Monday, November 16, 2009

Is there a future for outreach? (pt.1)

By Jason Davis and Lauren Demello
November 16, 2009

In trying times, difficult decisions must be made. Severe economic hardship has required faculty and employee furloughs and layoffs throughout the University of California education system. Many of the difficult decisions forced upon the UC have meant heavy, repeated blows to sports teams, Humanities, and various outreach programs, among others. UC Irvine has already seen the closure of one such outreach program, and the future of at least another remains uncertain. While many programs at UCI are making do with less funding for the 2009-2010 school year, still others are nervous about further cuts and potential closures for 2010-2011. Unfortunately, cuts from some of these programs directly affect services to the surrounding community. Although some of the services have been preserved in different entities, a climate of uncertainty persists.

In the spring of 2008, an outside review team at UCI recommended the closure of SAAS—the Student Academic Advancement Service, and a restructuring of its services to be adopted by other programs within the Division of Undergraduate Education. SAAS was federally funded, in part, by the US Department of Education to assist first-generation, low-income students, and offered study skills workshops, academic counseling, career planning, and tutoring to eligible students. SAAS was also responsible for the popular Summer Bridge and Transfer Bridge programs, which have thankfully been transferred to Student Support Services. According to Shelly Brown-Gunn, Associate Director of SSS, there were several recommendations in the report outlining how services could be improved or restructured. “The decision to close SAAS was a reaction to sudden and drastic budget cuts to DUE last summer. The Deans determined that a lot of what SAAS did for students had some duplication in other departments, so they had to make the ‘lesser of all evils’ decision of shutting down that department to be more efficient with the services provided in utilizing other departments already performing those services.” Some of the federally funded money that previously went to DUE for SAAS now goes to SSS, but Shelly said that it benefits the same students for the same services—just under a different name—and aims to serve roughly 450 students a year.

Shelly reiterated that restructuring is still taking place and that DUE might not be done with layoffs to balance their budget. And that’s a lot of work to take on for a new organization that is essentially under-staffed. “DUE had to have multiple layoffs to achieve the budget savings after the cuts. Closing SAAS didn't solve the entire problem with the budget. Whenever a division has to do massive layoffs, there will be the issue of the remaining staff having to take on more responsibility to make up for the productivity losses. That is what happened with the restructuring of my department to take over part of what SAAS did. Choosing who to lay off is a heart-wrenching process and I don't envy the people that had to make such difficult decisions… I was shocked to hear they [SAAS] were being closed, and I didn't see that coming at all. But the DUE was shocked to get a nearly 20% cut—it was a million dollars that needed to be shaved from the current year's budget—a cut of that magnitude with that timing was unprecedented. It is just a dismal time for the UC and for California right now.”

Part 2 and 3 of the series will continue later in the week.

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