire to reallocate resources unincumbered by faculty scrutiny traditionally emanated from stable departments.

Again, the standing committees of the Academic Senate must conduct an open and exhaustive discussion of the Provost's policy and criteria in this area of competence of the Academic Senate. They should present the Academic Senate's orientation and policy with regard to expanding "interdisciplinary programs," and "graduate groups." They also ought to identify the alleged "barriers to faculty entrepreneurship" rather than leaving this statement as an implicit criticism by the administration of the departmental structure.

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