COSTA MESA — In a long-anticipated restatement of UC Irvine's academic mission, Chancellor Laurel L. Wilkening unveiled a sweeping plan Friday to propel the young campus into the ranks of the nation's top 50 research institutions by the year 2000.
To cope with ever-looming state budget constraints that have dramatically sliced university funds in recent years, Wilkening will challenge her faculty to sharpen its focus on obtaining research grants from government and the private sector.
"I want UCI to be the university of the 21st Century, and I don't think one exists right now," Wilkening said in a discussion with Times editors and reporters Friday. "We can get a jump on our competitors."
Wilkening contended that the rededication to research will not come at the expense of the university's 15,000 students, who already complain that faculty members are spending less and less time in the classroom.
UCI cannot provide the attention of a small liberal arts college, Wilkening said, but "the undergraduate program is a very strong program." However, she said that the issue of how to keep faculty members in the classroom teaching while also increasing research has not been resolved.
Wilkening said that few of her recommendations are controversial, adding that a UCI dean called them "all motherhood and apple pie." But some programs are likely to be reshaped or reviewed at the 29-year-old university. Among them:
* Wilkening ordered the elimination of the comparative culture program.
* Wilkening will consider closing the physical education department.
* She recommended that interdisciplinary programs, such as Asian American studies and Chicano/Latino studies, be placed within other departments.
* Campus officials will consider making a project--either independent research or a senior thesis--mandatory for seniors.
* Officials will also decide if communication skills, cultural diversity issues and computer researching skills should be injected into every major on campus.
* Deans will be asked to review the cost and benefits of keeping open departments that have fewer than seven full-time faculty members.
Her announcement about the future of the campus, and which departments will grow, ended a long summer of anticipation for members of the UCI community. Many have been looking to her for direction on restructuring the university nestled in the grassy hills of Irvine.
Two panels of UCI professors and administrators suggested in reports released earlier this year ways to make vast cuts in academic and non-academic programs. They concluded that several departments, including the education department, physical education department and comparative culture program, should be closed.
UCI's education department was spared the knife in Wilkening's plan Friday. "The department's emphasis on the use of technology in the classroom is progressive and is well-received by educators in the K-12 schools," Wilkening said in her report, adding that abolishing the department would be a great error.
She also noted the potential for the education department to obtain national grants for work with Orange County children.
"What the chancellor wants is for the departments to come up with some innovative ways to go about our business, which is hard to do when there isn't any money," said Juan Bruce-Novoa, head of the Spanish and Portuguese department.
That lack of money from the state draws frequent sighs from members of the UCI community.
Students talk about taking full-time jobs to pay for fees that have been increasing about 10% each year. This quarter, they're up to $1,444 at UCI--a far cry from the state Legislature's command 125 years ago that admission and tuition for UC schools be free to all California residents.
Some staff members are losing jobs as departments slowly pare expenses. About $10 million was slashed from UCI's budget this summer.
And faculty members note that their salaries were restored this year after a 5% pay cut last year, but that they haven't seen cost-of-living raises in four years.
Wilkening said that during her first 14 months, she felt compelled to stay out of the debates about the campus' future in order to encourage discussion.
"I share a lot of the concerns the faculty has had, and I share some of the gripes about administration," Wilkening said. "That's why we're making moves toward streamlining."
UC President Jack Peltason--Wilkening's predecessor at UCI--praised her vision for the campus.
"We've all had to re-establish priorities, think about our goals and what we want to do," Peltason said. "This is a very thoughtful report, one that makes it very clear the campus has gone through a lot of consulting and thinking about the future."
On the whole, Wilkening avoided the controversial closures of several graduate schools that had characterized the painful contraction process a year ago at UCLA. Those who expected a major restructuring of UCI were left wondering what Wilkening's vision means in the long run.