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The University of California: Creating, Nurturing, and Maintaining Academic Quality in a Public University Setting (review)

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Academic and budget policy makers and planners will find much of interest and a starting point for thinking about how today’s challenges to academe might be addressed.


The posting below is a review by Karen Merritt of the book, The University of California: Creating, Nurturing, and Maintaining Academic Quality in a Public University Setting, by C. Judson King, Center for Studies in Higher Education, University of California, Berkeley. The review appeared in Planning for Higher Education. Volume 47, Number 1, October-December 2018. Society for College and University Planning Copyright © 201X Society for College and University Planning. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

Tomorrow’s Academy

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The University of California: Creating, Nurturing, and Maintaining Academic Quality in a Public University Setting (review)

“What makes the University of California tick?” As director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) in the early 2000s, C. Judson King offered answers to a passing parade of center visitors from the United States and around the world. The University of California: Creating, Nurturing, and Maintaining Academic Quality in a Public University Setting presents King’s insights gleaned from a 55-year career in which he rose through the professorial ranks in UC Berkeley’s Department of Chemical Engineering; held appointments as department chair, dean, and provost of professional schools; and served as system-wide vice provost for research and provost/senior vice president for academic affairs in the UC Office of the President. During King’s post-retirement stint as CSHE director, he oversaw the center’s growing research emphases on international higher education, which enhances his analyses of the elements that have made UC what it is today. Academic and budget policy makers and planners will find much of interest and a starting point for thinking about how today’s challenges to academe might be addressed.

King introduces the 10-campus UC system through a historical overview, highlighting what he views as the critical leaders and political events that have made UC the distinguished institution it is today. While presidential memoirs by Clark Kerr and David Pierpont Gardner, as well as Patricia Pelfrey’s commentary on Richard Atkinson’s presidency in Entrepreneurial President, observe the personal impacts these system-level leaders have had at the intersection of politics and policy, King chooses another approach. As an engineer analyzing “What makes UC tick?” he uses a historical framework as a road map guiding his in-depth chapters on UC’s workings. For example, an introductory discussion of California’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education first outlines how California sought through broadly framed mission differentiation to assure student access to the state’s three higher education segments and then describes the stresses placed on that promise of access by the effort to meet affirmative action goals in a complex political environment.

Capping the introductory discussion, King directs readers to detailed chapters on eligibility and admission and also to a discussion of UC and K–12 partnerships and outreach as part of a larger chapter on UC’s services to the state and public. Thus, though the book can be read from beginning to end in the conventional manner, King also invites the reader to use it as a source of in-depth topical analyses: that is, each chapter, while referencing pertinent discussions in other chapters, can largely stand alone. Summary statements at the end of these detailed chapters guide the reader to issues of special interest. Extensive footnotes with full bibliographical citations in each chapter further permit chapters to stand alone. For this reason, a concluding bibliography is not included.

As with any university, unique personalities and circumstances have created pathways that cannot be replicated. For example, the recruiting and retention strategies that attracted and retained physicist Ernest O. Lawrence set the direction for Berkeley’s connection with the creation of the atomic bomb during World War II. From that association came UC’s post-war role in the management of three U.S. Department of Energy national laboratories: the campus-based Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and those founded with a weapons orientation in Livermore, California, and Los Alamos, New Mexico. As King recounts, this role has been both controversial and productive for the university and continues in modified form to this day (Zanheis 2018).

To cite a further example, even the more familiar higher education terrain of shared governance between administration and faculty took a unique direction at UC Berkeley. King begins this discussion with the “Berkeley revolution” of 1919, in which a persuasive faculty leadership confronted the imperious (and highly successful) president Benjamin Ide Wheeler, demanding a robust advisory role in the running of the university, particularly in terms of meaningful control over faculty personnel matters. King lays out the ways in which the principles of shared governance evolving from this confrontation have contributed to the university’s success over the decades. He also makes note of the problems caused when there is a failure to adhere to both policy and tradition.

The chapter titled “Sustaining Excellence: Faculty Appointments and Advancement” analyzes the end product of what began in 1919: a single, highly structured, university-wide academic personnel policy that frames UC’s approach to maintaining quality. Planners will be interested in how the use of stepwise pay scales within each professorial rank leads to ongoing, in-depth review and assessment of faculty accomplishments throughout their careers, both before and after achievement of tenure. In addition to submitting annual activity reports, faculty prepare full dossiers for peer review and recommendation for promotion in rank and advancement in salary. For campuses added to UC in the 1960s—Irvine, San Diego, and Santa Cruz—and the newest campus that opened in Merced in 2005, the use of a common personnel manual assures a high level of attentiveness to quality system-wide.

King’s final chapters address questions about the future of public universities in the United States, especially the erosion of public funding for state flagship universities and other public higher education institutions. Readers who are grappling with similar problems will find King’s comments on the search for new sources of income and new kinds of public-private partnerships at UC of special interest. King concludes with a summary of the aspects of UC he finds most potent in undergirding its success. He also offers his advice on ways to proceed down the uncertain path into the future.

Of special note is King’s choice to present the book in an online open-access format rather than through a conventional press, an approach he believes is the way of the future. He called on a total of 11 UC historians, senior faculty, and administrators to review and comment on the manuscript as a kind of de facto editorial board. UC’s eScholarship open-access publishing service has established a Center for Studies in Higher Education book site to which the King book has been added. [1] Thus, UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education is listed on his title page as the publisher. An advantage of this affiliation is the center’s extensive national and international mailing list. A publication notice to mailing list members addresses the self-publishing author’s challenge of getting word out to potentially interested readers.

While the book also can be purchased in print-on-demand hardcopy or as a Kindle download, an important advantage of the open-access approach is the expedited publication of the completed manuscript. In addition, the eScholarship format offers instant access to the multiple online references in the footnotes. However, this turns out to be a two-edged sword, as King notes in his preface. Those who create the online source can also deactivate it or change the URL. Like other authors, King has attended to that problem by citing the date of the most recent access to the site. In addition, he offers in his preface the URL of the Wayback Machine digital archive in which some of the deactivated entries can be found. [2]

King has set an ambitious goal of understanding how history, personalities, careful planning, and serendipity all have played a role in the remarkable achievements of the University of California. Our on-demand age will find his choice to publish online an appealing way to explore the complex world he has analyzed. There is much here for the planner to ponder in seeking what elements of past success can be sustained or transformed for a strong institutional future.

Zanheis, M. 2018. U. of California and Texas A&M Win Bid to Run Birthplace of Atom Bomb. Chronicle of Higher Education 64 (36): A32.

Author Biography

Karen Merritt served for 20 years in UC’s Office of the President as director of academic planning and program review; during her final six years she also served as director of academic planning at UC Merced. Prior to joining UC, she spent 16 years in the University of Wisconsin System Administration. Since retirement in 2006, she has been an associate in UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education.

1. The URL for King’s book is listed at the head of this review. Two conventionally published books referenced at the beginning of this review, David Gardner’s presidential memoir Earning My Degree and Patricia Pelfrey’s Entrepreneurial President, have also been made open access and placed on that site with permission from the publisher. (return to text)

2. A second printing of the book, now online, addresses the “link rot” problem by adding links to the many documents that have been placed in permanent archival files. (return to text)