By Wendy Soderburg

In today’s restless, transitory world, Ann Karagozian is a breath of fresh air. The professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, who will assume the 2010-11 chairmanship of UCLA’s Academic Senate on Sept. 1, is that very rare specimen — a native Angeleno.

Karagozian attended nearby University High School, received her bachelor’s degree in engineering at UCLA, and her master’s and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering at Caltech. Fresh out of graduate school in 1982, she became UCLA’s first female faculty member in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, working her way up the tenure ladder and involving herself in numerous departmental and Academic Senate committees, as well as the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board.

With her close ties to the campus, Karagozian has a vested interest in UCLA, a fact that should serve her well as she gets ready to lead the Senate through another financially challenging year.

“Support from the state — for education in general and for our university system in particular — has seriously declined,” Karagozian said. “There is no longer the commitment to the future of educating our children that we once had in the state. As a consequence, we’re entering an era that you could call a ‘new normal.’ ”

And the new normal doesn’t look all that promising. Karagozian cited the fee increase for in-state students, which only partially begins to cover what was cut from UC’s budget. “The cost of educating students is far greater, perhaps by a factor of four, than what the students are actually paying. They’re still getting a good bargain, but it’s not as good a bargain as it was in the past,” she said.

“So making strategic decisions for the future is absolutely critical for UC,” Karagozian said. “Should we be resizing ourselves? Should we be consolidating programs? What is our appropriate mission in this very severely cost-constrained era?”

Karagozian noted that the Academic Senate regularly reviews the campus’ educational programs and departments, providing it with the data needed to prune low-hanging fruit. Large numbers of Senate task forces have already been making recommendations on measures to be taken in the future.

Additionally, Karagozian said, the UC Regents’ Commission on the Future has put forth several proposed concepts to be explored, including the controversial idea of online education. For her part, Karagozian believes that online learning could be beneficial — for working adults who wish to pick up a graduate degree.

“But to have that as your primary means of learning as an undergraduate, there’s just so much involved in the college experience that goes beyond the classroom — the interpersonal interactions, working together in clubs and on projects,” she said. “Having that kind of distance learning, I think, just takes so much away from the college experience.”

Other proposed concepts include the use of research dollars for faculty compensation; possible changes in retirement benefits; the use of differential professional school fees; and streamlining degrees so that they can be obtained in less than four years. Another hot topic: freshman admissions and the larger number of out-of-state students who were admitted to UC, especially Berkeley.

“Berkeley actually diminished the number of in-state students admitted in favor of out-of-state students,” Karagozian said. “At UCLA, things were not done as drastically. But the additional out-of-state students really helped to pay for the [in-state] students that are here, to make up for what the state is not providing for us any longer.”

The topic of tuition, incidentally, is a personal one for Karagozian and her husband, Ted Sarafian, who does research in the Geffen School of Medicine. The couple have two children in college — Joey, 22, who is entering his final year of USC’s architecture program, and Abby, 19, who will be starting her sophomore year at UC Irvine.

With so many issues to be covered in the coming year, Karagozian has set two overarching goals: One is that the Senate remain fully engaged in maintaining quality in research, educational programs and UCLA’s mission as a university; and the other is that the Senate maintain both transparency and the ability to reasonably assess the options that are on the table.

“These have been difficult times, and if there is transparency in how decisions are made, that will at least give faculty the ability to provide their opinions and to continue to work within our system of shared governance,” Karagozian said. “Our faculty are a very talented, diverse, engaged group, and we’re really looking forward to their thoughtful input on these critical decisions as we move into the future.”