Official Links UC to Economy

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SAN FRANCISCO - Poking fun at Vice President Al Gore, UC President Richard Atkinson said during a speech last night that the Internet's ground zero was probably closer to the Campanile than to the White House.

"We claim the University of California invented the Internet, despite what the vice president may say," he said.

Atkinson broached the subject of contributions UC schools have made to the California economy. He credited the growth of the high-tech sector of the economy, in part, to the research universities that helped develop their technology.

"These are companies where you can trace their origins to the great universities of California," he said. "These universities have generated research ideas that have led to new technologies that have led to powerful economies."

Atkinson, who was speaking before the Commonwealth Club, alluded to New Growth economic theory, saying 50 percent of economic growth over the last 40 years was due to research and development. He said the UC system's great number of patents, which outnumbers patents held by Ivy League schools, attests to the system's success as a hotbed of technological advancement.

At one point, an audience member asked Atkinson if he felt private sponsorship of university researchers might create a "scientists-for-hire" situation.

"This is a very important issue," he said. "One has to be very alert to these matters. The worst thing would be to turn the University of California into a drug shop where we were only doing research for industry. But their percent of the research budget is small."

Further, a woman sitting near UC Merced Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey stood up and demanded Atkinson explain why the UC's wages for clerical workers are below the national average.

"I think you make a good point," Atkinson said. "We should have competitive salaries. You're right - we have lagged and something has to be done about it. Something has to be done very quickly."

Earlier in the evening, Atkinson warned audience members of the wave of new students - more than 60,000 strong - expected to flood the system over the next decade. Atkinson said the influx could be managed if the state were willing to provide enough funding.

"There are two issues," he said. "Can we accommodate growth, and can we accommodate this growth while ensuring ethnic and racial diversity? Can the University of California accommodate the increase and ensure that it maintains quality?"

The students can be absorbed in part by UC Merced, which is slated to open in 2004, and by expanded summer sessions and the use of the Internet in teaching, Atkinson said.

Although UC Merced's opening date has already been moved up a year, Atkinson suggested an April 1 meeting between Gov. Gray Davis, Tomlinson-Keasey and Atkinson may accelerate the timetable even further.

But he cautioned that UC Merced should not be seen as a campus created merely to deal with the predicted increase in enrollment.

"We are not building UC Merced just to deal with the next decade," he said. "It is there for the long haul."

In the era following the passage of Proposition 209, which ended the use of racial and gender preferences in state hiring and admissions decisions, Atkinson said, the university's expanded outreach programs would leave a lasting legacy.

"I would be very unhappy if several years from now the university hadn't done what needed to be done," he said.


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