Davis Faculty Association

Natural Reserve System – request for DFA help

by Ian Kennedy

UCOP, the Office of the President, does not always arouse great sympathy with the faculty. For many of us, they have exhibited an absolutely tone-deaf political ear and they have not served the interests of the University well in some cases. However, there are functions within UCOP that are extremely valuable to the University as a whole — functions that many of us may be unaware of. In particular, I refer to the management of the Natural Reserve System (http://nrs.ucop.edu/). The Reserve System is a jewel in the crown of the UC system but is in jeopardy due to a re-organization plan produced by a management consultant. The plan ignores academic priorities in lieu of cost savings. For further information read below or go to our web site at http://ucdfa.org/

If you have any influence at any level within the University, we would appreciate your help in bringing this issue to the attention of the Administration, both locally and system-wide. DFA will do its best to highlight this problem.

The following description of the Natural Reserve System and its value was written by Susan Harrison of the Environmental Science and Planning Department.

(1) The UCNRS  is a system that serves all of the general purpose campuses, transcends campus boundaries, and fulfills all three of the core functions of the UC mission (research, education and outreach). The UCNRS is the largest system of University-operated natural reserves and field stations in the world, with 36 sites that provide protected examples of California’s extraordinary diversity of natural environments. The 36 reserves function as a coordinated system that the National Science Foundation has described as a “resource of national significance.” The reserves annually serve thousands of UC researchers and instructors, and support millions of dollars in funded research. In many remote parts of the state, the outreach programs of the UCNRS reserves are the sole public face of the University. Thanks to its leadership structure, the UCNRS functions as a truly Universitywide system, in which any researcher or instructor has access to the system’s resources regardless of home campus, and considerable intercampus cooperation takes place.

(2) Unlike many other UCOP units being considered for reorganization, the UCNRS was created by an act of the Regents and placed in the President’s office. There would be severe diseconomies of scale in decentralizing the considerable legal, real estate, planning, and logistical expertise needed to run a system of 36 remote field stations. When the Regents created the UCNRS in 1965, they placed its leadership in the Office of the President, under the guidance of an advisory committee representing the eight general campuses. The current Universitywide staff includes 7 people: Director Alex Glazer (a National Academy of Sciences member), an Associate Director, a Planning Coordinator, an MSO, and three IT and communications staff. They provide expert legal, planning, real estate acquisition, and budgetary assistance to the campuses managing the reserves. They  also provide key shared informatics tools, such as the Reserve Application Management System, the bibliographic database, the research metadatabase, and the publications program. Most importantly, the Universitywide office and its intercampus advisory committee keep the entire program consistent with its mission through implementing shared policies on key issues (e.g. how to establish new reserves, how to determine what kinds of manipulative research to allow, etc.). For those of us who run the reserves at each campus, loss of access to the wide range of Universitywide services and guidance would be devastating.

(3) The UCNRS has a special statutory role as a trustee of public lands, giving the UC a complex set of responsibilities that have been fulfilled through expertise at the Universitywide level. The UCNRS provides cooperative science-based management to about 3 million acres of protected non-UC-owned lands through its myriad agreements with state and federal agencies and NGOs such as The Nature Conservancy.  The UCNRS has the extraordinary position of being a “trustee agency” of the State of Californiaunder the California Environmental Quality Act (one of only four such agencies), meaning that it is a steward of public lands for conservation.  In recognition of this public service function, Proposition 84 in 2006 provided $24 million in matching funds to the UCNRS for land and facility improvements. The Universitywide staff have devoted much of their work for the past 1.5 years to the legal and contractual challenges of getting Prop. 84 funds to the campuses for projects.  It is not clear how many of the UCNRS’ obligations to external stakeholders could even be fulfilled without the hard work and expertise of its Universitywide office.

Finally, while we realize the issues involved in UCOP reorganization are very complex, the UCNRS advisory committee is alarmed that major structural changes in UC governance with potentially far-reaching academic repercussions are seemingly taking place without the normal processes of consultation and peer review.  Any such review, we believe, would unequivocally show the Universitywide office of the UCNRS to be at the height of its effectiveness in delivering a program of UC-wide scope and importance.

This entry was posted on Thursday, May 29th, 2008 at 7:03 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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