26 January 2010

UC Berkeley and the 14th Amendment

On January 13 the UC Berkeley Committee on Student Conduct (CSC) placed Angela Miller, a UCB Junior, on interim  suspension, banned her from Campus property, precluded her from speaking to anyone affiliated with UC Berkeley, and evicted her from Campus housing. Ms. Miller was accused of participating in the Dec. 11, 2009 demonstration outside the Chancellor’s University House during which windows were vandalized and a concrete planter was broken. Eight people were arrested, including Ms. Miller, but given the insufficient evidence the Alameda County DA decided not to file any charges.

Evidently unhappy with this outcome, Berkeley decided to bring Ms. Miller in front a CSC panel to respond to the charges. During these proceedings  Ms. Miller was denied her right to counsel, refused access to photographic evidence (that only showed carrying a torch), and not notified of the Administration's intention to bring witnesses (who then turned out to rely in hearsay). Addressing her character and political views instead, the panel decided that Ms. Miller was a danger to the campus community, and proceeded to suspend her.

A post by UC Berkeley law students at Uncivil Procedure makes it clear that the University's proceedings violated Ms. Miller's constitutional rights to due process (as set forth in the 14th Amendment), also noting that
California law is clear that the rules governing disciplinary hearings at public universities are subject to constitutional due process guarantees.
The Uncivil Procedure post is a well-written and interesting piece: it forcefully shreds to pieces the University's charges against Ms. Miller, documents the breach of her constitutional rights, and makes a reasonable case that the CSC panel's aim was "to chill and impede student activism [...] UCB’s warning to any who dare show a contrary opinion." Somebody should be giving these law students an A.

The underpants gnomes strike again

Paul Krugman commented recently how some House members' plan for health care reform resembles the Underpants Gnomes' brilliant 3-stage business plan:
  1. Collect underpants
  2. ?????
  3. Profit!
It would appear that Gnomes were at work again this past week in Oakland, when the Regents approved a plan to retrofit Cal Stadium, which was built in 1923 right on top of the Hayward Fault.

According to the plan, the $321M retrofit would be funded, as usual, by issuing a construction bond. And how do the Regents plan to pay for debt service on the bond? Through ESP, of course, the Endowment Seating Program: Cal would be selling lifetime licenses to approximately 3,000 seats in the stadium. It looks like, so far, about 1,700 such licenses have been sold, generating some $215M in revenue (that's about $125,000 per seat; reports have pegged the cost of such seats at $2,700, but that must be the yearly cost over 40 years, or else it would be impossible to generate enough revenue to pay for debt service).

Professional teams in the Bay Area have tried this already, with mixed results: it worked for the Giants at AT&T Park, but it was a flop at the Oakland Coliseum.

Notice that Berkeley's Athletic Program (besides boasting the highest paid employee of the UC system) has been losing money for years, with the Campus having to chip in a few millions each time. OK, so what happens if the anticipated revenue from ESP does not materialize? That's where point (2) of the Gnomes' plan comes in.

22 January 2010

Here is what $3.1M in incentive pay will buy

Well, not much, it would seem. The Mercury News reports today that federal inspectors have uncovered "dozens" of problems at UC Irvine Medical Center, from sub-par storage of drugs to lost patients' confidential information, to poor oversight in general. So many problems were uncovered, in fact, that UCI MC risks losing millions in federal funding. We don't know how many of the 38 managers that will receive the incentive pay approved yesterday by the Regents are at UCI MC. But we do hope that the Regents will see it fit to rescind any incentives to be paid out to UCI MC managers.

20 January 2010

$3.1M in incentive pay at UCMCs

During their their meeting this week in San Francisco, the Regents are expected to approve $3.1M in incentive pay for 38 senior medical center managers. That's an average of $81,600 for each manager, with David Feinberg, head of UCLA's Medical Center, earning close to $220,000 in incentive pay alone.
UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann said her hospital saw a more than 5 percent drop in one type of infection, and that 89.5 percent of patients surveyed reported being satisfied with care. "This is how you run a great medical center," she said, referring to incentives.
The $3.1M do not come from state funds, but from medical center profits. According to the SF Chonicle,  the University would likely be sued if they did not approve the incentive pay (as such incentives were in the managers' appointment letters).

This raises a couple of questions:
  1. The MCs are turning out millions in profits, should they not be asked to help support the University at large, the same way in which the University at large supports them?
  2. There are many faculty and perhaps staff whose salary is specified in their letters of appointment or promotion. Why does the furlough program not expose the University to potential lawsuits from these faculty and staff?
  3. And, since we are at it, why not extend the incentive program across the board? Here is a deal: if 89.5% of my students are satisfied with my teaching and I increase their test scores by 5%, I propose that the University  award me the average incentive of $81,600.

13 January 2010

The Governor's parting salvo

It's been a week since the Governor 's State of the State address last Wednesday, and a few days since he made public his budget proposal on Friday, and it's becoming a little clearer what Schwarzenegger is (or is not) trying to accomplish.

Of course, from our point of view, the most remarkable piece of the State of the State address was the proposed constitutional amendment to gradually shift funding priorities from prisons to higher education in a process that is to run through 2014. However, over the last few days (if we can borrow a page from Pres. Yudof's book) the shine has come off the Governor proposal.

It is, first of all,  another piece of constitutionally mandated budgeting, like we did not have enough of that already. The flip side of a renewed emphasis on education is the big push in prison privatizations (rather than, say, reviewing California's sentencing laws or releasing non-violent first offenders). But the most remarkable aspect of the proposal, like the twin proposal to adopt the Parsky commission tax reform, is that it has virtually no chance of passing. It would require approval by two-thirds of the Legislature followed by approval by the voters in a state-wide ballot.

That the Governor was not serious about shifting funding priorities became apparent just a few days later, in the January budget. Because if he had been, he could have started right there and then, without waiting for a constitutional amendment. Instead, the January budget restores a minimal amount to UC (about one third of UCOP's request) and CSU, but cuts K-14 education (including community colleges). The January budget also cuts $1.2B from the Dept. of Corrections, but mostly through reduced inmate health care (and transfer of inmates to County jails). Even if the cut in the Corrections budget were to pass muster with the Republicans in the Legislature,  inmate health care in California is overseen by the federal courts, who would also have to approve the change.

So it is clear that Governor's proposals are just a boutade, soemthing he came up with because he has no idea how to go about fixing the State's problems — and what's more, he never did. The Governor is all hat and no cattle and he has been running California in the last few years by coming up with an amateurish measure after the other.

Finally, we pause to note that our fearless leader Pres. Yudof was quick to praise the Governor for his bold proposal, and the Academic Senate (and a few Chancellors) equally quick to praise Yudof for bringing it about. Too bad the Governor's office remarked that the protests this past fall were "the tipping point," not any pleading by UC's leadership.

When one tries to take it all in, the irrationality and wishful thinking that permeate both Sacramento and Oakland, the conclusion seems inescapable: we are fucked.

09 January 2010

The January budget

Well, the January budget is out, and the Governor has a clear strategy for closing a $21B deficit: cuts, cuts and cuts. The Governor proposes to implement salary cuts for state employees (in lieu of furloughs) and increased contribution to the pension plan. On the face of it, such measures should require a round of bargaining with the unions, but Schwarzenegger seems to want  to implement the cuts by legislative fiat. The Dept. of Corrections budget should see a 10% cut (or $1.2B), to be taken out of inmate medical care (a move that is bound to get the state in trouble with the federal courts), God forbid we actually step on the prison guards union's toes. The Governor is also pulling a trick, replacing a gas tax with an excise fee so that he then raid those revenues for the general fund. Funding for schools will be slashed and programs for the sick, the elderly and the poor reduced. All the while the state is requesting federal aid for about $7B, with further deeper cuts if Washington does not step in, as it seems likely.

When it comes to higher education, Schwarzenegger is increasing the appropriation by about $220M for UC and CSU combined, saying that this should be enough to forestall further fee increases. UC President Yudof had instead requested that the state restore $913M in funding for UC, and a similar request had come from CSU. It's clear that the $220M proposed by the Governor do nothing to address the combined financial woes of UC and CSU.

At UC, the ball is now in Yudof's court: UCOP needs to be clear about the consequences of this budget, whether UC will live up to its commitment that the furloughs will end this year, whether they will seek further fee hikes, or the extent of any cuts they will pass down to the campuses.

08 January 2010

The fee increases are working

There has been widespread discussion of the University's priorities in raising student fees at the Regents' November meeting. We now see that those hikes had the desired effect: Standar&Poor's raised the rating for the University's general revenue bonds from AA-/stable to AA/stable. 

06 January 2010

On the road to Damascus

In his state of the State address today, Gov. Schwarzenegger proposed a constitutional amendment that would shift funding priorities in Calfornia, limiting Dept. of Corrections expenditures to no more than 7% of the state budget while giving UC and CSU together a baseline of 10% of state budget. The amendment needs to be approved by the legislature before being put on the ballot in June or perhaps November. This seems like good news (frankly, anything would at this point). Some details are here, and more will follow.

05 January 2010

And the best value in public education is ...

... the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill — at least according to a ranking by Kiplinger magazine. How far down the list does one need to go to find the first UC school? Well, UCSD is no. 11 and UCLA is no. 13, below SUNY Binghamton or SUNY Geneseo.

Kiplinger compiled the rankings using a weighted average of academic and affordability indicators, with academic indicators worth twice as much as affordability. In other words, the ranking is supposed to reflect value. Since UC is still way ahead of the schools ranked above it in academic quality, it's the cost of attending UC that must be dragging down the ranking of UC campuses. And the ranking uses this year's tuition figures, before the increases approved by the Regents this past November go into effect. In-state total costs for attending UCSD are listed at $22,900, going down to $11,046 after aid. That is still a pretty penny for California families.

04 January 2010

Another call for federal support

In an opinion piece in the Chronicle, Courant,  Duderstadt, and Goldenberg (all University of Michigan faculty or former administrators) again make the case for renewed federal support for public research universities. The plan they outline is not too different from the one put forward in October by UCB Chancellor Birgeneau and Vice Chancellor Yeary. Both call for a federal effort comparable to the 1862 Morrill Land Grant Act based on the strategic importance of public research universities for the prosperity of the country.

Nothing new so far. But  Courant,  Duderstadt, and Goldenberg go a bit further in articulating how exactly the federal government would enter into a partnership with the states where "flagship research universities" are located. According to their plan, the states would take primary responsibility for undergraduate education, including partial support for the humanities (the rest being left up to philanthropy), while the federal government would take primary responsibility for graduate education (mostly in the sciences, it would seem). Courant,  Duderstadt, and Goldenberg anticipate a commitment from the federal government on the scale of the other efforts in support of research ($30B) or Pell grants ($26B).

We like this proposal a bit better than the Birgeneau-Yaery in that it does not presuppose that state support is pretty much gone for good, but rather tries to hold the state's feet to the fire in an effort to have states pay for that portion of higher education that most directly benefits them. But just like the Birgeneau-Yeary proposal, this one would also inevitably lead to a break-up of the UC system as such, in that not all ten UC campuses could aspire to the role of flagship research university.

As an aside, one wonders whether, in a newly federally-supported UC,  the recent senior management explosion (or $800K presidential compensation packages, for that matter) would be tolerated. Chuck Grassley would have a field day with that.