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UCSF Builds Network of Advocates to Encourage Involvement in Important Issues

By Lisa Cisneros

UCSF recently updated its advocacy website to provide a convenient way for interested members of the UCSF community to stay informed about and take action on the major local, state and federal public policy issues affecting UCSF and its mission of advancing health worldwide™. UCSF Advocates, a group of nearly 10,000 alumni, is part of UC for California, a dynamic advocacy network for the University of California.
UCSF Advocates allows all interested faculty, staff and alumni to sign up for and receive occasional informational email alerts about current public policy issues and to obtain relevant information, so that they can contact their elected officials on issues important to them. UCSF faculty and staff are not only employees of the University of California, but constituents who have a voice and a vested interest in how the University operates, especially during an economic downturn. “A variety of public policy issues in Washington, DC, Sacramento and City Hall are having a significant impact on UCSF, and it’s crucial for individuals at UCSF to be aware and have a voice when these issues are being discussed,” says Paul Takayama, executive director of UCSF Community and Governmental Relations, which manages the UCSF Advocates website. Last year, UCSF Advocates, in conjunction with UC colleagues across the system, were instrumental in helping pass Assembly Bill 2296, the Researcher Protection Act of 2008. The UC-sponsored measure, carried by former Assemblyman Gene Mullin (D-South San Francisco), enhances law enforcement’s ability to protect academic researchers and their families from acts of violence and intimidation perpetrated by anti-animal research extremists. UCSF Advocates enabled researchers, faculty and staff to contact their elected representatives in the Assembly and Senate and voice their support for the measure. The bill was eventually passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Over the next few months, there are several upcoming issues important to UCSF. Despite lawmakers’ attempts to balance the state budget, California continues to experience a fiscal crisis. “We expect a need for advocates to contact legislators and remind them that UC is an investment, not an expenditure,” Takayama points out. Indeed, UC President Mark Yudof has stated that “the reductions contained in this budget will be felt by students, by faculty, by staff and ultimately by people across California who benefit in their daily lives from the University’s work. Lower spending for higher education ultimately erodes student opportunity, innovation, health care and medical research, and economic growth in California.” For example, the Legislature is considering eliminating coverage for adults under the state’s Denti-Cal program. This would adversely affect educational programs of the UCSF School of Dentistry, which is one of five dental schools in the state of California. Not only does UCSF educate dentists and dental specialists, as part of the school’s curriculum, teams of dental professionals and students also provide dental care to thousands of underprivileged people every year in the school’s 14 clinics and 21 affiliated externship sites throughout Northern California. “These sites are safety net clinics that provide services to underserved populations,” John D.B. Featherstone, PhD, dean of the UCSF School of Dentistry, explains. “Over the past five-year period, UCSF students have provided treatment to 62,780 patients at these externship sites. Between 50 percent and 80 percent of the patients at these sites are Denti-Cal recipients.” Elimination of adult Denti-Cal will force some of these clinics to close. For other clinics, it will mean laying off staff and faculty members, adds Mark Kirkland, DDS, associate dean for clinical affairs in the dental school. “This will have a significant, negative impact on our students’ clinical training and will force many of the patients to delay treatment and eventually seek tertiary care in hospital emergency rooms,” Kirkland says. “All of this will have a significant, negative impact on our students’ clinical training opportunities.” Through UCSF Advocates, UCSF faculty, staff and alumni can help ensure that UCSF remains a community and worldwide leader in health sciences education, research and patient care. Importantly, UCSF Advocates is a voluntary effort, and faculty and staff are not obligated to join.