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.