26 August 2011

The power of ten

Ever since the beginning of this blog, we predicted that the steady de-funding of UC by  the State, accelerated by the financial crisis, would have resulted in a serious strain on the system as a whole, and provided an incentive to follow the Michigan/Virginia model for those campuses that can (UCB and UCLA, essentially), while the remaining campuses would be left to fend for themselves.

Well, Cal has just announced that in spite of the most recent cuts, they are doing quite well, thank you, mostly because of the influx of out-of-state students (about one in three freshmen) and other "efficiencies" realized by following the prescriptions of the Bain report (the laying off of about 150 staff at Cal — it's easy to realize "efficiencies" this way, it's a lot harder to save money by allowing people to work to their fullest potential). 

In the meantime, UCOP has announced a program that would provide $140M to give non-represented staff and faculty a 3% pay raise. While the raise will be applied across the board, the the faculty component would only be available to faculty earning less than $200,000 a year (the vast majority of non-medical faculty) and it would be left to Chancellors to determine how best to apportion it for the purposes of "recruitment and retention." (The newly released report on 2010 compensation confirms that UC faculty salaries lag 12.8% behind those at comparable institutions.)

The proposal has generated a fair amount of criticism among the general public (Bruce Maiman is an example). Such criticism might be justified if UC still were the kind of public institution of higher learning that the State envisaged (and paid for) in the Master Plan. But in fact California has long ago decided that they are no longer willing to support an affordable, high-quality teaching and research institution open to all qualified Californians. The percentage of the UC budget paid for by the State has been shrinking for decades, and we are the point where only a fraction is taxpayers' money. A similar announcement by Stanford would not even make the news  — it's not public money. And, for better or for worse, this move by UCOP is also in large part financed through tuition money, just like it would be at a private institution.

Of course, the morality of raising tuition on the students to pay for faculty pay raises is questionable (retention of quality faculty at UC is in some sense a "public good" in that it benefits California in numerous ways). But California can't have it both ways: accept (or promote) de-funding the university while at the same time complaining about the way UC makes use of the money.