17 September 2009

Yudof's address to the Regents

The UC Regents met yesterday, Sept. 16, to discuss the proposed increase in fees for undergraduate students at the University. After a bit of bru-ha-ha, the meeting could get down to business, beginning with Yudof's address to the Regents (the videos can be found here, here and here).

This was a passionate plea by Yudof to the Regents, and again one that is worth a close look for the information it provides on the direction where the University is headed. Yudof began by painting a rather bleak picture: the worst is far from over, the state budget will not improve next year, federal stimulus money will go away, all the while the university has to deal with an "unreliable partner," viz., a "dysfunctional state government."

Having thus described the situation, Yudof then proceeded to articulate his argument, whose first premise is that we shold give up "faith-based budgeting," i.e., coping with the present situation hoping that things will get better. Things will not get better, the State will not provide more money for the University (for a number of complex but well known reasons). We have to face the "unhappy truths;" we can, and should go to Sacramento for more money, but we should be aware that the State has no more money to give.

The second premise of Yudof's argument is that "mediocrity is the greatest enemy of the UC." We must do everything we can to preserve quality. From these two premises it follows that we must increase our reliance on the only other source of revenue that is available to the University, and increase student fees. Students must realize that the State "stopped building freeways to higher education" and is now "building toll-roads."

This is the main argument. Are there alternative solutions? Yudof does not think so: he denied that there were administrative raises, denied that there were "unrestricted" or "reserve" funds in the budget (and even if there were, say at the Medical Centers — and he's not saying there are —it would "wrong" and perhaps "illegal" to use them), blamed the union's (and especially AFSCME's) unwillingness to negotiate for the layoffs.

The fee increases are necassary, according to Yudof, in order to "stop the decline of the academic program" at the University, prevent a brain drain at the UC, and "do away with the furloughs" as of next summer (a connection that has the added benefit. obviously, to divide the faculty and the students).

Pres. Yudof ended reminding the Regents of the Blue and Gold Program, allowing any student whose family earns less than $60K to attend UC for free, the fact that 30% of the increase returns to aid, and the very high proportion of student on Pell Grants, the highest of any research university.

Yudof's vision is clear and, if we accept the two main premises of his argument, his plan is rational and compelling. The details of his plan have, of course, been poorly executed, but that is a different story. The Pitts memos, for instance, were blunders of historic proportions: if UCOP had received the Senate's recommendations we would not probably be here considering an unprecedented faculty walkout on the first day of classes, and in fact nobody would be surprised if Larry Pitts were at some point scapegoated for this. The administrative raises, that were (contrary to Yudof's claims) real and documented, were very bad optics, even if inconsequential in the $20B budget of the University. And the decision to protect the revenue-generating units at UC, first and foremost the five Medical Centers, even it meant gutting the core campuses, could have probably been avoided or mitigated. But these are matters that concerns the implementation of plan, not the plan itself.

Yudof has been criticized as a "privitazer," but his views is not to turn UC into a private university, but into a true hybrid institution. As pointed out elsewhere on this blog, there are reasons to think that that goal might not be attainable, as hybrid istitutions are inherently unstable, but that is Yudof's vision. We can either accept that vision or reject at least one of Yudof's premises. Since preservation of quality at UC is a goal that we share, the only option on the table is to engage in political action to make sure that the State's priorities are reversed and its funding model radically altered. Not easy, but is there another way?

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