This Date in UCSF History: Faculty Shortfall Projected


Originally published in Synapse - The UCSF student newspaper, Feb. 23 1989. UC officials and outside experts told the UC Board of Regents Feb. 16 that the university faces a looming crisis in graduate education. If current trends hold, UC will experience a massive deficit of faculty members, and its production of PhDs in a variety of fields will fall far short of projected needs by industry and government in California.


Tracey Woodruff, president of the UC Student Association, told the regents, who met at UCSF's Laurel Heights campus, that the ranks of graduate students in academic fields can be bolstered only by improving the lot of students.

Currently, many students live in near-poverty conditions while earning their PhDs. She added that affirmative action must be given a higher priority in university planning.

Faculty needs

“The University of California alone will need to hire 10,200 new faculty members between now and the year 2005,” said UC President David Gardner.

About 7,000 will be needed to renew the ranks of retiring faculty members, even without the university's projected growth. Universities all over the nation are experiencing similar needs, increasing competition for an insufficient number of graduate students, Gardner added.

Meanwhile, growth of the graduate student population has slowed in many fields.

“[A] critical mass of graduate students to assure program strength and the continuing participation of outstanding faculty” is essential, said William Frazer, UC's senior vice president for academic affairs.

“For that reason, we marked with increasing alarm the deterioration of graduate student proportions during the years in which the academic job market was sluggish.”

The demand for new engineering and science PhDs in academia has been declining since 1977, said Richard Atkinson, chancellor of UC San Diego and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

But that decline “will reverse itself within the next five years, resulting in a sharp increase in demand for new PhDs in the early years of the next century.”

In many fields, including the social sciences and humanities, Frazer said, there are now jobs available, but the pool of students in the PhD pipeline is far below projected needs.

The stakes in efforts to increase output of PhDs can hardly be overstated, according to Simon Ramo, a founder of TRW, Inc.

“Every informed American knows that America has lost its technological pre-eminence,” Ramo told the regents. “If nothing changes [particularly in the physical sciences and engineering] we surely will find that our standard of living will go down relative to other developed nations.”

Atkinson, who predicts that U.S. production of natural science and engineering PhDs will reach less than 60 percent of demand by the turn of the century, echoed Ramo's concerns.

“This imbalance will have devastating consequences for colleges and universities and for business and industry.”

The problem goes far deeper than graduate studies alone, Ramo noted. Science education and science instruction is lagging at all educational levels, starting at kindergarten.

He cited recent science comprehension tests that show U.S. youngsters to be well below their counterparts in other developed nations, and even some developing nations of Asia, such as Taiwan and South Korea.

“We're producing a nation of scientific illiterates,” he warned.

Whereas society is growing increasingly technological, Ramo added, the absolute output of U.S. PhDs has declined since the 19705. Several causes According to Ramo, the decline of American science education has been caused, in part, by the imperatives of large corporations that seek to maximize profits in the short run, at the expense of funding long range research and development work that could cultivate the scientific culture.

And he criticized federal budget priorities, which are heavily skewed in favor of military research and development Commercial and basic research have suffered tremendously in the last decade, Ramo noted.

U.S. universities also train thousands of foreign graduate students. In past decades, most of these stayed here after graduation because U.S. opportunities in science and technology careers were unmatched anywhere in the world.

But improving conditions and challenges in other nations now send many of these foreign graduates back home.

“Not only wiil [the foreign graduates] not remain here,” Ramo said, “they will go home and create competition.”

But Gardner insisted that foreign students — who currently play an essential role in maintaining the standards of graduate education in this country — are not taking graduate school slots away from U.S. citizens. There are simply not enough domestic students interested in science and engineering, he said.

Demographic trends are part of the reason, according to Atkinson. The 1957 Soviet Union launch of Sputnik — the first satellite — stimulated a competitive frenzy in US. science and engineering.

But the scientists trained and hired in the post- Sputnik boom are nearing retirement age. Because there are not enough science students in college now to meet projected demand as older scientists retire, the only solution is to recruit larger numbers of students into the sciences, he said.

Atkinson proposed immediate establishment of a national fellowship program for graduate students similar to the National Defense Education Act programs created after Sputnik.

The fellowships would provide $25,000 per year for four years of graduate study. Atleast 3,000 new fellowships per year would be needed, he said, at an annual cost of $300 million. According to Frazer, students graduating with a bachelor's degree in engineering and other technical fields may earn up to $30,000 right out of college.

But assistant professors with PhDs begin at only $28,000, and usually carry a heavy load of debt from their graduate student days. Woodruff's proposals UC can act now to make graduate education more financially secure, according to Woodruff, who is a UCSF graduate student in bioengineering.

“Most graduate students working for the university return much of their earnings to the university in the form of tuition and fees,” she told the regents. “We urge you to expand the number of fee waivers provided to graduate students in university jobs.”

Woodruff also said that although they are employees, graduate students' are denied UC health benefits — a major burden, particularly for older graduate students who have dependents. Recent federal tax reform removed the deductibility of interest on student loans and made scholarships and assistantship income taxable, according to Woodruff.

“The university should provide or seek funding to offset the effects of tax reform,” she said.

Regent Richard Heggie suggested that the university's fear of in-breeding has meant a reluctance to Fill faculty slots with UC's own recent graduates, exacerbating the recruitment problem.

Charles Young, chancellor of UCLA, said that UC' s campuses are quite independent, functioning much like nine separate universities. Coordinated hiring between the campuses could build the faculty and preserve cross-fertilization, he suggested, without significant risks to the diversity of academic programs.

Several regents and speakers pointed out that a more effective affirmative action effort in graduate academic programs would help ease the projected faculty shortage. Currently, only 6 percent of UC's graduate academic students are black or Hispanic, said Frazer. He reiterated UC's commitment to affirmative action for women and minorities.

“Despite this year's severely constrained budget,” he said, “[Gardner allocated] $2 million in new funds to support affirmative action that will increase the flow of our minority and women undergraduates to graduate study.”