30 July 2009

Jeffrey Wasserstrom makes the case for UC

Two interesting and related pieces by Jeffrey Wasserstrom (Irvine) make the case for UC cogently and eloquently. One piece is in the CHE and the other one in the HuffPo.

Among the points made in the articles: comtrary to at least some other state agencies, the University of California has been suffering for a long time. On a per-capita (i.e., per-student) basis, money paid by the state to UC has declined 40% from 1990 to 2008, and the overall general fund budget has remained essentially flat during the same period, at a time when the budget for state prisons increased from 5 to 11 billion.

25 July 2009


In one of the most disturbing turns in the whole story of the furloughs at UC, it would appear that the salary cuts are far from equitable and progressive, as UCOP's propaganda machine would instead have it.

In a statement by Bob Samuels, President of UC-AFT (the union that represents lecturers at UC) it is pointed out how the salary cuts are based on base pay only rather than total compensation. As it was made clear at the time of the compensation scandal, the two are very much different at the University of California.

Consider the case of Jeff Tedford, Head Coach of Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Berkeley and apparently the highest paid UC employee. Tedford's base pay is a "measly" $225K, but his total compensation is over $2.3M. Not all of that is salary, most likely (total compensation includes retirement and other benefits etc.) but a lot it is. Why is Tedford going to lose only $22K instead of $230K? And since we are at it — why is the Berkeley coach the highest paid employee at UC?

Hats off to Samuels and to Remaking the University for bringing this up.

Equally interesting a press release (PDF) by the University Professional & Technical Employees: at the same time as UCOP and the Regents slashed salaries left and right (ahem, modulo the above qualifications), they also increased salaries for a number of administrative positions. One example already mentioned on this blog is Linda Katehi, the newly appointed Davis Chancellor, whose salary is 27% higher than that of her predecessor, and who come to Davis followed by the cloud of the University of Illinois admissions scandal. But there are many more cases like this.

Reading these contributions but AFT and UPTE brings up once again the question: why aren't UC faculty unionized?

24 July 2009

Mean, Nasty and Stupid

It's been a couple of days since the governor and the legislature reached a budget agreement, and there was some hope at the time that things might not turn out to be as bad as they looked then.

Well, they are: this budget deal is mean, nasty, and stupid. The budget cuts $15B altogether to close a $26B shortfall. Of these $15B, $9B come from education, divided between K-12 ($6B) and Higher Ed ($3B). The rest of the shortfall is covered through a combination of shameless money grab from counties and municipalities and accounting tricks. The budget deal allows resumption of oil drilling off the Santa Barbara Coast — which will bring in a measly $100M — but does not raise any other extra revenue.

It's true that some programs for the poor and the sick were completely eliminated, although they have heavily cut. Maybe that's why Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D-LA) is smiling. But there is nothing to smile about.

The budget deal having been approved by the Senate in an all-night session, it is currently being debated in the Assembly where apparently one of the most contentious items is early release of prisoners from the State system (again, you would not want to step on the prison guards union's toes).

The Republicans in the Legislature have had their way in not raising any new revenue. Except of course when it comes to State and University Employees: what are salary cuts and furloughs if not a tax hike targeted at a very specific group, violating the spirit if not the letter of the Equal Protection Clause?

Unfortunately there is not much that can be done right now to bring back some sanity to the California political process. Local governments, unions and educators are beginning to build opposition to this cruel budget deal, but the problems are more far-reaching.

Well, then, what to do now? Here is a first list:
  1. Fix the electoral process with redistricting reform as enacted through Prop. 11 and move towards open primaries.
  2. Repeal Prop. 13 at least for commercial properties and the 2/3 majority requirement.
  3. Approve AB 565, if necessary by putting it on the ballot for voters to approve directly. This would bring California in line with Texas (!!) in using an oil severance tax to fund higher Education.

Finally, hats-off to Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who was the only one to speak against the budget cuts in education at the UC Regents' meeting earlier this month. Unfortunately, it appears that Garamendi is running for Congress in California's 10th district. That's too bad: he's needed right here in California.

21 July 2009

Budget Update

The Governor and the Legislature have finally reached a budget agreement and this is what the great state of California will look like.

20 July 2009

The Public Option in Higher Education

The health care reform plan being now considered in Congress prominently contains a public option, a publicly controlled and inspired health plan designed to compete with private health plans. The rationale behind the proposal is that such an option would keep everybody honest, by forcing private health plan to compete against an alternative that is not profit-driven and large enough to achieve economies of scale.

The system of higher education in California was also originally established as a "public option" — after all, this is exactly what the whole idea of a land-grant institution (as it emerged after the Civil War) was about. The public option in higher education has been under attack for a long time. As repeatedly pointed out, state funding of higher education has been steadily decreasing on a per-student basis to the point where, for instance, the University of California only draws about 17% of its budget from state general funds. This was the idea of the "Compact:" bring UC fees in line with tuition at other institutions, essentially at a point where students would pay their own way through the University (and accordingly disenfranchise students who could not afford to do so), a process sometimes referred to as the "Michuganization" of the University of California. But that is the end of UC as a land-grant institution, the end of the public option in higher education in California.

So we have two models here for funding the University: (1) a model according to which UC functions essentially like a private institution, setting fees accordingly, with very modest support from the State; and (2) the original land-grant model: the public option.

As a UC faculty member, as long as my own self-interest takes center stage, I would have no problems with (1). In fact, my colleagueas and I would have probably avoided salary cuts under this option. The question is whether the faculty at UC and the citizens of the State have any interest in bringing the university back to option (2), in trying to rescue what at some point was the most ambitious and successful experiment in public higher education, anywhere, any time.

Remaking the University

Let me call attention to Chris Newfield's excellent blog, Remaking the University. Chris deals with the same issues as the California Professor — only better. So head on to Remaking the University, stay informed, and support Chris's (and many others') effort to save the University of California.

18 July 2009

UC Regents establish blue ribbon commission

At the same meeting where faculty and staff furloughs were approved, the UC Regents also established a Commission, co-chaired by UC President Yudof and Regent's Chair Gould, to explore options for the future of the University. Sounds very much like the reproduction of the elephants: we'll see a lot of huffing and puffing at a high level, and it will take 18 months before we have any results.

17 July 2009

How many philosophy professors does it take ...

... to screw in a light bulb at UCLA's Pauley Pavillion?

Quite a few, apparently. At the same meeting where the UC Regents approved President Yudof's plan for furloughs, they also approved a $185M renovation for the Edwin W. Pauley Pavilion,where UCLA plays basketball. That is very close to the total amount that is to be saved by furlough for faculty and staff at the ten campuses.

Of course, the money for the Pauley renovation cannot be re-directed to support the academic mission of the University — says who?

The $185M is supposed to come from private donations (about $100M), combined student fees ($25M), and external financing ($60M borrowed against future revenues, I suppose).

So here is an idea: suspend the renovations, go back to the people who donated (or are expected to donate) $100M and ask for permission to use the money to support academics at UC.

16 July 2009

Back of the envelope reckoning

As reported by many sources, including today's WSJ, the UC system employs around 180,000 people. If I wanted to save $200M in salaries, that would amount to a little over a thousand dollars each — that does not come to an 8% cut, unless the average salary at UC is around $12,500.

OK, assume half of those 180,000 are on soft money or do not otherwise draw money from the general fund (a highly unrealistic assumption). Even then, it would come to about $2,000 each in salary cuts. Assuming a 7% average cut (somewhere in between 4% and 10%), then the average salary at UC would have to be around $32K. This last figure is slightly more realistic, but still one can't avoid the feeling that we have been dealing with a very shrewd car salesman.

15 July 2009

UC Regents approve Yudof's plan

After voting to give Yudof the emergency powers he requested, the Regents have approved the plan for cuts and furloughs. Apparently, one of the view voices who spoke up in opposition to the plan was Lt. Gov. John Garamendi.

Let us pause and take stock again. Through the proposed furloughs, the university aims to save about $200M, or roughly one-quarter of the $800M in cuts passed along by the State. (We do not really know where the remaining $600M are going to come from.) Now, although $800M is a big chunk of the money coming to the University from the State (about $3.6B, give or take), it is only 4% of the University's overall budget of about $20B, and the proposed just approved furloughs are only 1% of the University's budget. As Lakoff asked in his letter: is salary the best place to cut 1%?

The overall sense then is that, huge as the University's budget might be (and it is about the size of Serbia's GDP), State funds represent an increasingly small percentage of it — but it's percentage that directly pays for faculty and staff salaries.

In light of the State's dire economic situation, higher education is the wrong place to cut. The State's contribution to higher education has already been steadily cut over the past twenty years or so, by 40% on a per-student basis, at a time when the prison budget went from $5B to $11B.

13 July 2009

Petition to the Regents; Lakoff's letter.

There is a petition asking the Regents to stop the proposed budget cuts. Signatureas are collected here.

George Lakoff has drafted a letter to be read to the Regents during their meeting beginning tomorrow. In order to add your signature to the letter, send an email to lakoff@berkeley.edu with the subject line: endorsement, and providing name and affiliation.

12 July 2009

A bone-headed idea

Chocolate Nation reports that Andrew Scull, Chair of UCSD's Sociology Department has written an open letter — co-signed by another twenty-two UCSD Department Chairs — advocating closing UC's newly-minted Merced campus and calling for reduced funding for Riverside and Santa Cruz.

President Yudof's reply to the proposal is here. UCOP obviously agrees with the title of the present post.

Or maybe Prof. Scull had a jump start on the proposed AB 390.

UPDATE: speaking of bone-headed ideas, Leland Yee's proposal to take control of UC away from the Regents give it to the legislature has been officially taken off the table.

11 July 2009

Just when you thought it could not get any worse ...

Well, President Yudof has sent a proposal to the University Regents outlining his plan to implement measures to close the $800M and change budget shortfall. The announced 8% salary cut is there, although it is now (i) more finely graduated by salary level (from 4% for those earning less than $40K to 10% for those earning $240K and above), and (ii) implemented in the form of furloughs rather than straight salary cuts.

Furloughs are better than salary cuts since they preserve the salary base and are easier to reverse in the future. They are also more likely to have a lesser impact on the retirement system, especially for those planning to retire in the near future.

In the meantime, the NYT points out how State funding for the University only increased by 2% between 2001 and 2008, at a time when enrollment grew by 30%. In fact, state funding per student decreased by about 40% over the last 10-15 years. By comparison, funding for state prison, K-12 Ed and health and human services has grown by 40%, in the same years.

This has been a long time coming. The State has consistently worked at gutting what was arguably the world's finest public system of higher education for a long, long time. Whichever party the Governor hailed form, the University budget was cut in bad times and kept steady in good times. This is the result.

The California Professor is admittedly surpised that people are taking all this laying down and not making a bigger deal of it (as well as of course the other cuts in State funding to support for health care, instruction, etc.) It was a given in California that the best students could expect to receive a world-class education at bargain-basement prices — not any more. Tuition will go up (again), the number of admitted students will go down, classes will be more crowded, time to graduation will be longer.

A rather depressing thought on an otherwise glorious day here in the Golden State.

09 July 2009

Support AB 656

California Assembly majority leader Alberto Torrico has introduced a bill to enact an oil and gas severance tax, the revenue from which would be used to supplement state funding for all three tiers of California's higher education system (community colleges, Cal State Universities and the UC).

California is the third largest oil-producing state in the US, and the only state without an oil severance tax. Even the reddest of the red states, Texas, has an oil severance tax, which has been used since the 1800s to support public education.

This seems like a good idea whose time has come.

08 July 2009

Finally a stirring

About 300 UC scientists have signed a letter protesting the proposed budget cuts, arguing that such cuts would have nefarious consequences for the California economy. The news has been picked up by the SF Chronicle here. It all comes down to this: what's good for business is good for California, and UC is very good for business.

02 July 2009

In the meantime, at Davis...

The newly appointed Chancellor of UC Davis, Linda Katehi, is facing increasing criticism for her connection to the University of Illinois admissions scandal (where otherwise unqualified applicants with political connections in high places were given, Blago-style preferential treatment in admission).

Given this track record, Katehi was hired at an annual salary of $400,000 (about $85,000 more than her predecessor, Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef -- is she that much better?). It's true that this is small change compared to the $800M for which the university is in the hole, but it does send the wrong message, it is in poor taste, and moreover every little bit counts.

UCOP argues that such salaries are necessary to retain the best talent (just like in the case of the banks, one would like to ask: What talent?), but funny how such retention arguments get no traction when it comes to the faculty and staff that are actually supporting the university's mission.

Here is a prediction: pretty soon the top faculty at the University will start voting with their feet.

UPDATE: The Chronicle also picks up the story here.

A modest Proposal: let the flagships go

So here's an idea for addressing the 20% budget cut the State is imposing on the University of California: cut the flagship campuses, Berkeley and UCLA, loose. Let them go, free to finance themselves through endowments, alumni donations, and tuition. And redistribute the money thus saved to other campuses.

UCLA and UCB are the only campuses with the history and the connections to build an endowment: let them run themselves like private Universities (at Berkeley they already think they are Ivy League anyways). People can now get a world-class education at either of these campuses, for comparatively very little money (but for how much longer?). Set them free, and put the full weight of the state's support for the land-grant nature of UC begind the remaining campuses.

Hitting the fan

It's Thursday, July 2nd, and it looks like the great state of California is in a tailspin. The legislature once again failed to reach an agreement on temporary measures to keep the state solvent, and the state controller will start issuing IOU's today to cover current expenses (including income tax refunds). It's remarkable that the Governor pressed Republicans on the legislature to block the temporary measures proposed by the Democrats, only to then blame the legislature for failing to reach an agreement. Looks like Gov. Schwarzenegger wants it both ways.

In related commentary, California is characterized as "sinking," and when it comes to the University it looks like students are beginning to look elsewhere (much to the University of Arizona's delight).