On Oct. 8, Chancellor Kim Wilcox hosted his first town hall meeting at the University Theatre to share his vision and plans for leading the university onwardwith the UCR community. He also engaged in open conversation with the public and humbly solicited advice from faculty, staff and students.
“As the new guy here, I need as much advice and orientation as I can get,” said Wilcox. “I’ve had several weeks of opportunities to meet with individuals in small groups. (But) this is the first chance for me to meet collectively and have conversation.”
Recognizing that he has stepped in at a time of transition — with the inauguration of a new UC President, searches for two executive vice chancellor positions nearing completion, a continuously growing student body and a rising academic profile of incoming undergraduate classes — Wilcox said he is ready and unafraid to take some “big institutional risks.”
He also hopes to pursue creative fundraising strategies to sustain the growing student population and to rebalance the student-faculty ratio inequality.
“Our student enrollment has grown by 27 percent in the last few years and our faculty members have grown (only) by 7 percent … regular funding streams simply won’t allow a 20 percent increase in faculty. So we are going to have to be creative about financing in terms of revenue.”
Regarding UCR’s international standing, Wilcox expressed his enthusiasm for pursuing a 2007 recommendation that calls for the establishment of a new Provost of International Affairs position to enhance UCR’s international orientation. The recommendation was brought forth by faculty governance a few years ago but never enacted due to budget limitations.
“(We need) someone who can be a strategic guide on how we pursue our international agenda in the future; one that isn’t simply about (exchanging) students back and forth, but about (creating) institutional partnerships and longstanding research collaborations so that we are really a part of the forward movement of education and research in other continents,” remarked the chancellor.
Wilcox’s initiative on international engagement received much acclaim from students, staff and faculty members. English major Annie Liu, a third-year exchange student from China, was struck with Wilcox’s down-to-earth manner and his visionary proposal.
“After the town hall meeting, I spoke to the Chancellor and found him very approachable. As an international student from China, I am happy to hear that he is thinking about building friendships with more international universities,” Liu said.
Undergraduate Education Assistant Vice Provost Christine Victorino also expressed her anticipation to see more research fellowship opportunities with overseas universities as the result of this initiative.
“I was delighted to hear Chancellor Wilcox’s focus on international engagement, particularly given our Undergraduate Education department’s commitment in increasing the number of students involved in (research collaborations) and facilitating international students’ successes at UCR.”
Wilcox promised to provide more detailed and concrete strategic plans for expanding UCR’s international presence in the upcoming December town hall. Meanwhile, he welcomed any comments, questions and especially advice from the whole campus community.
During the public comment period, several students and staff employees who represent UCR staff members appealed to Wilcox against the new pension reform passed by the UC Office of President on Sept. 24, which imposes terms that require workers to contribute 6.5 percent of their wages to their retirement plans.
Although the reform increases workers’ pensions by 2 percent, it also withholds the workers’ current paychecks by up to $70 per month, thereby casting immediate financial burden on workers. According to a study published by AFSCME, 99 percent of workers are income-eligible for public assistance.
Margy Crowley, President of University Professional & Technical Employees (UPTE-UCR Local 5) and lab assistant at UCR for almost 20 years, advocated against the retirement reform and advised Wilcox to listen to the plight of workers.
“A lot of (union employees) are below market value,” said Crowley. “We don’t always have the ability to make it to 65 to retire. We just want our fellow workers to keep our benefits that we worked so hard for. So my advice to (Chancellor Wilcox) is to look at both side of the story; don’t always listen to the Office of the Presidents because our side has a lot of good points as well.”
Wilcox recognized the significance of staff members and was keen to attend future union assemblies to learn and have conversations with staff employees. He called for all students, staff and faculty members to take credit for continually pushing UCR to excel.