25 September 2009

Mark Yudof: the big man on campus

On the day of the faculty walk-out UC Pres. Mark Yudof is being interviewed by the New York Times about the recent tuition hikes and the budget shortfall. What better venue to address the issues at hand while at the same time put forward the President's vision for the future of the University? Instead, President Yudof decides  to use the NY Times interview in order to:
  1. Defend his compensation package;
  2. Deflect blame from California Governor Schwarzenegger for the sorry state of UC's finances;
  3. Justify his housing allowance.
It might appear that it is true of Yudof as well what Abba Eban used to say of Yasser Arafat — that he would never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

There is however one revealing bit in the interview. Asked whether he blames Gov. Schwarzenegger for UC's troubles, Yudof responds:
I do not. This is a long-term secular trend across the entire country. Higher education is being squeezed out. It’s systemic. We have an aging population nationally. We have a lot of concern, as we should, with health care.
This is a long-running theme for Yudof, already rehearsed in his 2002 Chronicle piece:  the trend towards de-funding public universities is mainly due to demographics and is therefore here to stay: an aging American population is more interested in health care than education.

Although President Yudof's premises might be questionable,  his strategy is coherent, if poorly executed. The Pitts memos were definitely a tactical blunder (without them there would have been a much smaller action on Sept. 24, or perhaps none at all), as is this NYT interview, which can only aggravate Yudof's image problems. UCOP's tactical carelessness is probably due to the conviction that UC senior management have exclusive access to the truth (they'd better, given their compensation packages), and anybody who questions UCOP's wisdom must be in bad faith. The same kind of hubris is behind the following snippet:
What do you think of the idea that no administrator at a state university needs to earn more than the president of the United States, $400,000?
Will you throw in Air Force One and the White House?
 The man is aiming high, which might be good news for the University, if not for the country.

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