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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Talking Points

About a month ago I went to Sacramento with a group of University of California faculty to try to offer legislators a faculty perspective on the need to spare California higher education from another round of cuts. We had messages developed by two reports that I had co-authored with other members of the Academic Senate's systemwide University Committee for Planning and Budget (UCPB).

Message 1: UC's state funding isn't too high, in spite of what the Governor alleged of all state agencies when he proposed across-the-board cuts, since it still hasn't gotten back to its 2001 levels.

Message 2: private money can't replace public money (even if we wanted it to), since there isn't enough of it.

Message 3: the Governor's proposed cuts can be filled in only with massive student fee hikes. (If all of the cuts were replaced only with student fees, the latter would need to increase 45% in one year.)

Since such an increase is unethical, counterproductive, and politically impossible, the UC Regents will increase the main student fee 7% percent this week and let the cuts come out of operations. This leads to . . .

Message 4: Students will pay more, and get less.

We were met by Democrats with a combination of agreement and fatalism. One said, "of course you're right, these cuts hurt the university and it hurts students. But there's no money this year. And there won't be any money next year either."

This is of course a political statement, not a financial one. There's plenty of money: even the state budget, perpetually hamstrung by Prop 13 requirements, controlled by the 1/3 Republican minority, riddled with constitutional budget guarantees for huge sectors like K-12 ($50 billion a year right there), and pitting higher ed against our incredibly expensive and yet still always federally-sanctioned prisons, receipts are down only 1 percent this year. The big structural deficit could be solved some other way - like the Governor reversing the cuts in vehicle licensing fees that account for about half of it. Whatever: our state poverty is political, and it's a politics that suits a governor who is already running for some other office.

Since politics is leverage, not logic, we asked about that. The Dims leadership won't do anything for higher ed this year - what's the payoff in that? The Chair of the Board of Regents, Richard Blum, investment banker and husband of Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), seems already to have agreed not to embarrass the Governor with large fee hikes or enrollment freezes. And enrollment freeze was our only leverage in Sacramento. The UC administration gave that up, though threatened it politely for next year. No wonder even the Dems were promising nothing.

One of us went back to Sacramento last week and visited a Republican leader of one of the leg's higher education committees. This state Senator said he wanted UC to thrive and remain admired, but wasn't sure we were doing enough to fundraise in all categories. In fact, UC faculty have doubled their sponsored research (as measured in real dollars) since 1990. UC fundraisers have tripled their fundraising income in the same period. Licensing income is up but remains small (always under 1% of UC's overall budget). None of these numbers come close to addressing the budget cuts on the gigantic scale on which UC operates.

The key fact about public higher education is its sheer size. Better fundraising might close some gaps at a school with 1000 or 10000 students, but not at one with over 200,000. People say well, Princeton does great fundraising and look how rich it is - what's wrong with UC Berkeley?

What's "wrong" with Berkeley and UC is in fact what's right with it. Total enrollment in the Ivies in 2006-07 was 112,839. That means that the entire Ivy League's enrollment was 90,000- 100,000 less than the UC system alone - to say nothing of Cal State. The Ivy League's endowment was about $81 billion in 2006 (vs. UC's $6 billion or so), or say 20 x per student of UCs.

It just doesn't make sense to compare UC to an Ivy League university - it's a different kind of institution. UC makes enormous efforts in both research and fundraising, but on behalf of the population of a state that is bigger than most countries, and not just for a few thousand students at at time. This leads to . . .

Message 5: The only way to combine wide public access with the highest quality is with great public funding for public higher ed.

The real question is this: do we as a society really want to educate everyone to the highest possible level? That is, are we really trying to minimize the waste of the whole society's talents or not?

If we don't support great public funding for public universities, then our real answers are no. And for the case that society's major players didn't support this, see my new book!


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