University of California, Los Angeles

University of California, Los Angeles
Academic Senate Program Review
Council on Planning and Budget
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Approved on January 28, 2008
The self-review submitted by the UCLA Department of Mechanical and
Aerospace Engineering (MAE) to the UCLA Council on Planning and Budget
(CPB) is a thorough and well-written document, which presents adequate data
for analysis and provision of feedback. The self-review was unanimously
approved by 25 out of 31 MAE’s ladder ranking faculty. Overall, evidence points
to the fact that UCLA MAE is a well-regarded department within the Henry
Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, has an excellent reputation
in the industry, and is well respected in the nation. The objective of this report is
to analyze UCLA MAE’s self-report and to identify areas in which it excels as
well as to point out areas where improvement can be afforded.
At UCLA, the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering disciplines function as one
department because they are relatively small when compared to other
universities, where the two disciplines may function as independent
departments. MAE currently houses 31 ladder faculty members, a number which
remains unchanged since its last self-review, despite the fact that it currently has
35.5 budgeted FTEs. The remaining 4.5 FTEs are occupied by 15 newly affiliated
faculty members who have joined MAE since its last review. In 1999, MAE had
31 ladder faculty members and no affiliated faculty; therefore the current 35.5
FTEs represent a 15% increase in the body of the faculty. Between 1999 and 2007,
the number of undergraduate students has increased from 363 to 710 (96%
increase), the number of MS students has increased from 80 to 139 (74%
increase), and the number of PhD students has increased from 98 to 115 (17%
increase). The overall relative increase in the number of students since the last
review was 78% while the relative increase in the number of FTEs was 15%. It is
obvious that the number of students being taught per faculty member has
increased substantially since the last review and the fact that the teaching
average is 7.4 on a scale of 1-9 is admirable.
Research funding has increased 41% since the last review from $17M to $24M.
That increase was paralleled by a 43% increase in the number of graduate
students from 178 to 254. As teaching responsibilities increased on a per faculty
member basis (refer to comment on the paragraph above), ladder faculty should
be commended for being able to keep the ratio of research funding per graduate
student constant.
UCLA Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering – CPB Review – Page 1
UCLA MAE ranks 15th in the country, and this position has remained unchanged
since the last review. While this is a respectful position in itself and also
understanding that MAE ranks favorably nation-wide when compared to other
UCLA engineering departments in their fields, being among the top 10 programs
in the US should be a desirable goal for any educational program at UCLA. With
that in mind, MAE faculty should develop a medium range plan (i.e., 5-10 years)
to reach a position among the top 10 departments in the country and determine
the resources that are necessary to achieve such a goal. At the undergraduate
level, MAE’s current student to faculty ratio is 22.9, while at the graduate level
that same ratio is 8.2. Those ratios are well above the national averages of
approximately 14 and 6.6, respectively. While the national averages include
private schools that do not need to follow faculty to student ratio guidelines
imposed by governing bodies such as state governments (and therefore bring
national averages down), MAE’s average ratio is still higher than other
departments within the UCLA campus. These discrepancies are likely to have a
direct impact on the department’s national ranking. In that respect, the selfreview suggests an increase in FTEs to 43 as desirable, and that seems to be a
correct step in that direction.
Since MAE’s last review, the attrition rate among ladder faculty members was
39% (12 separations). The reason for 8 of those separations (26% of the ladder
ranking faculty) was accepting positions in other educational institutions. In
general, these other institutions house Mechanical and/or Aerospace
Engineering departments with a better ranking than UCLA or are thought of as
having a better reputation. Some of these universities are public institutions such
as UC Berkeley and the University of Illinois. This rate of separation appears
high and can undoubtfuly create disruptions to the day-to-day operations of the
department. The causes for these separations should be fully identified and a
plan including the necessary resources to overcome the problem ought to be
developed. It appears as faculty may be using UCLA MAE as a stepping-stone to
obtain positions at higher caliber departments in other universities, in which case
a plan to become a top 10 department appears relevant to remediate the
situation. Another common problem for faculty retention at UCLA is adequate
compensation due to the high cost of living and, as that appears to also affect
MAE’s ability to retain faculty, thought might be given to raising funds to
supplement faculty pay (it is the reviewer’s understanding that UC Berkeley’s
engineering has raised $100M for a similar purpose).
Diversity among UCLA MAE’s faculty body falls below national averages,
despite involvement of several faculty members in programs to increase female
and minority representation. It should be noted that the State of California and
the county Los Angeles present with a higher proportion of minorities (i.e.,
Hispanics) than the US average. In view of this fact, diversity at UCLA MAE may
UCLA Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering – CPB Review – Page 2
be even more diluted than reported from the minority standpoint. This appears
to be a problem that needs immediate attention from UCLA MAE; resources
should be identified and secured to aggressively reach out to minority groups
and make positions at UCLA more attractive than they are at other institutions to
talented individuals with minority backgrounds and females.
In the area of resources, the self-study states that the operational budget is
inadequate as shown by a short fall of $24K. The instructional support is
reported as barely adequate. MAE gets around this problem by making use of
discretionary funds to cover the deficit. However, the discretionary funds
account is being progressively spent and not replenished. The self-report
correctly suggests that the industry should be approached and encouraged to
become a stronger contributor to that account and make up for the deficit. In the
area of instructional support, the needs of the curriculum are fulfilled by funds
received from the Dean ($163K per year). In order to save on resources, one out
of the three technician job positions (whose main occupation is to assist in
undergraduate laboratory courses) has been left unfilled and those monies are
being used towards operational expenses. The impact of that resource allocation
measure on the quality of the laboratory courses is not known and should be
evaluated. MAE has 17.5 FTEs for teaching assistants and reports to be under
funded for readers, resulting in a yearly salary overdraft of $15K, which is offset
by not purchasing software and equipment. Again, the impact of that choice in
resource allocation on the quality of education in unknown and should be
evaluated. In the area of staff personnel, the self-study reports to be adequately
served and operating at full capacity. In summary, it appears that the short falls
in resources and staffing may affect the well being of the department and are not
that substantial in absolute dollar value. That, combined with the fact that the
student body has increased significantly in this department over the last eight
years, supports the fact that a case can be made to the university upper
administration to properly fund MAE needs from the operational and staffing
In terms of other approaches to self-generate resources to compensate for MAE’s
deficiencies, the development of a continuing education office may be
considered. This model has proven successful in health care related professions
and in business education. Basically, the school or department organizes
continuing education programs, which focus on current topics and that appeal to
alumni or other professionals in the area who are interested in updating their
knowledge in specific areas or to learn new techniques. UCLA MAE faculty
members conduct teaching of such programs that can vary in length, from a day
to several weeks. These self-supporting continuing education courses can
become a substantial source of income to the department via tuition or corporate
partnership (i.e., program sponsorship).
UCLA Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering – CPB Review – Page 3
Finally, on-line education has become a reality in several high caliber institutions
throughout the world. On-line education may be a solo-approach to non-degree
and degree programs. However, more often and perhaps more efficiently, it may
be combined with conventional classroom teaching. UCLA MAE’s self review
does not outline a plan nor does it identify resources necessary to incorporate online education to their existing programs or to start new programs. It is
suggested that a feasibility study and resource allocation plan be developed for
this purpose.
Issues for Review
How has the 78% increase in the size of the student body since the last
review, which was a paralleled by only 15% increase in FTE, affected
the quality of teaching?
What is the effect of a faculty to student ratio that is well above the
national average on the quality of teaching and faculty research
productivity? What about national ranking?
What resources would it take for UCLA MAE to become a top 10
department in the country?
Why is the faculty separation rate so high and why is it that so many
faculty members choose to move to other institutions as opposed to
staying at UCLA?
Given that faculty compensation is an issue in terms of faculty
recruitment and retention, has thought been given to raise funds to
compensate faculty members adequately?
What is the specific strategy to attract talented females and individuals
from minority groups as students and faculty members?
What is the impact of less-than-optimal levels of instructional support
and number of non-research staff on the quality of teaching,
particularly undergraduate laboratory courses?
What is the exact role of post-doctoral researchers in MAE’s teaching
programs? How are post-doctoral researchers funded?
Has thought been given to alternative avenues for the generation of
resources such as on-line education and/or creation of an office to
offer continuing education programs?
UCLA Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering – CPB Review – Page 4
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