UCLA Spotlight


Clifford Brunk, Chair, Academic Senate

  • By Cynthia Lee, Reed Hutchinson
  • Published Nov 1, 2003 8:00 AM

With a new governor, a new leader at the helm of the University of California and the harsh realities of a tight budget year, Clifford Brunk is, in his words, in for “an interesting year” as chair of the Academic Senate.

A molecular biologist who has studied the evolution of a one-celled animal called a tetrahymena for more than a decade, Brunk has clearly defined his mission as he prepares to take leadership of the Senate at a time of great uncertainty.

“My strong feeling,” said Brunk, “is that the role of the leadership of the Senate this year will be to assist and encourage the administration to articulate to the faculty, at a number of venues, the fact that, despite these budgetary constraints, UCLA will continue to move forward on a trajectory toward greatness. These lean years will pass.”

Brunk said the campus’ highly skilled administrators have done a good job of devising a budget plan that deals with cuts totaling $20.5 million while at the same time protecting essential academic and administrative functions. Now is the time, said the new chair, to communicate clearly with the faculty what was done, why it was done this way and what were the considerations that went into the decision-making.

“What we need is what Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the American people during the Great Depression,” Brunk said. “We need a fireside chat, if you will. Shared governance, in this case, really amounts to shared information.

“The faculty do not want to tell the administration how these cuts should be made. That would not be a good idea,” he said, adding that campus administrators are much better equipped to make those central decisions. “But there is a major need to transmit information about these budget cuts to the faculty, at meetings with the Legislative Assembly, town-hall meetings and departmental gatherings.”

The successful recall election has also made faculty uneasy. “There’s a chance we could have additional budget constraints beyond those we’re already experiencing this year,” Brunk said.

Ever since he joined UCLA’s then-zoology department in 1967, after receiving his master’s degree in electrical engineering and Ph.D. in biophysics from Stanford, Brunk has thrived on the excitement of being a teacher, researcher and faculty representative both on campus and systemwide. He’s been chair or vice chair of many major Senate committees and served most recently as chair of the systemwide equivalent of the Graduate Council (which he also chaired locally earlier).

“It makes for an extremely exciting life,” said Brunk of his various roles. “You stay young forever because you’re continually in contact with young students and, at the same time, you grow intellectually. I’ve seen the culture of UCLA change dramatically in the 36 years I’ve been here.”