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Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

Rose colored glasses -- do we need a new prescription?

Yesterday there was a Town Hall meeting at UCSD to discuss campus budget recommendations:
"This open forum will provide an opportunity for faculty, staff and students to communicate directly with members of the Joint Senate-Administration Task Force on Budget. The Task Force is charged with providing recommendations for sustaining UC San Diego’s academic excellence during budget reductions, while protecting our core missions of research and education through cost savings, increased efficiency, and increased non-State revenues. We encourage you to attend and share your vision and ideas regarding the UC San Diego of Tomorrow."
As might have been expected there were a number of well-argued statements as to why the University deserved more funds from the State of California. One of these referred to a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) for which one of the findings was that:
Californians give high grades to their public higher education systems but are worried about increased student costs and state budget cuts.
At the UCSD meeting it was mentioned that the poll had been headlined on our local public radio station, and that the message was that the public were strongly supportive of UC. A tweet from Mark Yudof also states:
Meeting with the UC Commission on the Future here in Oakland. We are also reviewing the new PPIC poll that shows CA holds UC in high esteem.
Sadly, the poll itself is not so unambiguous. The actual question was "Overall, is the ___ doing an excellent, good, not so good, or poor job? UC polled as 13% excellent, 49% good. However, the community colleges polled a little higher (13% excellent, 52% good) while CSU was close (9% excellent; 52% good). Given the estimated 2% margin of error for the poll it might be fair to say (as PPIC did) that all sectors of California higher education are held in equivalent high esteem.

Unfortunately perhaps, the poll contained other questions (in addition to the oft-reported lack of confidence in state government). Some perhaps more problematic results (from the PPIC news release):

Given the high value that most Californians place on spending for higher education, what would they be willing to do to offset state spending cuts?

  • 68 percent are unwilling to increase student fees. Solid majorities across parties, regions, and demographic groups concur.
  • 56 percent are unwilling to pay higher taxes. Although 56 percent of Democrats are willing to pay higher taxes for this purpose, 58 percent of independents and 74 percent of Republicans are not.
  • 53 percent would support a higher education construction bond measure on the 2010 ballot. But support is lower among likely voters (46% yes, 47% no) for this hypothetical bond measure and would fall short of the simple majority threshold needed to pass such a measure. Here, too, a partisan split emerges, with 61 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents saying they would vote yes on a bond and 55 percent of Republicans saying they would vote no.

Half (50%) of Californians believe that major changes are needed in the higher education system— a 10-point increase from last year—and 39 percent say minor changes are needed. When asked the best method for significantly improving California’s higher education system, about half (52%) say a combination of better use of existing state funds and increased funding is the answer. Just 7 percent say increased funding alone is the key and 38 percent say just using existing funds more wisely is best.

So, UC is not considered special (or at least any more excellent than the other CA higher education sectors); there is a belief that higher education fails to use its existing funds sufficiently wisely; and there is a significant resistance to increasing taxes to support higher education in the state. At the same time, increases in fees are seen as problematic.

I suspect we ignore such views at our peril. Furthermore, despite comments I have heard lamenting the cost of our prisons, I still suspect many of our neighbors would rather see an unemployed professor sitting on their street corner than an unemployed felon!

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Quite right.

There is a nation-wide epidemic of state budget disasters that is resulting in draconian cut backs of social services even more fundamental than higher education - think public health, assistance to the disabled, etc.

And in the midst of this, the citizenry (especially a wealthy and conservative segment of the citizenry) will not allow even consideration of targeted tax increases to sustain a social contract.

Under these circumstances I find it obscene that tuition at UC is subsidized for wealthy Californians, the very people who refuse to pay reasonable taxes to provide social services and education to the rest of society.

If our scope of vision is the question of public education alone, then fee increases are an abomination.

But cast in a wider social and economic picture I see it differently. If the better off middle class and wealthy will not agree to pay a rreasonable tax burden to sustain the basic universal social services of a modern state, then the hell with subsidizing the university education of their children so mommy and poppy can buy their brats BMWs to tool around campus

JN said...

Andrew,

Do you have any specific recommendations for what action the faculty can take?

One big problem is that the element of UC that has been the greatest contributor to the perception of financial scandal and mismanagement -- upper administration and especially UCOP -- is also the element of UC that sets the agenda and controls how funds are spent.

JN

Gerry Barnett said...

I've read a bunch of editorials, comments to news stories, comments on various education blogs over the past year. Here are some attitudes that show up that would appear to be adverse to UC interests:

1) UC wants business as usual while the rest of California suffers--we will consider support when we see realistic change.

2) UC has built up sloppy educational and/or sports and/or professional programs that do not reflect our/California values, and we will return support when those programs are sacked or reformed.

3) UC gets a ton of research $ and gift $--why should tax dollars also support it?

4) UC education isn't any better than CSU or CC education--UC students are paying for status, and that's their business.

5) UC faculty don't teach many undergraduates, or if they do they don't want to, and if they did more teaching we would be more inclined to provide more support.

6) UC administrators and many faculty make outlandish salaries with outlandish benefits and perks compared to the rest of us; why should tax dollars support these wealthy folks?

7) UC has huge untapped slush funds--in a time of hurt, these should be spent down before taxes or tuition are raised--or jobs are cut.

8) We hate unions dictating state and UC policy for their own self- interest: starve the beast until these folks are driven out of the feeding trough of state government.

9) UC is dominated by radical leftist folks, and has become essentially a political body that has to take the consequence of a population that doesn't agree with it.

10) UC should raise tuition, get donations, and cut programs and costs--it can do anything it wants so long as it doesn't try to take more from us via taxes, since UC's budget and status is not anywhere close to our number one priority.

At one point, this whole thing was a sort of but not unexpected sudden cash flow problem riding on top of a decades-long divestment by the state. Now it surfaces as a UCOP/Regents-directed effort to break the master plan fronted by UCOF just as that plan needs its best leaders to show it can weather difficult times and return UC to an international leadership position.

An effort to break from the master plan and embark on a "new UC" in a time of crises suggests that administrators will pick over readily available *negative* arguments to get their leverage. Perhaps it will be a combination of weak programs, inefficiencies (fear Taylorism following the Mellon-coly), and sources of revenue that do not rely on the state's voters.

Michael Meranze said...

Gerry--
A quick comment back. If you look at the actual poll you will see that 9 and 10 don't actually apply. The question of UC being too liberal was basically ignored by the polled when they were asked about it and the poll suggests that people are extremely reluctant to have fees go up. I hope to have something more to say about these questions soon.

Gerry Barnett said...

Agreed. The comments in various other public venue fall outside of what you report relative to the poll. A challenge in polling is setting up the question. A challenge in reading editorials and comments to blogs and news stories is who the heck are we, and do we represent any sort of sample worth bothering with?

baobao said...
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