Although the UC system is considered the pinnacle of California's post-secondary education system, some feel the practical education available to undergraduates is often not as complete as that found at California State Universities, or even many community colleges.

These individuals believe there are a number of reasons for this, but assert that the basic reason is that the UC system focuses very strongly on research and graduate education. Then again, maybe the fact that the UCs emphasize research and graduate education is a strength rather than a weakness — read below for pros and cons.

In the UCs, there are a number of opportunities for Student Influence.


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I originally created this page out of frustration with the way I felt many undergrads were being shortchanged in favor of research and other priorities (disclosure: when I wrote this, I was NOT an undergrad, although I had been in the past, and I was a TA working with undergrads in the past as well). I think however, that at this point a more balanced page would be more helpful (along with a name change). Any objections before I re-write? — EricKlein

The benefit of this focus is that the UC system has many of the best researchers in their fields and provides some of the best graduate education to be found anywhere on Earth. The downside is that a lot of choices that the UC makes to optimize research benefit wind up damaging undergraduate education. The way I think of it, the UC system is basically a prep school for grad school, while the CSU system is a prep school for the business/real world.

Some examples of this phenomenon:

  • Sometimes a professor who may be one of the very best researchers in their field may also be a very poor teacher (I had a few of these as an undergrad at UC Santa Barbara).
  • The undergrad classes in the UC system usually seem to focus much more on theory than on practice. The upside of this is that many undergrads at UC schools have very good theoretical underpinnings when they graduate, which can serve them well, especially if they plan to attend grad school. The downside is that they are abysmal at the practice of their trade. I'm most familiar with how this relates to computer science. I was fortunate in that I worked my way through school by programming, however many of my classmates with less practical experience during college had horrible coding skills, and were not all that in demand by local employers as a result. In contrast students attending Cal Poly SLO, or even from the local Santa Barbara City College often had better coding skills due to the better teaching at those schools.
    • It sounds like you were expecting a software engineering degree instead of a computer science one.

I don't mean to speak ill of the UC system, because it really is an excellent system (especially for grad school). I feel like they could best serve the undergrads though by doing one of two things:

I've noticed that few davis students actually go onto to graduate school so for the majority of students it's not really a prep for grad school. Most students attend UCs instead of CSUs because they have better reputations. —BryanBell

Do you have proof/statistics/studies that prove the claims made on this page?ss

  • It's a hard thing to quantify. Who would pay for such a study? Undergrads? - arlen
  • I absolutely do NOT have hard proof. The statements above were based purely on anecdotal evidence from my own experiences, and the experiences other have told me about. I have no problem with somebody rewriting this to show that it is opinion and not fact. I don't know of any formal studies showing this, nor do I expect any to be funded (although it would be quite interesting). —ek

I have generally heard the most effective use (financially and educationally) of California's higher education is 2 years at a JC, Bachelors from a State, and Masters/PhD from a UC. Davis is a great research university, but with the publishing requirements, a fair portion of the faculty are more concerned about their research, and less about teaching, I have have several professors who were obviously brilliant, but lousy teachers. -RogerClark

  • I don't necessarily disagree with the sentiments expressed on this page, but I have a hard time accepting conjecture as fact. Maybe the page should be reworded and presented as an opinion?ss
  • I don't think the burdens on a UC professor make them weaker professors. In fact, UC professors generally have a far lighter teaching load than Community College professors. And they often teach fewer classes than Cal State professors. So on the one hand, they could very easily have a great deal more ability to really focus on the classes they teach. On the other hand, if you're teaching the same course over and over again, it's not going to require much preparation anyway. So it really comes down to who the people are, in my view. I think the problem (to the extent there is one) is that too much responsibility falls on TAs and also the criteria for which the great intellectuals who are hired at UC Davis more emphasizes research accomplishments, while teaching ability is seen more as an "added bonus." But honestly, hiring the most brilliant people you can isn't a bad way to go. Some of them may be terrible teachers (and great researchers), but I think the vast majority of them outshine most human beings in both teaching and acamdeic research.JaimeRaba

2005-09-23 22:39:54   Hm, interesting to see this discussion, as a professor. The problem, from our end, is class size. Honestly. It's incredibly hard to teach a large class unless it's solely fact-based. No matter how good a teacher you wish you were, and how hard you prepare, you know you are losing the top 5% and the bottom 20% of students. You want to know them, individualize the learning a bit, and you end up just trying to figure out how to get papers back without wasting class time. You end up relying on memorization/regurgitation way more than you want to, because other teaching techniques are so difficult to implement with lots of students. Then UC students are inculcated into the lecture system such that other methods can really frustrate them. On top of all that, research is indeed what gets you promoted, so you can't skimp on that either. Not offering excuses for bad teaching, here, just want you to know some of our obstacles. —BethFreeman

Thanks for offering the other side of things in a calm and respectful way.KenjiYamada

2005-12-15 15:10:25   I've missed something - is UC supposed to be a high-end vocational school? I thought UC was supposed to provide education, not job training. A lot of the money for UC is provided by the public, and the public should get something in return. Traditionally, the argument has been that the public gets in return a body of citizens able to think more clearly and responsibly, especially about public issues. This is not to say that UC is doing well at providing education even in the sense I have described. But if you are looking only for job skills which will benefit no one but you and your future employer, then it is unrealistic to want the state (or, in the case of "private" universities - generous donors) to pay for so much of it. —AlexanderWoo

  • So... what do you mean by education if not job training? Isn't job training in the public good? Doesn't the public have an interest in training people to fill needed positions in society? I realize that there are other aspects to education aside from job training (such as creating a more well rounded person), but I don't see why that should require that the job training aspects should be neglected. I'm not saying that the UC should become a glorified vocational school, but I do think that a college has an obligation to its students to see that they are employable after getting a degree. — EricKlein
    • Well, here's the thing. UCs are higher-education. They are! There's no two ways about it. Traditionally in many countries, schools are set up the same way. There's the university, which is devoted to education. And then there are vocational schools devoted to more real-world practical experience. I don't think that the UC system is lying about its intentions by offering us an education based on learning about the subjects we ask to learn about. Now, mind you, I think the concern raised here is a *tiny* bit valid in that I get a sense after all my classes of being pushed toward academic research as a career; which in my case doesn't seem that practical. But I am not leaving this school; I consider it more my fault for not thinking more clearly about the fact that this is a research university. Beyond that I don't think that this school doesn't offer real world experience. More than 2/3 of my friends keep part time jobs and go to school, and just going to Davis can be a responsibility by itself! You learn a lot about time-management, improvement of performance, how much performance matters (grades on your record), how to keep a cool head in many situations ... the list goes on and on for me. The difference in the real world (what little I've experienced it) is that the deadlines are more concrete and there is a bottom line. Unfortunately, UCs don't attempt to teach you that. However, to say that we're not employable after a degree is rather bullcrap. The job market has consistently advocated a university degree over many other kinds for the best jobs offered. —SS
    • As an example of what I mean by education, I refer to an issue tangentially raised by the IKEA page debate. I would want anyone with a degree from UC Davis to either (a) know that it was fairly common for German teenagers to join the Hitler Youth, or (b) be responsible and clear-headed enough, and have enough general knowledge about human society, to consider the possibility that being in the Hitler Youth was common and fairly benign and check to see if this was the case before taking any serious action (such as advocating boycotting a store) based purely on someone having been in the Hitler Youth. —AlexanderWoo
      • I'm so remarkably happy for you. My intention of writing that was not to have people boycott IKEA. Ask yourself a question: how many people, oh wait, dare I say, university students, actually knew about Kamprad's involvement at all? If you think the number is considerably large in any way, you're delusional. My point is that people who are educated should more readily be educating themselves (I don't think they do as much as would appease me). That's the main point in addressing something like that about Kamprad. Whether or not people boycott IKEA based on that information is their own choice. Maybe that information isn't enough for them. Maybe reading that, they'll be prompted to find out more. That would be great! —SS

2005-12-16 04:17:16   I, for one, am disgusted by the number of courses that I have taken as an undergrad in which the instructor had such a thick foreign accent (or equivalently bad vocabulary) that his/her words became gnarled to the point of unintelligibility. I wouldn't say that these instructors have comprised the majority of the instructors in all the courses I've taken, but they have comprised the majority in some of the most vitally important courses of my education, which is a complete shame.

The UC's intensive research focus aside, they should hire instructors that have a full mastery of the English language, or, permit only people that have mastery of those skills to teach, so long as they have some minimum qualification of understanding the material.

That is, if the goal is education (it should be).

Regarding the UC's focus more on research rather than undergrad care, I have no problem with that, so long as the university clearly sends that message to applicants (they didn't, to me). —JohnNapier

2005-12-16 15:18:00   I had one guy tell us that he wasn't being paid enough to teach us and didn't want to be there. He said we should drop his class and sign up for the other guy's section because he gets paid more and should have to deal with us instead of him. —MarieHuynh

2007-05-03 20:00:49   I can't really respond to the above, but I can fill in things from my own perspective.

The University of California (UC) system is designed to be research oriented; the California State University (CSU) is designed to put teaching before research. Does that mean you'll get a better education at a CSU? Maybe, maybe not. In part, it depends on what you're looking for, but also, experiences will vary wildly from school to school, from department to department, and from professor to professor. Does it matter to you whether your professors are top in their field, actively doing research and staying current? Then perhaps the UC is a better place for you — but plenty of CSU professors are good researchers, too. Then again, it might be a mistake to think that CSU professors have tons of time to devote to students — they have very heavy teaching loads, and are expected to do some research, regardless. Bottom line: the truth is that most faculty become professors because they want to research — grad school is a long, expensive haul for those who want to teach. Listen to the recommendations of your friends, and choose accordingly. (That is, choose the professors who obviously care about their teaching — if you choose classes only because they are easy or because the schedule is convenient, then you get no sympathy from me).

Personally, I bucked the norm and went to grad school so that I could teach, because I wanted to teach and couldn't see myself teaching high school. By the time that the ink was dry, I found that I loved both teaching and research. But it can be hard to balance both. Sometimes I think that students don't have a complete understanding of all the demands on a professor's time. (Sometimes professors don't have a complete understanding of all the demands on a student's time, either, but that's a story for the students to tell). So, here's a partial list:

  • Research responsibilities:
    • Experiments/literature review
    • Writing papers and books
    • Presenting papers at conferences and colloquia (and the preparation that entails)
    • Refereeing papers for journals (academia runs on peer review, but someone has to do it)
    • Writing book reviews
    • Communicating with colleagues in the field, giving feedback on their papers
    • Staying current in the field (reading books and journals, attending colloquia and conferences)
  • Teaching responsibilities:
    • Doing the assigned reading (I don't have it memorized!)
    • Preparing lecture notes
    • Lecturing
    • Holding office hours
    • Holding "virtual" office hours (email, etc.) - what used to be confined to weekdays has now spread to evenings and weekends
    • Grading exams and papers
    • Coordinating with TAs
    • Supervising graduate dissertations, serving on diss. committees
  • Committee responsibilities:
    • Department committees
    • College-level committees
    • University-level committees
    • Other positions such as department chair (good luck getting research done), graduate advisor, etc.

Being a professor is a very fulfilling job. In fact, it feels funny to call it a "job," because it ends up permeating every aspect of your life. But one basically has to accept that there is an infinite amount of work to do and no one to set any boundaries but oneself. Professors work insane numbers of hours with the benefits being that they can choose those hours and what they work on (for the most part), not to mention the excitement of seeing young minds think and explore. So, yes, some professors are neglectful of undergraduates, some of them are at UC Davis, and that's a problem. However, also understand that professors have a lot of obligations to fulfill, and occasionally, we try to have lives, too.


  • Very good points. Back when I originally wrote this page, I was quite undiplomatic in my naming of the page. The result is something that is really unfair to most of the professors at the UC, and somewhat insulting. My beef was never really with the professors themselves, but with the way the UC system is presented to the public as a whole, and more specifically the way it is presented to prospective undergrads and to a lesser degree, to potential employers. I think the UC system is extremely valuable, and would not want to see it diminished. I very much value my education both at UCSB and here at UCD. My only real point in creating this page was that I felt that quite a few students came to the UC expecting a practical education, the result of which would be real applicable skills that they could use to get a job, and were left with something other than what they expected. Similarly, the UC is promoted as being the pinnacle of California's education system (and in many ways it is). Many employers therefore view a degree from a UC as somehow more valuable than one from a CSU. In both of these cases, the way the UC is put forth and promoted does a dis-service to the public (and to some extent to the UC itself). I don't view an education from a UC as inferior to one from a CSU, but I do view it as substantially different, and in general not as useful for learning skills that can be applied to a career outside of academia. I'm not even suggesting that should change, only that the UC should reconsider the way it markets itself. If it doesn't want to re-market itself, it would be nice to see it try to cover the gap between student's (and employer's) expectations, and reality. Again, I don't believe that this is necessarily something for individual professors themselves to be involved in. More likely this would be something done at the administrative level: either to change marketing, or to initiate programs to ensure better practical skills for those who want them (more accessible co-op programs w/ industry, more nuts-and-bolts sorts of classes offered, etc.). —ek
    • Well, I wasn't insulted by it; I certainly do think that some professors, at the UC, the CSU, and elsewhere, neglect their undergraduates. I would be surprised to learn that it was any worse at UCD, but I haven't been here long enough to know that. And I can't comment on how UCD markets itself, not having looked at much of the materials. But your comment raises two questions: 1) Is the job training the primary purpose of a college education? and 2) To the extent that job training is a goal of college education (even if it isn't the primary goal), is this goal best achieved through skills training? Is it best for employers or for students? With regard to question #1, we could obviously get into a long discussion about the purpose of higher education, so I will just claim without argument that the following are at least as important, if not more important: becoming a person who is broadly educated in arts, letters, and sciences, knowledgeable about the world, its history, and its cultures; becoming a person who is in the habit of thinking and questioning, a person who can argue logically and coherently as well evaluate the arguments of others; becoming a person who is excited about learning, so that college is only the beginning of the learning process, and not the end; becoming a person who is prepared to engage in our democracy and our society as an informed and thoughtful citizen. I do believe that the CSU also has these goals, although how much they are stressed may differ from campus to campus and within campuses as well. With regard to #2, with economies and technologies changing so fast, it might not actually be in students' best interest to graduate trained in a specific skill. They might have an easier time getting a job upon graduation, but if they have not learned to think they will have a tough time once those particular skills are out of date. It is true that some employers look for specific skills, rather than smart people who are broadly educated and who can think and learn. I happen to think that those employers are short-sighted, and they would do much better to hire the aforementioned smart people. So, if there is anything that needs changing, in my view it is the employers and not the university, and those of us who are connected to academia in any way would do well to make that case whenever and wherever we can. —CovertProfessor

2010-04-22 12:08:36   I was a community college student, from my experience the majority Professors Graduate from UC have more difficult skills in teaching vs. Professors Graduate from CSU plain and simple. I learn well instructors from CSU! UC may be good with research, but if CSU allow to do research/medicine, give out more doctorate, I see CSU probably come out superior. —news1001

2023-05-26 17:45:17   This is a really interesting discussion, and I think it's becoming more relevant with the passage of time (2023 now). I went to UC Berkeley, and did well, decades ago. But I've been favorably impressed with CSU graduates in CS that I've worked with. As my daughter got closer and closer to university age, I spent a lot of time as a properly concerned parent weighing pros and cons of different universities. It was when I tried to remove human bias (through some elaborate spreadsheets and weightings) that I was struck by how attractive the CSU options were. On an emotional level, I *wanted* my daughter to go to a UC, maybe to Berkeley as I had, and as my mother had, and so on - tradition! But the spreadsheet did its job: it opened my eyes to new insights. In the end, after a long look at UC's, including Davis, my daughter chose a CSU for undergrad, with my blessing. With her grad school goal being either a UC or a European university, when the time comes. There are a lot of good comments here on the pros (and cons) of the two university systems. I certainly experienced some of the cons mentioned during my time at Berkeley. I wish I had a brilliant answer that resolved everything. The only "new idea" I can come up with is that maybe it would be useful to have some joint degree programs or options to take a few courses from either system. The CSU's might be attractive to UC undergrads for taking difficult but necessary foundational courses, so that one could get more personalized attention, from professors whose first obligation is to teach well, and to thus really nail the material. While the UC's might be attractive for CSU students wanting to take an upper division course or two from research leaders in their field. The CSU's might also be good for UC students wanting a course or two to prep them with skills that would immediately be valuable - just as a hedge. I'd like to think that allowing some degree of sampling courses from another university system would serve the greater goal of fostering a love of learning. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I could propose anything, that would be it. —cole.thompson