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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Suggested Better Budget Process

The extraordinary budget disaster facing public higher ed in California - and in many other states -has not been matched by extraordinary improvement in management practice.

We have instead a traditional top-down structure of the kind that is regularly blasted as ineffective by management theorists, but which remains the default in almost all US institutions.

For the public university, this means that choices are - or chaos is - created far from the classroom or laboratory, usually in the state capitol. Cuts and other proposals propagate like a shock wave through the system, from the office of the president in the UC case down to the senior administrators at each campus, and on into the divisions and departments. All the staff and faculty hear at the end is a sonic boom. Their job is to pick up the broken glass.

There should be much more collaboration and dialogue before decisions are made and it is too late. Although this is the first day of the new fiscal year, California and its universities still have no budget. The UC Regents do not meet until the middle of the month.

I would propose town halls and working groups with a specific agenda. Hopefully some of these steps have already been completed in administrative committees and the results can simply be presented:

1. full disclosure of current financial data to all "stakeholders" - faculty, staff, interested students.
This should include explanation of current fund transfers between state and non-state sources, e.g., how state funds help support the medical centers
2. explanation of UC's internal budget choices
-origins of 8% figure, explanation of savings and application
- description of alternatives considered (and apparently rejected)
3. presentation of future planning - Beyond the Crisis.
-balancing of cuts with academic planning; educational goals articulated and prioritized.
4. call for and development of counterproposals for the immediate crisis
5. reworking, synthesis, and transmission of improved budget model for 2009-10 to Regents via formal presentation

We also need an explanation of the origin of the currently proposed State of California solution: how did we get here, so we don't wind up exactly here again?
Some examples (and required reading):
- deliberate cutting of revenue streams, including Vehicle Licensing Fee
- Governor's preference for borrowing
- minority rule preventing reform
- population growth; higher growth in low-income population
All this is a lot of work. But there are a lot of people's work at stake, and many years of damage that we are now going to be expected to overlook and undo.


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