20 December 2009

George Lakoff's letter to California Faculty

To: UC, CSU, and Community College Faculty
From: George Lakoff
Re: Ballot Initiative

Dear Friends:

Are you tired of the repeated, outrageous increases in tuition and fees?  Are you angry that faculty and staff have been furloughed and laid off, classes canceled, and programs eliminated?  If you are, then please join me in stopping this craziness by putting the California Democracy Act on the ballot. If we are successful, public higher education will be protected and common sense restored to our state government. This battle is for all of us and I am fully committed.

But I can only do this with your help!

We need to collect more than one million voter signatures by April to place The California Democracy Act on the November 2010 ballot – and then we must win voter approval – to ensure the long-term funding and survival of the University of California, the State Universities and our Community Colleges.

What does the California Democracy Act do?  The Act is just 14 words: “All legislative actions on revenue and budget must be determined by a majority vote.” It simply changes two words in the California Constitution – “two thirds” becomes “a majority” – that simple change will restore sanity and common sense to our budget process and priorities.  What could be simpler than that?
This simple change will immediately stop the small band of ultra-conservatives in Sacramento who are holding the rest of us hostage! These ideologues want to starve our government and privatize our education system. California Democracy Act will restore the basic tenet of democracy – that the majority shall rule on matters of public good.

California’s budget crisis – and so many of our state’s systemic problems – are the result of the absurd two-thirds requirement that allows a small minority, now just 37%, to block sensible economic legislation. Their tactics create gridlock, impoverish our government, lead to massive cuts in education, healthcare, critical infrastructure and virtually every other important public need.
California is the only state in America where one-third plus one, only 34%, runs the legislature by blocking the sensible, responsible majority at every turn.

We can change all this by enacting the California Democracy Act! Only a majority is needed. No change is more crucial.  With your help and generous support we can restore common sense to California government. The task ahead will not be easy – remember, we need to collect more than one million signatures by April – but together WE CAN DO IT!

Here’s how you can help:

  1. Make an immediate and generous contribution of $200, $100, $50, or even $20. Make your check payable to “California Majority Rule PAC” and send it to California Majority Rule, 12021 Wilshire Blvd., # 542, Los Angeles, CA 90025.
  2. Go to our website, register and tell us what else you can do. You can get there by going either to www.californiansfordemocracy.com or www.camajorityrule.com.
  3. Help recruit volunteers for three areas: a) signature gathering, b) fundraising events and other activities, and c) the speakers’ bureau. We need organizers at every level: statewide, UC, CSU, and Community Colleges; we need organizers for faculty, students and alumni. Go to the website, click on JOIN THE CAMPAIGN and sign up.
  4. We need access to large email lists from faculty, organizations, groups and campaigns. Contact Susie at susieshannon@yahoo.com. If you belong to an organization, ask it to endorse the California Democracy Act on, then go to the website and click on “ENDORSE” to inform us.
So if you are tired of those repeated, outrageous increases in tuition and fees and angry that faculty and staff are being furloughed and laid off, classes canceled, and programs eliminated, then join me in this fight. Please send a check, sign a petition, help gather signatures, organize house parties, join our speakers’ bureau, or volunteer… WE CAN DO IT!

    Thank you,

    George Lakoff,
    Goldman Distinguished Professor
    of Cognitive Science and Linguistics,
    UC Berkeley

18 December 2009

Senior Management Accounting by Leger-de-Main

Stung by increasing reports of excessive executive compensation, UCOP has taken swift and decisive action to address the issue and  reduce the ranks of senior management at the 10 campuses, and without requiring the retention of fancy — and expensive — East Coast consulting firms. In a brilliant move that fully vindicates the high regard in which our leadership is being held throughout the UC, in Sacramento, and across the country, UCOP has amended the APM to reflect a reclassification of school Deans from senior management to academic personnel.

According to the old version of sect. 240 of the APM, Deans are typically appointed as senior management, and their compensation determined according to the Personnel Policies for Staff Members:
For Deans and Provosts appointed in the Senior Management Program, the Personnel Policies for Senior Managers, also apply.
According to the new version of sect. 240 of the APM,
Except as specified in APM - 240, Deans are subject to all Academic Personnel policies. ... A Dean with a concurrent title of Vice Chancellor and/or a Dean who reports solely to the Chancellor are governed by Senior Management Group policies.
Deans "who report solely to the Chancellor" would appear to be those that are not heading an Academic Unit, e.g., Deans of Students etc.

Having re-classified Deans as Academic Personnel, one would expect them to be subject to review by CAP, but in a not unexpected twist, reviews at the Dean level are "distinct from academic merit review."

Our admiration for the Great Helmsman in Oakland grows deeper with the realization that this change is effective Jan. 1, 2010 but it appears to have been made public only very recently, when people are busy with exams or away on Winter break.

16 December 2009

Now that the term is over ...

... exams are marked, and grades turned in, our thoughts naturally turn to things to come. No, not roasted chestnuts and mulled wine, but rather Schwarzenegger's January budget. The California Constitution requires the Governor to submit a  budget proposal to the Legislature by January 10. The  budget must be balanced, in that proposed expenditures must not exceed estimated revenues. The proposed budget is then open for comments and negotiations, on the basis of which the Governor comes up with an updated proposal, the May revise, to be approved by the Legislature, again by constitutional mandate, by June 15 (for fiscal year beginning July 1).

The bad news, of course, is that the State is facing a $21B deficit in the next year and a half, proportionally divided between one-third in the remaining six months of the current fiscal year (Jan-Jun 2010) and two-thirds for fiscal year 2010-11.

If you thought that last year's budget deal was mean, nasty and stupid, just wait for Jan. 10. There is obviously nothing left to cut in K-12 and higher ed (it's different story for the Dept. of Corrections, though, who are on their way to overspending their budgeted amount by about $1B this year). But we should not expect that to stop the Governor and the minority-ruled Legislature from going through the education budget like Sherman through Georgia.

In the face of this, the Office of the President has decided to put in a request for an extra $913M in funding for next year, which would restore the funding cuts from this year (with similar requests coming from Cal State and the Community Colleges).

We don't quite know what to make of such a request. On the one hand, it's good that UCOP is finally pushing back against the planned de-funding of UC; on the other hand, given the current state of the budget it might seem an exercise in wishful thinking. One particularly uncharitable interpretation is that UCOP is just trying to provide cover for an accelerated privatization trend, by putting in a request that they know the state will turn down in order to shw that they tried, failed, and so have no choice but to further cut costs and hike fees.

Whatever the motives behind UCOP's request, the UC community should make it clear to Yudof that he needs to be completely forthcoming about the consequences of the January budget for the University, whether they will include extended furloughs, fee hikes, layoffs, what have you. One of the reasons that led to the Sept. 24 walk-out was that UCOP waited until the end of academic year to request "emergency powers" and implement the furloughs, at a time when the campuses were empty, the students gone, the faculty finally turning to their research.

It's not only the faculty, staff, students and their families that need to know what to expect, of course. It's only right that the people of California know what the Governor and the Legislature are up to.

12 December 2009

Charles Schwartz's new plan

It's clear that nobody has any idea as to how to go about addressing the University's financial problems. The State could not care less, the so-called "Commission on the Future" is little more than a joke, UCOP is proposing a dubious privatization strategy, which even (or especially) if faithfully implemented has little chance of saving UC as we know it, combined with healthy doses of wishful thinking (online instruction); and the Regents are too enmeshed in their own conflicts of interest to really give a hoot about the educational and research mission of the University.

Charles Schwartz is one of the few people who spent a long time thinking about UC's finances — and he has now announced a plan to change UC's funding model. Since this is perhaps the only concrete proposal to be floated so far, it is well worth thinking about. And in fact there is much to like about Schwartz' proposal.

Schwartz starts by analyzing the University's Instruction and Research budget (basically the entire state appropriation for UC) into its two components —a distinction that the University has purposely avoided in an effort to hide the extent to which student fees support research. These fees, acording to UC, cover only 30% of the I&R budget, but, Schwartz calculates, 100% of its "I" component. In other words, with the recent increases, students now completely cover the cost of undergraduate instruction.

Once the cost of undergraduate education is disaggregated from the I&R budget, Schwartz' plan comprises the following points:
  • The Regents shall declare as a matter of firm policy that mandatory fees for resident undergraduate students at UC shall never exceed the average per-student disaggregated cost of undergraduate education.
  • The State shall commit itself to providing UC with reliable funding for the remaining portion of I&R budget, that is, for the maintenance of the core research funding that is necessary to maintain the breadth and the quality of UC as a top ranking research university.
  • The UC administration must justify or eliminate $600 million/year of excess bureaucratic growth.
  • UC shall cap executive compensation, following a 1992 recommendation by the Berkeley faculty, at no more than twice the average compensation of Full Professors.
This looks like a good starting point, and many thanks to Prof. Schwartz for his work on behalf of UC and its public mission.

11 December 2009

Dirty old tricks?

I'd like to pick up on Bob Samuel's informative post concerning a study on UC's compensation practices commissioned by UCOP. According to the study, UC salaries are 22% below market for senior managment and senior professionals, but 18%  above market for union-represented employees. Faculty are about 10% below market. Given the recent wave of indignation about the explosive growth of high administrative positions, this seems like an eminently self-serving outcome. And in fact, not everything is kosher in the study, which was not based on total compensation:
Consistent with industry practices, cash compensation was defined as base salary, excluding forms of rewards that generally are not a part of ongoing compensation.
It's the same old trick: furlough amounts were also determined on base salary alone. exempting highest-paid employees' generous extra compensation from the reduction. 

06 December 2009

Will we ever get to retire?

This is a little behind the curve, but of interest to most, if not all UC faculty. According to Randy Scott, who is Executive Director of Human Resources and Benefits for the UC system, UCRP will be funded at about 61% by 2013, down from 95% this past July (and down from 149% in 2001), even taking into account the April 15 restart of contributions to the plan (up to a total 17% of contributions from employees and employer combined), as well a projected 7.5% rate of return on UCRP investments.

This is, obviously very bad news. For one thing, it's not clear where the employer contributions will come from, given that the state has so far refused to own up to its share of contributions and has no intention to do so in the future. Moreover, it's not clear that the projected 7.5% rate of return is realistic: what kind of RoR can one expect if one had some $60B to play with? (How would I know?)

UCOP rules out any changes to the plan for retirees and current employees, but it's likely that new hires will see reduced benefits, including perhaps a switch from a defined benefit  to a defined contribution model.

For those who want to temper any budding holiday cheer with the gruesome details of the sorry state of UCRP, Randy Scott's powerpoint presentation can be found here.

The importance of being Ernst

According to a report released by State Auditor Elaine Howle, UC CIO David Ernst was improperly reimbursed for $150,000 in expenses between Juy 2005 and July 2008 while working at Cal State as chief of information technology services. The Howle's report points out that
The official received $152,441 in improper expense reimbursements over a 37-month period from July 2005 through July 2008. The improper reimbursements included expenses for unnecessary trips, meals that exceeded the university’s reimbursement limits, the official’s commuter expenses between his home in Northern California and the university’s headquarters in Long Beach, living allowances, home office expenses, duplicate payments, and overpayments of claims. 
In July 2008 Ernst was hired at UCOP as Chief Infomation Officer, at a salary of $238,000 (you can always count on UCOP to recognize and reward talent). In the meantime, state Senator Leland Yee has called for Ernst to return the improperly payments, while AFSCME has called for Ernst's resignation.

03 December 2009

The dangers of bondage

Melissa Fabros writes in the RGE Monitor about the pros and cons of universities' (public and private) borrowing binge. A consequence of the extensive reliance of bonds (traded on the municipal bond market) is that borrowers have been bending over backwards to follow Moody's "roadmap" for universities that want to achieve or maintain AAA/AA1 rating:
Moody’s recommendations highlight tuition hikes, cost cutbacks, online education delivery and direct borrowing as means for universities to survive the Great Recession with their credit ratings intact.
Sounds familiar? This is very clearly the strategy that UC has been following over the last 5 or 6 years, and also the one that is being markedly accelerated in these difficult economic times. Interestingly, the University of California, with about $1.3B in bonds, ranks second only to Harvard (with $2.5B) among institutions that have embraced the bond market. One of the conclusions of the article is that
While seeming a sure win for investors, higher education, given cuts in faculty and services on top of tuition increases, appears to be an increasingly risky bet for students, faculty and staff. 
The problems inherent in the strategy is that in order to borrow universities have to maintain a high rating, which in turn requires raising tuition (which, as we know is being pledged as collateral), cutting staff and faculty, and increasing class sizes. So the question being asked is
how will increased revenue, which will be needed to service the loan, be generated by an institution with reduced capacity?
While reliance on the  bond-market might be (and it has been) successful in the short run, it is fraught with perils as a long-term strategy — not to mention the fact that, especially in the case of a land-grant public institution like UC, it seems to embody exactly the wrong kind of priorities.

More on the California "brain drain"

Capitol Weekly has a piece on expected student brain drain. In 2007-08, for the first time ever, there were more California students going out of state for college than there were out-of-state students coming to California for the same purpose. The trend will only get steeper with the recent hikes in tuition and fees accompanied by enrollment cuts at UC and CSU.

Any similar trend among the faculty is still perhaps too small to detect. But the writing is on the wall. People used to come to the University of California, in spite of salaries historically lagging 10% to 15% behind those at comparable institutions, because of its public mission, the tradition of faculty governance, its outstanding retirement system, and the endless sunshine. If recent events are a signs of things to come, all that will be left is the sunshine. And if we allow global warming to do its work, there will be palm trees growing in Toronto at some point, so even that comparative advantage will be gone.

30 November 2009

UC Academic Council on student protests

The UC Academic Council, finally awaken from its dogmatic slumber, issued a somehwhat disingenuous statement concerning the recent student protests. The Council tries to strike a position equidistant between the acknowledgment of the sudents' reasons for their protest and their right to express those reason in a peaceful but vocal way and the Administration's reactions. Amid much mumbo-jumbo, the Council is
especially concerned about group protests in which a number of individuals attempted to move past police barricades, physically threaten and throw objects at police, and surround vehicles to trap those within.
This is disengenuous because, to the best of my knowledge, there have been no attempts by students to "physically threaten" or "throw objects" at the police. Students did surround a van in which the Regents were attempting a quick getaway at UCLA after voting to increase the fees, but they limited themselves to a sit-in around the vehicle, a well-established form of peaceful protest.

The Academic Council also "insists that uses of force by police will be subject to inquiry and review, as well as the policies that govern crowd control." Better late than never.

Here is a bit of advice: please go look at any collection of pictures from the protests that were published in any number of sites, and check out the faces of the police officers, wielding tasers and looking down with contempt bordering on hatred on students who could well have been their own sons and daughters. Clearly something is wrong.

What higher-ed cuts really look like

An LA Times piece by Carla Rivera on Sunday highlighted what cuts in higher ed really look like from the point of view of the students and the faculty. It's compelling reading. As much as we decry the situation at UC, it's useful to be reminded that it's much worse at Cal State schools, without a $20B budget and the power to borrow against future revenue (that such a power is misused at UC is another story).

27 November 2009

Statement in support of the UC Mobilisation

Here is a statement in support of mobilization at UC, started by Peter Hallward (Middlesex University, London), which is currently gathering signatures:
We the undersigned declare our solidarity with University of California students, workers and staff as they defend, in the face of powerful and aggressive intimidation, the fundamental principles upon which a truly inclusive and egalitarian public-sector education system depends. We affirm their determination to confront university administrators who seem willing to exploit the current financial crisis to introduce disastrous and reactionary 'reforms' (fee-increases, lay-offs, salary cuts) to the UC system. We support their readiness to take direct action in order to block these changes.  We recognise that in times of crisis, only assertive collective action – walkouts, boycotts, strikes, occupations... – offers any meaningful prospect of democratic participation. We deplore the recent militarization of the UC campuses, and call on the UC administration to acknowledge rather than discourage the resolution of their students to struggle, against the imperatives of privatization, to protect the future of their university.

•    Dina Al-Kassim, Comparative Literature, UC Irvine
•    Alison Hope Alkon, Sociology, University of the Pacific
•    Eyal Amiran, Comparative Literature, UC Irvine
•    Susan Antebi, Spanish and Portuguese, University of Toronto
•    Aldo Antonelli, Philosophy, UC Davis
•    Emily Apter, Comparative Literature, NYU
•    Kiran Asher, International Development and Social Change and Women's Studies, Clark University
•    Jennifer Bajorek, Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths College
•    Mona Baker, Translation Studies, University of Manchester
•    Mieke Bal, Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam
•    Gopal Balakrishnan, History of Consciousness, UC Santa Cruz
•    Karyn Ball, English and Film Studies, University of Alberta
•    Stephen Barker, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, UC Irvine
•    Tani E. Barlow, History, Rice University
•    LeGrace Benson, Emerita, SUNY Empire State
•    Leo Bersani, French, UC Berkeley
•    Bruce Braun, Geography, University of Minnesota
•    Nathan Brown, English, UC Davis
•    Darcy C. Buerkle, History, Smith College
•    Craig Calhoun, Sociology, NYU
•    Emma Campbell, French, University of Warwick
•    Julie Carlson, English, UC Santa Barbara
•    Anthony Carrigan, English, University of Keele
•    Amy Sara Carroll, Latina/o Studies, American Culture, English, University of Michigan
•    Allison Carruth, English, University of Oregon
•    Mari Castaneda, Communication, University of Massachusetts Amherst
•    Paula Chakravartty, Department of Communication, UMass Amherst
•    Piya Chatterjee, Women’s Studies, UC Riverside
•    Chris Chiappari, Sociology, Anthropology, St. Olaf College
•    Kyeong-Hee Choi, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago
•    Noam Chomsky, Linguistics, MIT
•    Joshua Clover, English, UC Davis
•    Lin Chun, Department of Government, The London School of Economics and Political Science
•    Drucilla Cornell, Political Science, Women’s and Gender Studies, Comparative Literature, Rutgers University
•    Maria E. Cotera, Latina/o Studies, American Culture, Women’s Studies, University of Michigan
•    Whitney Cox, Languages and Cultures of South Asia, School of Oriental and African Studies
•    Daniela Daniele, Anglo-American Literatures, University of Udine
•    Eva von Dassow, Classical and Near Eastern Studies, University of Minnesota
•    Jodi Dean, Political Science, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
•    Richard Dienst, English, Rutgers University
•    Jackie DiSalvo, English, Baruch College, CUNY
•    Elizabeth DeLoughrey, English, UCLA
•    Sergio de la Mora, Chicana and Chicano Studies, UC Davis
•    Mattanjah S. de Vries, Chemistry and Biochemistry, UC Santa Barbara
•    Hent de Vries, Humanities Center, Philosophy, Johns Hopkins University
•    Lisa Disch, Political Science and Women’s Studies, University of Michigan
•    Ariel Dorfman, Literature, Duke University
•    Robert Dudley, Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley
•    Alexander Garcia Düttmann, Philosophy and Visual Culture, Goldsmiths University
•    Raymond Duvall, Political Science, University of Minnesota
•    Ken Ehrlich, Art Department, UC Riverside
•    Norma Field, East Asian Languages & Civilizations
•    Gail Finney, Comparative Literature and German, UC Davis
•    Paul Fleming, German, NYU
•    Aranye Fradenburg, English, UC Santa Barbara
•    Anne-Lise François, English and Comparative Literature, UC Berkeley
•    James Fujii, East Asian Language and Literatures, UC Irvine
•    John Funchion, English, University of Miami
•    Alexander Galloway, Media, Culture, Communication, NYU
•    Alexander Gelley, Comparative Literature, UC Irvine
•    Bishnupriya Ghosh, English, UC Santa Barbara
•    Rich Gibson, Education, San Diego State University
•    Jill Giegerich, Art, UC Riverside
•    Rachel Giora, Linguistics, Tel Aviv University
•    Shai Ginsburg, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Duke University
•    Ruthann Godollei, Art, Macalester College
•    Marcial Gonzales, English, UC Berkeley
•    Manu Goswami, History, NYU
•    Yogita Goyal, English, UCLA
•    Greg Grandin, History, NYU
•    Ronald Walter Greene, Communication Studies, University of Minnesota
•    Martin Hägglund, Society of Fellows, Harvard University
•    Peter Hallward, Philosophy, Middlesex University
•    Werner Hamacher, Literature, Goethe University
•    Kristin Hanson, English, UC Berkeley
•    Harry Harootunian, History, Columbia University and Duke University
•    Michael Hardt, Literature, Duke University
•    Ulla Haselstein, American Literature, Free University of Berlin
•    Rebeca Helfer, English, UC Irvine
•    Cressida J. Heyes, Philosophy, University of Alberta
•    Katsuya Hirano, History, Cornell University
•    Dirk Hoerder, History, Arizona State University
•    Jennifer Holt, Film and Media Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara
•    Grace Kyungwon Hong, Asian American Studies and Women’s Studies, UCLA
•    Eugene W. Holland, Comparative Studies, Ohio State University
•    Ashley Hunt, Photography and Media, California Institute for the Arts
•    Adrienne Hurley, East Asian Studies, McGill University
•    Natasha Hurley, English and Film Studies, University of Alberta
•    Patricia Ingham, English, Indiana University
•    Peter Jackson, English, Birmingham City University
•    Fredric Jameson, Comparative Literature and Romance Studies, Duke University
•    Micaela Janan, Classical Studies, Duke University
•    Priya Jha, English, University of Redlands
•    Adrian Johnston, Philosophy, University of New Mexico
•    Richard Kahn, Educational Foundations and Research, University of North Dakota
•    Peggy Kamuf, French and Comparative Literature, UCS
•    Ken C. Kawashima, East Asian Studies, University of Toronto
•    Sarah Kay, French and Italian, Princeton University
•    Paul Kelemen, Sociology, University of Manchester
•    Rosanne Kennedy, School of Humanities, Australian National University
•    Susan Blakeley Klein, East Asian Languages and Literatures, UC Irvine
•    Suk-Young Kim, Theater and Dance, UC Santa Barbara
•    Anna Klosowska, French, Miami University
•    A. Kiarina Kordela, German Studies, Macalester College
•    David Farrell Krell, Philosophy, DePaul University, University of Freiburg
•    Ernesto Laclau, Politics, University of Essex
•    Bradley Lafortune, English and Film Studies, University of Alberta
•    Neil Larson, Comparative Literature, UC Davis
•    Michaeal G. Levine, German and Comparative Literature, Rutgers University
•    Suzanne Jill Levine, Spanish and Portuguese, UC Santa Barbara
•    Ann-Elise Lewallen, East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies, UC Santa Barbara
•    Jacques Lezra, Comparative Literature and Spanish and Portuguese, NYU
•    Pei-te Lien, Political Science, UC Santa Barbara
•    Akira Mizuta Lippit, Critical Studies, Comparative Literature, East Asian Languages and Cultures, USC
•    Michèle Longino, French, Duke University
•    Silvia L. López, Spanish, Carleton College
•    Heather Love, English, University of Pennsylvania
•    Stephanie Luce, Labor Center, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
•    G. Akito Maehara, History, Asian American Studies, African American Studies, Chicano Studies, Native American Studies, East Los Angeles College
•    Sharon Marcus, English and Comparative Literature, Columbia
•    Lyle Massey, Art History, UC Irvine
•    Robert May, Philosophy and Linguistics, UC Davis
•    Todd May, Philosophy, Clemson University
•    Christina McMahon, Theater and Dance, UC Santa Barbara
•    Bob Meister, Political and Social Thought, UC Santa Cruz
•    Walter Mignolo, Literature, Duke University
•    Laura J. Mitchell, History, UC Irvine
•    Claudia Moatti, Classics, USC
•    Santiago Morales-Rivera, Spanish and Portuguese, UC Irvine
•    Patricia Morton, History of Art, UC Riverside
•    Fred Moten, English, Duke University
•    John Mowitt, Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, University of Minnesota
•    Julian Myers, Visual Studies and Curatorial Practice, California College of the Arts
•    Janet Neary, English, Hunter College
•    Vasuki Nesiah, International Affairs, Brown University
•    Sianne Ngai, English, UCLA
•    Joel Nickels, English, University of Miami
•    Julia Olbert, English, UC Irvine
•    Bob Ostertag, Technocultural Studies, Music, UC Davis
•    Thomas Pepper, Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, University of Minnesota
•    Amy Pederson, Art History, Woodbury University
•    Kavita Philip, Women’s Studies, UC Irvine
•    John Protevi, French, LSU
•    Jack Linchuan Qiu, Journalism and Communication, Chinese University of Hong Kong
•    Paula Rabinowitz, English, University of Minnesota
•    Francois Raffoul, Philosophy, LSU
•    Eve Allegra Raimon, Arts and Humanities, American and New England Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Southern Maine
•    Jacques Rancière, Philosophy, University of Paris (St. Denis)
•    Jason Reid, Philosophy, University of Southern Maine
•    Joseph Rezek, McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania
•    Gerhard Richter, German, UC Davis
•    Denise Riley, Cogut Center for the Humanities, Brown University
•    Corey Robin, Political Science, Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center
•    William I. Robinson, Sociology, University of California at Santa Barbara
•    Avital Ronell, Comparative Literature, Germanic Languages and Literatures, NYU
•    Sven-Erik Rose, French and Italian, Miami University
•    Andrew Ross, Social and Cultural Analysis, NYU
•    Kristin Ross, Comparative Literature, NYU
•    Matthew Rowlinson, English, Center for Theory and Criticism, University of Western Ontario
•    G.S. Sahota, Asian Languages and Literatures, University of Minnesota
•    Simona Sawhney, South Asian Literature and Critical Theory, University of Minnesota
•    Martha Saxton, History and Women's and Gender Studies, Amherst College
•    Annette Schlichter, Comparative Literature, UC Irvine
•    Andre Schmid, East Asian Studies, University of Toronto
•    Ronald J. Schmidt Jr., Political Science, University of Southern Maine
•    Gabriele Schwab, Comparative Literature, UC Irvine
•    Louis-George Schwartz, Film, Ohio University
•    Joan W. Scott, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University
•    Louis Segal, History, UC Davis
•    Susan Seizer, Communication and Culture, Indiana University
•    Jared Sexton, African American Studies, Film and Media Studies, UC Irvine
•    Katherine Sherwood, Art Practice and Disability Studies
•    Scott C. Shershow, English, UC Davis
•    Lewis Siegelbaum, History, Michigan State University
•    Brenda R. Silver, English, Dartmouth College
•    David Slater, Geography, Loughborough University
•    Gavin Smith, Anthropology, University of Toronto
•    Zrinka Stahuljak, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, UCLA
•    Haim Steinbach, Visual Arts, UC San Diego
•    Clay Steinman, Humanities, Media, Cultural Studies, Macalester College
•    Christine A. Stewart, English and Film Studies, University of Alberta
•    Matthew Stratton, English, UC Davis
•    Imre Szeman, English and Film Studies, University of Alberta
•    Rei Terada, Comparative Literature, UC Irvine
•    Soraya Tlatli, French, UC Berkeley
•    Sasha Torres, Information and Media Studies, University of Western Ontario
•    Alberto Toscano, Sociology, Goldsmiths University of London
•    Dimitris Vardoulakis, School of Humanities and Languages, University of Western Sydney
•    Geoff Waite, German Studies, Comparative Literature, and Art History, Cornell University
•    Elizabeth Walden, Philosophy and Cultural Studies, Bryant University
•    Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, English and Postcolonial Studies, University of North Dakota
•    Kathi Weeks, Women's Studies, Duke University
•    Silke-Maria Weineck, German and Comparative Literature, University of Michigan
•    Leonard Wilcox, American Studies, University of Canterbury
•    Julia Bryan-Wilson, Contemporary Art, Visual Studies, UC Irvine
•    Michael W. Wilson, Art, UC Riverside
•    Mirko Wischke, Philosophy, National University of Kiev
•    David Wittenberg, English & Comparative Literature, University of Iowa
•    Mayfair Yang, Religious Studies, East Asian Cultural Studies, UC Santa Barbara
•    Hu Yong, Journalism and Communication, Peking University
•    Slavoj Zizek, Philosophy, University of Ljubljana
•    Jack Zipes, German, University of Minnesota

To endorse the statement and add your name to the list, email Nathan Brown (UCD) at ntbrown@ucdavis.edu.

24 November 2009

Police brutality

I have been meaning to comment on the way the UC administration has chosen to respond to student protest these past few days at Berkeley (as well as at UCLA and Davis), but I have found such events too deeply disturbing to do so in a timely manner. Especially at Berkeley, police over-reacted to students peacefully protesting the recent fee hike decided by the Regents. Students (and in at least one occasion, faculty) were beaten and tasered in a show of force that was totally disproportionate and unwarranted. At UCB, the university police requested support from the Oakland Police and Alameda County Sheriff Departments, a decision that could only have come from Chancellor Birgeneau and that certainly contributed to the escalation of violence. All the more disappointing as Birgeneau had been, until now, one of the more rational voices in the crisis at UC. And especially incomprehensible at a campus that, like Berkeley, has such a strong free speech tradition. The events were widely covered by the national and international press, and condemned in a growing tide of protest letters and eyewitness accounts. But few have pointed out how incredibly stupid it was, on the part of the administration, to decide to escalate the violence on campus. What on earth made these people think that this was the most effective way to respond to the students? Is this the best way to handle the financial and political crisis at UC? If there was any lingering doubt it is now painfully clear that the crisis at UC is not just financial and political, it is also, and perhaps foremost, a crisis of leadership.

20 November 2009

And if there was not reason enough to worry ...

As pointed out by Daniel Mitchell (UCLA), buried in a document of the Legislative Analyst's Office, is the recommendation that the state not resume its share of payments into the UC retirement system when employee contributions resume this coming April. It is left up to the Regents to replace the state's contributions with other "non-state funds." As Prof. Mitchell points out, "non-state funds" can only mean tuition and fees (as if the 32% fee hike passed yesterday was not enough), and it is tantamount to the de facto complete privatization of UC. For all practical purposes, the state is telling UC faculty and staff that they are no longer state employees.

19 November 2009

Not an unexpected outcome, but ...

It comes as no surprise that, in spite of widespread protests, the Regents approved the proposed 32% fee hike in committee yesterday and will in all likelihood pass it today in the general meeting.

A prominent question we need to ask is, where is the academic senate in all this? Have they taken a position, one way or the other, or do the senate leaders prefer to leave such matters up to UCOP and the Regents?

The sad truth is that, as it was already clear, the senate leadership is in bed with the President and the Regents. It's a big comfy bed, with a portrait of Governor Reagan Schwarzenegger hanging above it.

17 November 2009

Regents meet at UCLA

The UC Regents are scheduled to meet at UCLA today. Prominent on the agenda, of course, is the proposed 32% fee increase, a cornerstone of the privatization strategy. Will they or won't they? Of course they will.

11 November 2009

The decline and fall of the UC system

"It's always difficult to make predictions," Yogi Berra used to say, "especially about the future." But in the case of the UC system, all the information is there, for anyone who cares to look:

The furloughs will be extended at least another year. There is no reason to think that the budgetary situation at UC will be significantly different in 2010-11. In fact it will be worse, as the federal stimulus funds expire and the state shows no signs of economic recovery (also thanks to layoffs and furloughs at the various state agencies and universities). The only options that would avoid extended furloughs at UC is if the state were to re-examine his priorities and shift some resources from, say, the Department of Corrections to higher ed, or if UC took seriously the idea of sharing revenue from the Medical Centers and other profitable units. Fat chance.

The privatization process will accelerate. This will mean higher fees for students, higher student/faculty ratios, increased reliance on private donors and industry partnerships, renewed efforts to recruit from a dwindling supply of affluent out-of-state students.  Emphasis will be on the revenue-producing units, such as the Medical Centers (which already have been spared the brunt of the budget crisis). At the same time, there will be increased erosion of shared governance, as a bloated and arrogant administration decides to keep ignoring the voice of the faculty (and staff, and students, and parents, ...). We have already commented on the issues facing such a "hybrid" model and the inherent tensions that would prevent its implementation across the board at all the ten campuses.

UCRP will switch from the DB to the DC model. One of the reasons why faculty were willing to put up with salaries hovering around 85% of those at comparable institutions was the outstanding UC Retirement Plan with its defined benefit model. (Never mind that private brokers had been circling in the water for a long time.) With the wave of upcoming retirements the defined benefit model will be more and more costly to the university, and there is increasing talk of switching to a defined contribution model. The most senior faculty, of course, will know this and will anticipate any planned retirement not to see their benefits slashed, thereby contributing to the accelerated decline of the university.

UC will get smaller. Smaller in faculty and students. Students will be driven away by the higher fees, especially middle class students with limited access to financial aid. Already Cal State schools and Community Colleges are seeing significant upticks in applications. Similarly the faculty will be driven away by extended furloughs, a less attractive defined contribution retirement system, and the general loss of prestige of UC. Central administration is said to welcome a reduction of 10% to 15% in the number of faculty system-wide, with peaks if 20% in some units. They might just get their way.

The UC system will break up. Ultimately the different campus will not be able to undergo these processes at the same rate. Berkeley and UCLA will be allowed to set their own tuition, and will increasingly rely on the alumni base and their limited endowments. They will fully embrace the Michigan model, but will have to compete with the privates (USC, Stanford) and each other for a limited number of tuition paying students. The remaining eight campuses, unable to raise tuition (for market reasons) will gradually be assimilated, whether de jure or de facto, into the Cal State system.

10 November 2009

Senior managment explosion

According to a study by the Council of California Faculty Associations, the University of California has been engaged in a veritable hiring spree when it comes to senior management, to the point that there are now almost as many senior managers at UC as faculty members.

There were 2.5 faculty member for each senior manager at UC in 1993, today it's virtually one to one. If the 2.5 ratio had been enforced, UC would save about $800M — which is, by coincidence, the very same amount of the current budget shortfall over last year.

It would seem irresponsible to furlough and lay off people often making a fraction of what senior manager make — the janitorial and service staff, the lecturers and other temporary faculty as well as many of the regular faculty  — the people who make the university run — when there is such a glut at the managerial feeding trough. It is also worth mentioning that while there might be some doubt as to whether UC uses student fees to pay for debt service on construction bonds, executive salaries unquestionably come out of core funds.

04 November 2009

Senate rejects fee increases for graduate students

In a letter signed by Chair Powell, The UC System-wide senate has advised Pres. Yudof to request that the Regents reconsider fee increases for graduate students, in view of the impact that such fees would have on graduate education and research at the University of California. Will the Regents be listening?

03 November 2009

What Future?

When the UC Commission on the Future (aka the "Gould" Commission) was announced last July, we predicted that it would turn out to be mostly ineffectual. But that assessment was based on a misunderstanding of the real function of the Gould Commission. As it's becoming increasingly clear, its real task is not to find ways to preserve and protect the unique combination of quality and access that characterizes the UC — in other words, to save the UC in these difficult econonomic times. Rather, the main function of the Gould Commission is to promote acceptance  — gently if possible, more robustly if necessary — of the new "privitized" or "hybridized" model of the University. In a word, propaganda.

01 November 2009

UC's own construction bubble

One has to wonder why UC administrators have such a fixation with big, expensive construction projects, be they stadiums or administrative buildings. Yes, we know that they add to the clout and prestige of the campuses and keep alumni happy by providing fancy settings for home football games, but in these difficult times a little restraint would have seemed in order.

Berkeley is in the process of building the new state-of-the-art California Memorial Stadium, including the Student-Athlete High Performance Center, at a projected cost of $312M and $136M respectively. This is close to half a billion dollars in construction costs. All such projects at UC are supposed to be self-supporting, but Berkeley's Intercollegiate Athletics has been losing around $10M year for the past few years, money which is supposedly being re-paid from core campus funds, so it's not clear how Berkeley's IA plan to repay that additional debt (unless they are relying on a hare-brained scheme to "sell" stadium seats at $220,000 each).

And this is just an example. How's UC planning to pay for all this? As pointed in Bob Meister's Open Letter and in the relative follow ups, since 2003 UC has been going on a veritable borrowing spree on the private financial markets, made possible by their pledging students' fees as collateral, a fact that raises a number of questions and helps explain UC's mad rush to raise student fees. It's precisely those fee increases that allow UC to maintain its high credit rating, which in turn allows it to obtain on the private market the funds it needs to feed its construction addiction.

But now Bob Meister has uncovered a discrepancy between the Regents' "ed fee" policy, which does not allow student fees to be used except for services for the students' benefit, and Peter Taylor's  (UC Executive Vice-President and CFO) presentation to UCPB listing student fees among (and in fact the prominent of ) UC's "sources of debt repayment." So let us reiterate the question Bob Meister posed to the Regents:
Are student fees, besides being pledged as collateral for construction bonds, actually being used to pay for debt service on those bonds?
It's a simple question, which should have a simple answer.

NY Times on the privatization of the public university

Today's NYT has a long piece on the privatization trend at public universities across the country, pointing out that some, like Michigan, have been at it for a long time, while other are just setting out on that path. The UC is catching up pretty fast it seems.

The new, privatized or semi-privatized university will be smaller: fewer students will be able to afford it, and faculty numbers will be reduced through attrition. Students will be, by and large, wealthier, smarter, and less diverse.

One problem pointed out in the article is that there is a finite, and in fact small, supply of such wealthier smarter students, and as more and more public universities compete to attract them there might not be enough to go around.

27 October 2009

Student coalition calls for system-wide strike

A student coalition is calling for a system-wide strike to be held Nov.18-20, concomitantly with the Regents' meeting where the proposed fee increases for next year will be considered.

The students demand:
  • that the Regents vote no on the proposed fee increases.
  • that the UC stop cuts and layoffs, and end its aggressive union-busting tactics.
  • transparency of the UC budget, including complete figures on how much of the additional revenue from fees will be diverted for construction and used as bond collateral.
  • that the Regents expand enrollment of underrepresented groups and ensure equal access to education for all.
  • an explanation for the failure of the UC leadership to make an effective case for public higher education.
These seem all pretty much on track to me.

26 October 2009

Bring democracy to the UC

The University of California is governed by the UC Regents, a body established in 1878 when Article IX, Section 9 of the California consititution was drafted to ensure that
the university shall be entirely independent of all political and sectarian influence and kept free therefrom in the appointment of its Regents and in the administration of its affairs.
Commendable as these goals sound, the appointment of 18 Regents by the Governor to 12-year terms seems to have achieved exactly the opposite result than intended by those who enacted the state Constitution. The Regents have essentially unchecked authority on the University, free to pursue whatever vision might move them. All is well, of course, as long as that vision is informed by the common good of the citizens of California, but it can go dangerously astray when it's not.

The flip side of political autonomy is lack of accountability.

That is why there is now a "student and alumni-led" democratization effort, The Phoenix Project, aiming "to build a state-wide coalition that can model democracy by bringing together University of California stakeholders." 

The appointment of essentially autonomous Regents to what are close to life terms is not the only way to ensure that the University  is "independent of all political and sectarian influence."

The  Phoenix Project has put forward another option, which would have looked outlandish in 1878, but not in 2009, intended to develop a model of governance that brings all the different constituencies at the UC (students, alumni, faculty, local communities) into the deliberative process. This is of course still quite vague, but people are beginning to explore the details of such a plan.

20 October 2009

Another blogging hiatus

Blogging will be light-to-nonexistent as I travel to a conference. But there is still plenty to read, whether on this blog or by following the links at left.

18 October 2009

Save Democracy, Fix California

George Lakoff has launched his campaign to put a constitutional amendment called the "California Democracy Act" on the ballot in 2010. The proposed amendment consists of one sentence:
All legislative actions on revenue and budget must be determined by majority vote.
As it's becoming increasingly clear (as if it wasn't already) it's impossible to start addressing California's problems unless we fix the political process first.

People can join the campaign by signing up at http://www.camajorityrule.com/.

15 October 2009

Eight Questions for Mark Yudof

We've known for quite a while that the University enjoys a higher credit rating than the state, so much so that UC recently borrowed $200M on behalf of the State. Thanks to a cogent and detailed Open Letter authored by Bob Meister, now we know why: the University can do something that the State can't, i.e., raise revenue at will by increasing tutition (whereas the State cannot raise taxes, given the political and legal constraints).

Meister's letter should be required reading in every classroom in the system: it explains in details how UC has pledged student fees as collateral for its bonds, which in turn are used to finance capital construction projects around the campuses.

Careful reading of the letter elicits the following eight questions for UC President Yudof, questions to which we anxiously await answers.
  1. How much revenue does UC obtain through tuition-backed bonds?
  2. Will UCOP disclose its plans to issue new tuition-backed bonds in the future?
  3. How much money will UC be committing to service debt incurred through any future tuition-backed bonds?
  4. Where exactly does UC list in its financial statements the reserves being held by the bond trustee, Bank of New York Mellon Trust (BoNYMellon)?
  5. Will UCOP release the "due diligence" documents it furnished the bond trustee, BoNYMellon, and the bond-rating agencies, Moody's and Standard & Poor's when it first issued bonds in 2004?
  6. More in general, what are UC's plans to raise capital in the bond market, whether these bonds are backed by tuition or not?
  7. Has UC ever diverted funds off-the-top from instruction budgets to construction budgets, and if so, in what amounts?
  8. Last but not least, how much revenue does UC derive from its contracts with the Department of Energy and the private partners at the National Labs?
UPDATE: based on Meister's report, Charles Schwarz asks whether, beside being pledged as collateral for construction bonds, tuition is or will be used also to actually service debt. We are confident this question will receive as swift a response as the eight questions above.

12 October 2009

All hat and no cattle

If one needed any  proof that Gov. Schwarzenegger's emphasis on transparency and accountability is just for show, one would have to look no further than the Governor's veto of  S.B. 86, S.B 218 and S.B 219.

S.B 86 would have imposed limits on executive compensation at CSU and UC; S.B. 218 would amended the California Public Records Act to include organizations performing auxiliary functions for CSU and UC; and S.B. 219 would have extended whistleblower protection to UC employees. All three bills were introduced by Sen. Leland Yee, and approved by the Legislature. All three were opposed by senior management at UC and CSU.

We had already commented on Sen. Lee's laudable efforts. It does look like Sen. Lee and Lt. Governor Garamendi are the only ones left in California public life who have any sense at all.

Schwarzenegger defended his veto of executive compensation caps by claiming that
A blanket prohibition limiting the flexibility for the UC and CSU to compete, both nationally and internationally, in attracting and retaining high level personnel does a disservice to those students seeking the kind of quality education that our higher education segments offer.
But even if we agreed with the Governor's (and UCOP's) privatization strategy, this seems backwards: if it wanted to guarantee students the best education experience California has to offer, the University should be actively recruiting and appropriately compensating its faculty, not the administrators. Let me ask you: When's the last time you heard of universities and colleges being ranked by the quality of their administrators? I can imagine it already, US News and World Report advising students to attend such and such a school — they have lousy teachers and no facilities, but their administrators rock!

The other lesson we learn from this (besides the fact the Governator talks the talk but does not have the balls to walk the walk), is that UC's (and CSU's) lobbying efforts paid off handsomely, at least for senior management at UCOP and across the campuses. The lobbyists UC employs (at an annual cost of $1.6M in payroll only) obviously managed to get the Governor's ear, convincing him to overturn the decision of elected officials in the California legislature.

Calls to save access to higher ed in California

Looks like finally people are beginning to notice the dismal state of higher ed in California, and that the famed Master Plan for higher education, on which much of California's global success was built, is now not worth the paper it's printed on (or, in this case, the bandwidth needed to access it). As an example of this renewed awareness, see the unsigned editorial in the Pasadena Star-News:
There are signs everywhere that the state's pillars of higher education - access, affordability and quality — are crumbling.
Access, affordability and quality are precisely the three historical components of the Master Plan. The editorial calls for "a robust public discussion about the future of public higher education." Unfortunately, higher education does not seem to be high on the priority list in Sacramento, or on many people's minds for that matter (unless they have a direct involvement in higher ed the students, their families, the faculty and staff at California colleges and universities, and their families).

10 October 2009

California's budget hole widening

It was clear already this past July that the nasty and brutal budget deal reached by the Governor and the Legislature would not probably be enough. We now learn from Bloomberg that the State's revenues are already running $1.1B behind expectations in the 3 months June 30 to Sept. 30, the decline being driven by smaller-than-expected returns in sale taxes, which in turn are driven by the 12.2% unemployment rate and certainly not helped by furloughs and layoffs of state workers.

The Bloomberg article also makes clear how much of the current budgetary trouble derives from servicing debt uncurred by the State under Schwarzenegger in trying to balance previous budgets. In addition to old debt, the July budget deal allows the sale of an extra $11B in bonds, "if the market allows," i.e., if the state does not have to commit to extravagantly high rates to force its bonds down investors' throats.

All of this spells trouble for the prospect of higher ed in California. At UC, we have a "soft" promise from UCOP to end of furloughs in 2010-11, but we have already had calls for an extensions (to mitigate fee increases), and the current budgetary stars do not seem to be aligned the right way.

As a counterpoint, in a recent NYT piece, Paul Krugman points out the elementary fact that in an economic downturn public support of education serves the dual purpose of providing counter-cyclical employment opportunities and delaying entry in a dismal job market for high-school (and college) graduates. California is, of course, doing exactly the opposite of what it should be doing.

08 October 2009

The new hybrid model and the future of UC

As is well known, UC Pres. Mark Yudof has been a staunch proponent of a "hybrid" model for the University, i.e., a public-private partnership characterized by high(er) tuition, less public funding, and corporate sponsorship. Now, UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau and Vice Chancellor Yeary have come forward with an alternative hybrid model, this time characterized by a federal-state partnership. (The proposal can be found — appropriately — in the WaPo, but has been published elsewhere as well.)

Based on the (correct, but too often forgotten) principle that public universities deliver a public good, Birgeneau and Yeary advocate a new Morrill Act that would see unprecedented (for this country) direct participation of the federal government in higher education.

According to this proposed plan, the federal government would make a direct commitment to a few "great" public institutions such Michigan, Illinois, Rutgers, and of course Berkeley to
provide sufficient additional funding for operations and student support to ensure broad access and continued excellence.
In addition the federal government would enter a 10-year agreement to match 2-1 any private funds raised toward the endowment along with a 1-1 commitment on part of the state. So if, say, Berkeley were to raise $150M a year for 10 year it would end up with a $6B endowment.

These are the outlines. What to make of it?

Like Yudof's own public-private hybrid model, the Birgeneau-Yeary proposal moves from the assumption that state support is gone for good. This might well be true, but so far no serious arguments have been put forward for it, except exhortations to Realpolitik (which are just that, and no arguments at all). The assumption itself might not be as well entrenched anymore, now that the pain caused by fee increases has finally become visible, at a time where other powerful economies around the world are investing more and not less in higher ed.

If we grant the premise, then again I think UCB is correct to try every possible avenue available to them to save such a great University. California is better off with a hybridized UCB than with none at all. That much is clear. And the Birgeneau-Yeary model would certainly appear to be more stable than the Yudof model, which would rapidly accelerate towards complete privatization.

But notice how both hybridization models so far proposed will inevitably lead to the break-up of the UC system. This is much is clear in the UCB plan: Berkeley would get a federal bail-out, and the other campuses will be left to sink or swim, as the case might be. But the same would happen on the Yudof model: the ten campuses cannot conceivably privatize (or hybridize) at the same speed, and this again would lead to a top tier (UCB, UCLA, maybe UCSD) raising tuition and establishing private partnerships, while the rest would be gradually be absorbed by the CAL State system. There is certainly not enough demand in the State for college instruction at the private price point, and even any out-of-staters would naturally gravitate towards the flagships.

06 October 2009


Suppose a world-renowned, but cash-strapped university, while facing prospects of further cuts down the road, suddenly discovered a cool unencumbered $3M in the folds of its budget. Well, what is such a glorious university, overlooking one of the most beautiful bays in the world, supposed to do with it? Use it to retain its stellar faculty? Or perhaps recruit more deserving students from diverse backgrounds? Or even recognize the contributions of unsung service staff? The possibilities are endless, from improving the students' learning experience to better benefits for non-ladder faculty.

Naturally, none of the above. It's all about priorities. Three million is just what is need to hire a fancy out-of-state management consulting firm to get advice on ... more cuts!

Remarkably, this is the same consulting firm who advised in favor of the historic UCSF/Stanford merger. which had later had to be undone at a cost of $176M. Even more remarkably, such an unnamed university is host to a top-ranked business school, whose faculty would have been happy to advise on budget cuts for a fee well below $3M.

05 October 2009

UC's very own Darth Vader

As reported by the UCSB Daily Nexus, Pres. Yudof traveled to Irvine on Saturday to sit down with UCI Chancellor Drake for a group interview with various UC student newspapers. The interview itself rehearses the same main talking points as in Yudof's address to the Regents or his Chronicle piece. What is noteworthy is that a "swarm" of students and service workers had planned a protest in advance of Yudof's arrival in Irvine and that as a consequence Pres. Yudof had to be whisked to an "undisclosed location" (pretty much like the original Darth Vader) to meet the student reporters.

It says a lot about the sorry state of the University when the UC President dos not stop to chat with — in fact purposely avoids —  a few dozen students and service workers who are, after all, members of his own constituency.

04 October 2009

Blogging hiatus

Apologies for the light or non-existent posting the last few days — the beginning of classes finally caught up with the California Professor. The weekend provides the opportunity to pause and look back at the past week or so:
  • The Sept. 24 walkout came and went. Participation was substantial on every campus (between 500 and 1000 people attending the rallies), but not overwhelming, except of course at Berkeley
  • Demonstrators at UCSC even occupied the student center, and nobody noticed. The occupation is now over, and nobody notices that, either.
  • A few Chancellors (UCB, UCR, and — belatedly — UCD) were politically shrewd enough to release letters to the faculty, students, and staff saying "We are with you, not against you!" Chancellors on other campuses were silent (as far as I know: corrections welcome). At least someone in the higher echelons of UC's administration has some political sense. Birgeneau for UC President, anyone?
  • President Yudof's NYT interview continues to cause an uproar. We had already commented on the interview, but keep being astonished by the man's lack of political savvy. Yudof then swings the other way by offering a more balanced piece in the Chronicle, basically echoing his remarks to the Regents. This is representative of Yudof's difficulty staying on message: the NYT interview really is part George Costanza and part Silvio Berlusconi (without the sex addiction), and the Chronicle piece more representative of what a university president should be saying, even if we disagree on some parts.
  • In the meanwhile, UCD gets hit by one more scandal, the over-reporting of sexual assault statistics, which, according to Inside Higher Ed, might cost UCD as much as $3M in fines from the federal government. 
Among the various articles and op-ed pieces that have recently come out, the following are noteworthy (in no particular order):
  • Bob Herbert's well-meaning if not completely accurate NYT op-ed.
  • T.D. Elias's calling the furloughs and fee hikes for what they are: a tax on public employees and students.
  • The Guardian's wondering how the world's 8th-largest economy came to be broken.

28 September 2009

AFSCME's rebuttal and UCOP's priorities

AFSCME, the union representing public eployees at the State, County, and City level, has replied to UCOP off-handed dismissal of their alternative budget proposals. While AFSCME's proposals might have been, in part, somewhat unrealistic (e.g., it's clear that the idea of cutting senior managment's salaries by 25%, no matter how attractive it might appear to us, was not going to fly), they made some interesting points that were well worthy of discussion, especially when UCOP's itself had solicited the unions for proposals that would achieve the same level of savings.

ASFSCME's rebuttal contains one new piece of information, which sheds further light on the way UCOP has decided to run its finances. We had already commented on the financial scheme by which UC would borrow $200M on behalf of the State against its own assets, only to lend it, in turn, to the State to finance capital construction projects around the campuses (mostly at the medical centers, one would assume).

We now learn from AFSCME that while the State will take over 3 years to repay UC, the University will have to repay that loan short term, within nine months, as is the case for all instances of commercial paper. This means that UC can find an extra $200M in its budget over the next nine months.  The question poses itself: was this the best way to use those $200M?

If UCOP had instead decided to put those $200M towards the budget shortfall, that would have been tantamount to slowing down capital projects in times of financial hardships. What's wrong with that?

We also take time to notice a piece of news that does not appear to have received a lot of attention, but is also indicative of UCOP's budget priorities: as reported by the Sac Bee, UCOP has just decided to add one more lobbyist, Vince Stewart,  to its Sacramento outfit, at a annual salary of $120K (before the furloughs). Previously, Stewart was the Schwarzenegger's deputy secretary of higher education.

That UC maintains lobbying offices both in Sacramento and Washington, DC is a little known fact. Payroll for the Sacramento office: $859K; for the Washington, DC office:  $741K, for a total of a cool $1.6M.

This might be perhaps a worthwhile endeavor if the lobbyists were employed to reverse the de-funding
of the University. Instead, they have been active lately to kill legislature to bring whistle-blower protection to the UC and impose salary caps for senior management. (The former lobbying effort failed, the latter succeeded only partially, for the record.)

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.

23 September 2009

A letter to my students

As you no doubt know by now, our first day of classes, Thursday Sept. 24 (tomorrow) has been designated a day of protest by UC students, faculty and staff. A number of staff unions will be striking against the University's handling of the budget crisis, and many faculty have indicated that they will participate in a "walkout" for the same purpose. UCSA, the UC Students' Association has endorsed the walkout, as have a a group of graduate students.

No doubt, the University's handling of the current crisis leaves much to be desired. While the ultimate cause of the dire situation of UC must be traced back to the State's failure to live up to its commitments to higher education in California, it must also be noted that it is too easy to address the present crisis by hiking up  student fees, cutting faculty salary and laying off staff. If in addition one considers the lack of transparency that has characterized the Administration's dealings with its employees, the students, their families, and the public at large, one begins to understand why many people on campus feel that they must make their voices heard.

With the latest fee increases, students are now the primary source of revenue for UC. This means, among other things, that this is, now more than ever, your university. If you don't like the way the University of California is increasingly hollowed as a public institution and turned into a corporate entity, if you want to restore the University's mission of providing a high-quality education to every qualified student in California — you have the power to bring about those changes.

21 September 2009

Administrative rot

We have already commented on the administrative bloat at the University of California, for instance the fact  that admistrative positions in the $200K/year and above range doubled between 2006 and 2008. But sometimes adminstrative bloat rises to the level of administrative rot. Here is a story worth telling, all of whose pieces mentioned below are available in the public domain, but perhaps more can be uncovered with some more thorough digging (FIA, anybody?).

Once upon a time, there was an incredibly weathy, impeccably managed, multi-billion-dollar pension fund. This was, of course,  the UCRP, which provides the defined benefit plan for all UC employees, and the person who had been managing it for a long time was Patricia Small. Armed with a BA in Economics from Marymount, Patricia Small had served as the Treasurer of the Regents for many years, managing $58 billion's worth of assets, and ensuring stellar returns for the UCRP fund, year in and year out. Working out of her office at UCOP, she managed the UCRP funds based on a simple but effective strategy: invest in long-term bonds, which are more appropriate for the defined benefit nature of the plan, and in stock from a small number (65 to 80) of companies, and all of this with a small in-house staff and at a minimal cost to the University. The strategies had been so successful that UCRP started requiring no contributions from employees beginning in the early 1990's until, well, next April.

As one might expect, the prospect of untapped millions of dollars in potential brokerage fees sent investment managment firms salivating all across the great State of California.

Enter Gerry Parsky who was, at the time, Chairman of the Board of Regents (he was also at some point an official in Nixon's treasury department, a real estate, junk bond and venture capital investor, as well Chair of G.W. Bush's 2000 and 2004 California Presidential campaigns; Parsky is also the Chair of Schwarzenegger's Commission on the 21st Century Economy whose highly regressive proposal for tax overhaul has just been released).

In 1999, Parsky spearheaded the Regents' effort to remake UCRP's investment philosophy. They contracted Wilshire Asociates (at a cost to the University of $350,000) to analyze UC's investments and recommend changes. By pure happenstance, in July 2000 space tourist Dennis Tito, Wilshire's CEO and Chairman contributes $80,000 to G.W. Bush's California campaign.

Not surprisingly, Wilshire found the UC strategy "risky" and recommended that UC disinvest in long-term bonds to invest in domestic stock index funds. When Patricia Small objected to these changes, she found herself blackballed by the Regents and effectively forced to resign. Three days after her resignation letter, the Regents appointed — surprise! — Wilshire to implement the changes.

As a result, by 2002 UC was paying millions  to external fund managers to oversee the University's stock portfolio. This led to a decline in profits, partly because of the cost, but partly also because of some stupid and risky choices (such as riding Enron stock all the way down from $140.00 to $0.07 at a $145M loss to UC). Wilshire was subsequently awarded a contract to serve as general pension consultant ($1.3M over 3 years),. It was during this period that the Regents instituted the Treasurer's Annual Incentive Plan (AIP), which awards up to 150% of base salary for exceptional performance, as determined by the Regent's consultants. Wilshire was later involved in the fast-trading scandal  and they were finally dropped in 2004 favor of Richards & Tierney (now Nuveen), which in 2008 was in turn replaced by Mercer Investment Consulting. This is the first part of the story: details can be found in an East Bay Express article from which much of the above information is derived, as well as Charles Schwartz' exemplary and thorough treatment.

But let's go back to Patricia Small's position as Treasurer of the Regents. After she resigned, the position went to DeWitt F. Bowman (former chief investment officer for the California Public Employees Retirement System) on an interim basis, and then to David H. Russ, who was hired in 2001 at a salary of $275K, which rose to $325K (gross pay) by the time he retired in 2006. David Russ was succeeded in the position by Marie N. Berggren, the current Treasurer and CIO. And this is where things get a little strange: Berggren was hired at an initial base salary of $375K, which however rose to $470K by 2008, with extra pay of $340K for total compensation of $810K.

Why did Berggren's compensation almost double between 2006 and 2008? Was it because of the stellar performance of UCRP funds (which led to the resumption of employee contributions?) Was it because of her participation in the the UC Treasurer's Office Incentive Plan?

One wrinkle in all this is the potential conflict of interest involving Mercer: as evidenced here, the firm acts both as consultant as regards the Treasurer's Annual Incentive Plan (AIP) and as general investment consultant. It seems likely that Berggren's outlandish raises were recommended by the very same firm that was later hired to oversee the University's investments. Note that Mercer's appointment in this latter capacity was enacted in a closed meeting of the Regents in September 2008, at which the newly appointed President Yudof was also present. One wonders, how long did it take Yudof to smell the stench and decide to along with it?

19 September 2009

LA Times advocates extending furloughs into 2010-11

In an unsigned editorial, the LA Times laments the effects of the proposed fee hike on UC students and their families. The University runs the risk of losing the best middle-class students to private institutions offering more and more purely merit-based financial aid (which benefits the middle class), especially at a time when UC fees are within sight of tuition at private colleges and universities. It is true that a large part of the fee increase is slated for return-to-aid, but that only exacerbates the fact that middle class students are "taxed" in favor of lower-income families.

As one of the measures the LA Times proposes to address the situation, the Board of Regents
should closely examine Yudof's desire to end work furloughs after this academic year. We understand that most UC faculty work for modest salaries and can ill afford pay cuts, but we also are not convinced that they would leave in droves if furloughs of a few days a year were extended into 2010-11.
It's difficult to enumerate the ways in which this just a stupid idea. But one leaps to the front, namely the odd logic of the claim that economic pressure would lead the "best and the brightest" among UC students to move to private institutions, but not — inexplicably — the best and the brightest among the UC faculty. (By comparison, look at this also unsigned, but more constructive piece by the SF Chronicle.)

It might be true that faculty would not leave "in droves," but the most respected faculty most certainly would — those who bring in much needed research grants and those who can boost a program's rankings with their teaching, service and research.

It is true that the middle class is getting a raw deal, but the answer is not to pit the faculty against the students, or lower-income families against middle-class students. The only way to save the University of California is through politcal action to change the State's funding process and priorities. It takes a lot of effort to build up excellence, but only a little to destroy it.

18 September 2009

Students voting with their feet

The SJ Mercury News reported of a rising trickle of California students looking for an education away from the Golden State. Many take advantage of the Western Undregraduate Exchange run out of the University of Colorado, a program which allows students from the Western States to enroll at reduced (out-of-state) tution at a number of institutions outside their state of residence. But many students just plain look for an education elsewhere: the article quotes admission officers from Duke to University of Washington seeing the largest number of California applicants ever.  (Oregon apparently does not take California applicants throught the WUE program for fear of being swamped.)

With the increased fees on their way to Regental approval, we can only expect the numbers to grow. When out-of-state tuition at a respectable institution is lower than in-state fees at UC, the incentives to look elsewhere become pretty strong, especially combined with lower costs for room and board. The trickle of students looking elsewhere might even turn into a rushing river if, as some predict, higher education will be the next bubble to burst. 

UCOP's and the Regents' strategy of making up for lost state revenue by raising fees might hit diminishing marginal returns if it drives more and more students out of UC. For each students who elects to attend school out of state, not only does UC lose the fees the student would have paid, it would also lose the (ever decreasing) FTE money handed down from the state.

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?