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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bonfire of the Humanities

By Anonymous
(With a New Response by David Theo Goldberg - linked below)

Wherever there are enrollment-based budget subsidies (from the robust enrollments of the Social Sciences and Humanities to the increasingly expensive STEM fields with small labs and classes), all that's about to go away. This much is clear even without tallying squeezes and losses in those areas that are already woefully short of faculty and of graduate students - they will soon be unable to serve their full student population any longer, as they continue to lose both faculty and graduate student support. A couple of data points: campuses are reducing block grants allocated to graduate programs, so that only those faculty who have ample soft money can fund grad students. Campuses also seek to outsource first-year subjects like math, composition, and language instruction to extension or summer, further decimating the only way the Humanities and other core campus areas can support grad students.

Meanwhile, Berkeley just lost at least two, perhaps three of its most senior people in Art History (perhaps the strongest Art History Department outside New York City...), others are about to follow. Faculty in the language departments everywhere in the UC are being recruited by Chicago, by universities in Texas, by privates and publics across the nation. People at UC Santa Cruz are apoplectic: History of Consciousness has been decimated, even as students numbers grew; UCLA has had to whore its Humanities people out to special interests in the donor community to get some support. And UCSD was about to shoot its Arts people to put them out of their misery (as retirees have been either not replaced, or they hired people who can play Calit2 and new technologies); they just saved a few select Arts faculty, but only again with big donor money. UCI lost more than ten percent of its Humanities faculty in the past two years, but due to the budget crunch there are no replacement lines. As their Dean wrote recently in Inside Higher Ed:

"The privates have come calling," says Ruiz, dean of the University of California at Irvine's School of Humanities. "I've lost very valued faculty members to Yale, to Northwestern, to Penn, to Pomona, to Scripps [...] "We are not able to put together the counter offers that we have in the past," she says soberly. […] "We're going to be a smaller school."

That campus was once planned, in the 1960s, explicitly as a Humanities flagship in the system; and most of UCI's Humanities programs got ranked in the top 10 or top 20 nationally. That school is now being decimated to where it cannot recover, and yet Engineers openly call for the Humanities to be closed in favor of additional subsidies for expensive labs.

Yes, people who are not in Academia for the money are taking such symbolic slights more seriously - and the writing on the wall is very clear: Arts and Humanities are being decimated every which way. One campus's Hum division took a ten percent budget cut this fall, while BioSci there got off taking a 3 per cent cut to its state-funded budget (plus they have non-state funds, while Arts and Humanities don't). Double whammy.

The Humanities center directors could not even begin to get David Theo Goldberg (director of the system-wide Humanities Research Institute, now controlling virtually all Humanities research dollars yet ignoring its own name) to commit to Humanities rather than to education and science studies (and digital anything). People have given up hiring into the Berkeley clusters that were going to be a way of anchoring Arts and Humanities into other disciplines.

The people running the campuses, and dominating the tone in Senate and Administration alike, are almost exclusively now from the professional schools - Medicine, Law, plus some Engineering, BioSci, and a sprinkle of dyspeptic Economists. And of course the BioSci people now all want to paid like MedSchool faculty, tapping soft money that used to be reserved for grad students and lab expenses, not faculty salaries. Rumors about the next UC Provost point once again to a hugely expensive MedSchool appointment with XYZ comp up the wazoo, instead of someone from a main campus discipline - another PR nightmare in the making for UC. There seem to be no people talking to President Yudof regularly who have ever taught a full room of undergraduate students. Senate reps like to whine about deadly Edley's manners, but nobody has a clue about what could be done to balance the representation in the Senate or on the Commission. There are fewer and fewer Historians, Philosophers, or English profs in any campus senate organization than ever - not to mention people from the Arts. Why? Because they drop out when faced with with populist resentment from the servile arts against the liberal arts and humanities. The Gould Commission is a much more empowered group right now than any part of the Senate, sadly, though it's years behind the curve and only beginning to ask the most obvious questions. Meanwhile, the UC has to deal with campus grassroots initiatives that are best at shooting themselves in all extremities before getting any traction.


ucstaffer said...

No kidding.

As the Health Sciences keep growing, and UC tries to cope with the King hospital, Merced Med School, Riverside Med School, losses at UCSF, losses at UCI, cooked books at UCSD and UCLA, the main campus disciplines fight for survival.

Who's the fittest on campus? Of course, the biggest soft money junkies. It's like doping - can't play with, can't play without.

Anonymous said...

In some ways, we humanities faculty are also to blame. College students and graduates who have taken humanities courses--plus their relatives and friends--account for a large chunk of California's voting population. The fact that the voters are not running to our rescue shows that we have failed to convince most of our current and former students about the value of our work. Sad. But we should do some soul searching together, and try to do better in the future. Then maybe humanities will survive in California after all.

Anonymous said...

Amen to this post. The Humanities are dying and no one is able to make a case for CPR: the case of UCHRI is a fascinating one -- lots and lots of $$$ for Digital Media Learning -- driven by private foundation grants -- a sure sign of its success-- intensive centralization of research protocols for new research and a brutal pragmatism that is a combo of worshipping star power and going with the latest flow...all in the name of collaboration and interdisciplinarity.

Bob Samuels said...

As someone who just walked out of a meeting with a Humanities dean, I want to clarify some major misperceptions. At UCLA, at least, the majority of the students who take our courses in the humanities come from other divisions. Students load up on credit hours in our courses, but the sciences and the professional schools never pay to support the humanities courses. The system is broken; we have major increases of students taking our shared general education, writing, and language courses, but the dean says that there is simply no money to support these courses. In the crazy budget system of the UCs, there is no connection between enrollment and funding. In other words, you can teach a ton of students and be told that there is no money to pay your faculty.
This decentralized budget system is another example of why it does not matter how much the state gives the UC if the UC will spend all of its money on compensation for administrators, star faculty, and coaches. 70% of the UC core budget now goes to compensation, and much of this money is taken from undergraduate fees and state funds. The new crazy solution is to decrease undergraduate enrollments and increase graduate enrollments, even though it costs 4 times more to educate graduate students.

Anonymous said...

Here is a contrarian point of view:

Yes, the arts and humanities should be defended. I am in the humanities. I think they are important.

But . . .

We need to take off our rose colored glasses and look at how UC grew in a financial bubble environment.

As UC expanded and grew and hired the best faculty and retained faculty who received big outside offers, how did it do it? Where did the money come from?

In part it came from debt. UC overspent. To the extent is was not debt, the money came from revenues, which came from the Housing Boom. Before that, in the late 90's, the money came from the Dot Com Boom.

The UC system overextended, based on expanding revenues from unstable market booms that increased inequality and destabilized the country's economy.

We need to face the fact that we are deeply enmeshed in that economic history.

The UC is vitally important, for public education and for research. It should be the best it can be.

But UC can't be bigger than the State and National economy can support.

Are State and National priorities screwed up? Of course they are. They were before the economic collapse, too, but the econcomic collapse is real. It is not a figment from the mind of a cabal that only wants to privatize UC.

In the end, if our greatest value is a fully public and tution free UC, we can have . . . by jettisoning the most expensive faculty and their research costs.

In truth, we want the best of both worlds, public education and research. In reality, we need to compromise between them. In reality, the UC system fucked up during the late Housing Boom, and by UC system I mean the whole thing. The faculty played a big part in this unsustainable expansion.

We have more in common with Dubai and California reqal estate than we like to admit.

opentop said...

About what Bob Samuels above calls misperceptions: I think that is a confusing comment, and the actual postdid not propose anything like that. In fact, the post reads to me, at least, like someone finally pointing out the eternal law of inadvertent consequences: by cutting the cheaper to staff areas with big enrollments that de facto support the more expensive to run units with smaller enrollments, you are harming not justHumanities, you harm the whole campus, the whole UC. It's not a point about where the budget is cut. You absolutely need to maintain or increase graduate student numbers, since they are a) the cheap labor as TAs and apprentices, b) research assistants, lab assistants, etc, and c) they attract faculty to the UC. It's a research institution. Faculty who want to work atan R1 university will expect to have regular grad student contact. You take that away, you will lose faculty VERY FAST. Even faster than the UC is right now. Once grads decline in number, faculty will go elsewhere. It's not about compensationonly. It's an econmy of prestige, too.

Anonymous said...

I agree that we have been riding the roller coaster of economic booms and busts and that many administrators were starstruck by building programs with the wave of the wand and the proffering of a ginormous offer to star faculty...But what does contrarian anonymous propose? Firing the big names? Will that really cut costs? Will that get us to 0 tuition? The original post did have to do with the decimation of graduate programs as a result of renewed cuts and outsourcing of first year education...

Anonymous said...

Contrarian anonymous proposes:

1) that we stop being so self-righteous, that we accept that we face limits and cannot have a boundless UC, and that we (meaning the faculty) accept some small but not trivial share of the blame for the current situation.

2) that we accept that the limits we face are predominantly set by a massive economic crisis and secondarily by the broken and inequitable politics of California and always by the limitations of political economy . . . and yet, at the same time, we must accept that UC benefited from the inequitable politics of California

3) until the political economy improves - and improving the political economy should be the main target of the biggest protests - we should accept fee hikes, hiring freezes, and letting some of the high priced faculty go. To believe anything else can work is a fantasy. And as part of this an active faculty could demand bigger cuts at the Administrative level, esp at UCOP.

4) the best role for protests inside the UC is ensure that fees are returned to aid, that the poorest 30% of our students do get to attend UC free of fees, and that further steps are taken to aid truly middle income students.

Charlie Schwartz said...

I wish that the author of that piece had given his/her name or email address. There are many UC faculty in the sciences (I am one) and even in the professional schools who know the difference between a real university and a stellar Institute of Industrial Technologies. There is need for collective discussion towards a fairly united strategy. Public values and quality in higher ed can be combined. It is a political challenge that academics are used to leaving at someone else's doorstep. No, it is ours.

Aldo Antonelli UCD said...

Just to add one more bit of information to list of woes described in the post: Santa Cruz's Philosophy Dept. has completely shut down admissions for next year.

Looks like their block grant was just taken away (or they have just enough to support current graduate students).

close_reader said...

Good comments, good post - though I'm saddened by the inevitable self-loathing some faculty (here posting anonymously in the comments) exhibit, claiming it's the fault of the faculty. Maybe all faculty members were part and parcel of the UC's growht - but rememver that CHris posted here just recently that UC's funding has not even kept up with the purchasing poweer of the state's population. At fault is not overly ambitious growth. At fault is the system that has not managed to keep any of the Master Plans, Compacts, and election promises the legislature and Governor made to the voters of the state.

Karl White said...

Ch. Schwartz is probably right. Nonetheless it's chilling to see the poster's point - i.e. that "Engineers openly call for the Humanities to be closed in favor of additional subsidies for expensive labs" - even as they fail to realize that big enrollments in relatively inexpensive areas like Humanities in fact ARE THE SUBSIDY to Engineering et al.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad science profs see the advantages of teaching in a university with robust general education and liberal arts. MIT and CalTech are the models for many administrators and engineering types. What if liberal arts were only taught at elite colleges and the great masses at poly technics? Do we want to be England? I think not.

Bronwen Rowlands said...

To the anonymous author of "Bonfire of the Humanities":

Would you elaborate on the following, please?

"People have given up hiring into the Berkeley clusters that were going to be a way of anchoring Arts and Humanities into other disciplines."

I work in a Berkeley humanities cluster that has existed since 1996; we're nervous we'll be clustered into an even bigger group of departments. Are you saying this won't happen? Any info you can offer on what WILL happen would be welcome.

In any case, please keep writing. This is all valuable information.

Chris Newfield said...

Close reader is right: contrarian's claims about a UC boom are incorrect (see http://utotherescue.blogspot.com/2009/11/beyond-budget-death-spiral-ucop-should.html and underlying reports). Late 1990s growth was a deliberate policy attempt to catch up for the cuts of 1992-95. We never did catch up after the cuts of 2002-05.
I don't see any basis for the claim that it is self-righteous to try to save UC quality or to save liberal arts education for public school students, as I'm sure a humanistic contrarian would agree. Helping UC would also ease rather than deepen the economic crisis in California (via a standard Keynesian stimulus). And it would help slow the appalling decline in educational attainment in California, which is the crisis underlying the crisis that no amount of lowered expectations can possibly address.

lots of good comments here, but I just want to both thank Bob Samuels for his work and also ask why Bob you are so manichean about UCOP vs. Sacto. I agree that much improved accountability and transparency are prerequisites to winning the political battle, but Sacto has been cutting public higher ed since 1990. Can't we address both at once?

Bob Samuels said...

I believe we need to look at both the state and the UC to solve the problems, but the administration wants us to look only at the state. I am trying to provide a counter-balance. My union is also working at trying to change the 2/3rds rule, but we understand that the best way to get the legislature on our side is to get the UC to clean up its act. I have been going to Sacto to lobby for several years, and many legislators think the UC is run by a bunch of elitist, arrogant people. Yudof has made this situation worse by blaming everything on the state. Remember the last UC president was kicked out over a huge compensation scandal.

I also believe that it does not matter how much we get from the state if we do not change our ways. During our recent "budget crisis," compensation has increased by half a billion - most of it administration. This is not just a side issue. Also, the science faculty are willing to let the humanities go down in flames, even though the humanities clearly subsidize the sciences and the professional programs. Calls for us to play nice with each other simply overlook the hard economic realities of our internal structures.

Anonymous said...

Chris and Close Reader

I'm sorry, but just looking at the State's contribution to UC's budget, which is what the post you cite in your reply presents, tells us nothing about UC expansions and how they were financed.

The total UC budget over time (not just State funding) needs to be looked at, as a whole and by campus, and the source of financing for expenditures needs to be accounted.

That includes debt (AKA bonds). And endowments that have tanked. And grants and contracts. And fees. And our UCRP funds that were shortchanged of contributions for years to support higher salaries, then raided in the VERIP years to ease the yearly UC operating budget, then mismanaged as investments, and then plummeted in Financial crisis . . . leaving the UC with a massive unfunded pension liability.

Back when UC was more or less fully funded by the State to the extent envisioned in the Master Plan, only UCB counted as a major research institution. It is only in the decades of the State cuts and fee increases that UCLA, UCSD, UCSC, UCD and other campuses started to come to national and international prominence. It is only in these years that UCR and other campuses went on hiring & retention sprees, as well as building sprees.

Is this self-loathing? I don't think so.

Take a hard look at the American economy. It has been built on debt: first and foremost financial debt, then consumer debt, and, last and least, government debt. This fine analysis has a clear chart (figure 7) that shows the exponential growth of total US debt to GDP: http://www.debtdeflation.com/blogs/2009/12/01/debtwatch-no-41-december-2009-4-years-of-calling-the-gfc/

So now that I've said this will you call me "anti-American" and "self-loathing"?

I've been at UC for a long time. We faculty played a role in the overexpansion of UC by unrealistically pressing for growth in hiring and retention, etc. It all seemed good at the time, like buying more Dot Com stocks and buying bigger houses in the Real Estate Boom. In fact, that is how UC expansion was funded: by a bubble economy.

Analyses of UC's crisis that do not take the economy into serious consideration are myopic. The lack of effort to take the economics of the situation seriously is stunning.

By the way, "economics" is not some code word for neo-liberal privatization.

You are living in a State and in a Country running very close to bankruptcy. Massive inequality and mal-investment of capital are a large part of the story behind that. Somehow the UC was built into the world's greatest public university in the middle of this system, but somehow was unscathed by it, until now. Do you really believe that?

Surely a more serious and critical analyses is needed, both of the economy and of UC.

Chris Newfield said...

contrarian -I agree with you about the debt problem and about the inequality. But an exclusive focus on debt is contractarian. It will make the obvious financial crisis worse - Hoover-style. It will reduce the scope and quality of higher ed as well as of the rest of the public infrastructure we desperately need to use to build a better, fairer, greener economy. Contractarian policies will make the young pay for the sins of the fathers (higher fees, lower educational attainment, lower future earnings, etc. etc.). That's an interesting website, but we need expansion not contraction, and some new federal debt (still lower as a % of GDP than throughout the 1980s) is necessary. Debt for investment and social development is good.

On the subject of the post, I'm not willing to downgrade either the humanities or the sciences because of Arnold's irresponsible borrowing.

Bob - I agree that UC needs to change its budgetary ways, and that this is a prerequisite to improved political support. but saying "we would still have a problem" even if we had more state money is not the same as the harder line position you and other unions sometimes take, which is that we have as much money as we need to fix our problems. This gives Sacto an excuse to keep cutting us, and upsets most of the rest of UC. I don't see how that helps staff's terrible pay problems or to reduce pay inequity.

Michael Meranze said...

Thanks for pointing me to that website and for raising these issues. I am not sure, though, as a way to go forward that your analysis follows from the analysis there. First, as Chris notes, the debt there is private and speculative or consumerist debt--not government investment in productive or employment related matters. If we follow the logic of simply having the government cut back on its funding (which I think is what you are proposing) then according to that website things will only get worse.

Having said that it is true that the way that the growth of UC has been financed was, as you point out, a bad strategy and one that most of us were asleep at the wheel about. The faculty bear some responsibility for not responding sooner and more critically.

But let's take a look at that history. UC has come to depend too much on bonds, endowments, and student fees, thereby being complicit in the State's disinvestment. This in turn contributed to the myth (which the notion that UC has all the money it needs to meet its various missions only furthers) that Californians could get these benefits without costs. But that is what has led precisely to the present crisis and also links the State's situation to the private debt crisis that your recommended blog points to.

Rather than simply saying that we need to "face reality" and accept that there are going to be paycuts and downsizing, etc in the future as far as the eye can see isn't the right point to try to make the case about what the State will lose if it lets its whole system of higher education go away? Isn't the point to make an argument that Higher Education has been funded in the wrong way--both in the past and for the future?

I don't see this as ignoring economic reality (although combining the political structure with the economic situation does mean, as you say, that most likely UC is going to be downsized in a variety of ways in the future) but of confronting the different ways to deal with that economic reality and arguing that some ways are better than others. Isn't that what political economy teaches us to do in the first place?

sacramento_watcher said...

Well, actually, I doubt you could objectively state that the UC has taken on too much debt. On the contrary, it is often criticized for being much more conservative in investments and debt financing than its peer or comparator institutions. At the very courageous end, you get hedge funds with academic cost centers attached, like Yale or Harvard; or like the REITs that are branding themselves NYU and USC. At the most risk-averse end among US universities, you'll find the UC.

So I do not agree with Meranze who blithely assumes the UC has become "too dependent on bonds, endowment, and fees" - what else is there when the state pulls out? But then again, perhaps that's like saying people got too dependent on air, food, and water. Once the state of CA started to default on its educational funding obligation to its citizens, as articulated for decades, nothing, NOTHING, could quote make up for that. And while the state's legislature is held hostage, as the national press has observed time and again, by a rabid minority that brooks no public interest, everything one looks to the state for is wilting. And that's how your Republicoons want it.

As for the muddled comments from union reps above, sure, blame internal administration for a critical budget problem that you help exacerbate by calling for contractually guaranteed, across the board annual raises each and every year, even in a total fiscal crisis. Go ahead, speak out of both sides of your mouth. Have your swallowed cake, and puke it out at the same time. Gosh. You'd be well chuffed if Arnold simply challenged Yudof to an arm-wrestle over the UC's budget; that's how serious you are about shoring up public support for higher education. Why don't you shut up about elitism and start worrying about what a highly selective and internationally renowned educational institution did for the public good in CA? What will happen to unions if your state's main engine of recovery - that is UC's research and training - stalls out and sputters?

Anonymous said...

To Michael Meranze:

It is "contrarian," not "contractarian." I will assume this was not a deliberate slur, but rather a freudian slip based on your inattentive reading and a lack of understanding of economics.

To say that UC overspent and overextended is not the same as saying that it became too dependent on bonds, endowment, and fees. It means that it did not adequately assess risks of fluctuation in funding and just bought more than it could sustain.

The point of the article I linked was simply that "growth" in the US over the past 30 years has been based on a series of bubble economies, underwitten by a giant bubble of financial and consumer debt (not govt debt). The growth of UC during those years - the very years of 1) declining State funding and 2) the rise to Greatness of UC campuses besides Berkeley - was inherently part of that bubble economy. If you think that is irrelevant, then you think your salary is paid for with fairy dust.

To Chris:

Who talked only about debt? Not me.

To Chris and Michael Meranze:

Nothing I said implies policies of fiscal contraction. Nor did the article I linked by Steve Keen imply fiscal contraction. Quite the opposite. He advovates expanded govt spending, as do I.

The problem is how and where govt spends money. Govt can increase spending by giving more money to the wealthy, and it has no expansionary impact because the money goes into savings or investments (see the Bush tax cuts). On the other hand, money that goes to the unemployed and wage suppressed workers tends to have a 100% propensity to be spent, and that multiplies through the economy and expands demand, mitigating against tendencies to deflationary depression.

Let me put it this way: Money spent on UC's Greatness, in the form of too many high salaried hires and rententions, is not expansionary for the economy and it makes UC's future more unsustainable. Money spent on staff, students, and junior faculty is expansionary for the economy because it will increase personal consumption from the ground up. Read Galbraith. Read Keynes. Pay attention to class.

How many $150,000 plus salaries are there in your humanities or social science dept (or in the sciences, arts, etc, but I am in humanities and so are Michael and Chris, so I focus there)?

In my dept there are two hands full. So UC could reach for global greatness by hiring or retaining a couple of stars (or sometimes "stars") for a total of $400K/yr OR UC could hire 3 junior faculty who would teach more courses and use the remaining $200K/yr to fund 6 or 7 graduate students.

But UC hired/retained the high price faculty during the past decades of economic bubbles and deregulation and privatization, and the faculty pushed for this.

Worse still, during those decades UC sustained faculty salaries by failing to contribute to the UCRP, then raided the UCRP to fund VERIP and relieve the unsustainable payroll in the early 1990s recession. Add to that mismangament of UCRP and the latest financial crisis, and UCRP is $10 Billion in the hole, and needs infusions of more than $1 Billion per year for 15 years to keep from going bankrupt . . . and that extra $1 Billion per year is going to come from where, exactly?

But remember my main point, which is not about an exclusive focus on debt or the responsibility of the faculty.

The main point is that if we do not put the situation of UC into a larger picture that includes the economy and takes it seriously, then we look like fools pretending that money is always there for us even as the rest of the country crashes around us.

Bob Samuels said...

I have to agree with anonymous. First of all, as I have shown on my blog, it does not matter how much the state give the UC if the UC spends most of its new revenue on increasing compensation to the top earners. In 2006-2008, the top 1.5 earners (all making over $200,000) received on average 40% increases to their compensation. This occurred during and after a giant compensation scandal that enraged the legislature and the state auditor.

Meanwhile, UC is the biggest employer in several counties, and because it has eliminated so many jobs and reduced the pay of so many middle class workers, while it increases the compensation of the top people, the university is destroying the middle class.

The senate faculty are not removed from this problem. At UCLA 100% of the faculty are off the salary scale, and many have negotiated private deals on a yearly basis. This system not only circumvents the peer review process, but it turns everyone into highly individualistic free agents. Moreover, it is clear that student fees and state funds are not going to instruction or research; instead they are going to retain star coaches, administrators, and faculty. This is not a state problem; it is an internal problem.

The next big crisis coming down the pike is the pension plan, and once again, the state is not to blame for the poor handling of the UC investments. The regents did three horrible things: 1) they decided not to fund the plan in 1990, so they removed the state from the equation; 2) they outsourced the treasurer and privatized much of the investments; 3) they decided to move investments from low-risk bonds to high-risk derivatives, real estate, and private equity. The result is they lost over $23 billion, and this dwarfs the state cut of $600 million. Neither Yudof nor the regents have ever talked about these losses. They may say that everyone lost big during the meltdown, but the biggest endowment and pension losers were institutions like the UC that followed the Yale model of non-traditional investing.

Finally, we are not going to get more money from the state until we change the 2/3rds rule, which I support through the Lakoff Initiative. The problem is not that people do not like higher education, recent polls show that we are the most popular institution in the state, but the same polls show that people just do not want to pay taxes. That is the attitude we must change.

Anonymous said...

One small comment on Bob Samuel's response, which I obviously agree with overall:

Star faculty do contribute to research and instruction, sometimes a lot, but sometimes not so much. It is a matter that requires judiciousness, which the UC often jettisoned as unnecessary in the bubble years, when stocks, houses, and university budgets were forever going to rise.

In the best cases, star faculty are stars because of their research and they are good teachers. Moreover, in the best cases star faculty bring in contracts, grants, donations, and their reputations assist grad students in securing grants and fellowships.

But not all cases are the best cases. Not every star in the world can be hired at a UC. No department could actually succeed for long, if at all, if it only hired senior stars. There are limits. There are tradeoffs.

And as should now see, there are questions about sustainability that are both financial and political.

Michael Meranze said...

To Contrarian,

Yes, it was a typo not a slur. I noticed it after I hit publish but unfortunately there is no way to edit. My apologies. I doubt though that it was a result of sloppy reading.

No one has called for a return to anything but the funding of the early 1990s in fact most of the calls have been for a return to the funding of the early 2000s. By that time UCSD was a major institution in the sciences, Irvine was a major player in the Humanities, and UCLA had pushed itself into the top ranks more generally. UCSC had established itself and so had UCSB to the places that they are now. Davis was a major player in the disciplines that I follow. Riverside was underfunded compared to the rest of the system. You might try to be a little more nuanced before you dismiss everyone else.

The reason that I emphasized bonds was because the article that you cited was about debt. It seems that in that case one might draw a logical conclusion that the issue as he saw it was the rise in debt. Perhaps my reading skills failed me there and where he said debt he meant unwise spending?

I am not sure who here has been arguing that we shouldn't be paying attention to class. In fact, most of the arguments here have been not about hiring more star faculty but about keeping access open without imposing huge amounts of debt on individuals (especially students). Like you we have been trying to figure out ways to get government spending that actually builds rather than cuts in services and taxes that benefit the already unequal social structure of the state.

Sacramento Watcher--
Obviously UC turned to those forms. But here is where Contrarian's point may apply. The administration chose at that point to fund things more through debt. They could have refused the various compacts, or not played the star system game, or even drawn (as they did in the early 1990s) on the profits of the medical centers. Instead they went the route to more indebtedness and more cost related to indebtedness.

Chris Newfield said...

There have been some excellent comments on this post, but also a thread I find particularly disturbing. Someone in a position of knowledge writes a post about the crushing of UC humanities. In response, at least two obviously concerned humanists expound on how the problem with the humanities that there are too many overpaid star professors. yes, there are a few overpaid people in every unit in every organization in the world. But in reality, most hum depts at UC are poor. My English dept at UCSB has made exactly one major senior hire in 15 years, and he went back home after two quarters of experiencing our crappy resource levels, which he felt prevented him from doing his job. The real issues are a) that we develop the survival instincts that nature gave ants, gnats, and everything else except for humanities professors, who incline towards playing crabs in a barrel in every crisis, and b) that we focus on restoring the resources that will allow us to do our jobs correctly - producing creative research that will solve the state and world's terrible problems, and doing student-centered teaching on a small enough scale to help launch the creative minds of the next generation. I'm all for salary reform, but pleeeze people - reread the POST!

linguist said...

Cheez, was just going to say sth along those lines, Chris. Way to ignore the post and go on about political infighting among special interest groups. Are there really no readers here who see the major point of the post? Faculty leaving, grad student instructors cut off, meaning fewer undergraduates served, meaning fewer people with basic literacy, writing, communication, and critical thinking skills.

Fewer students who can contrbute to CA's web industry, game industry, film industry, or go into marketing, law, whatever - not to mention students who will go on to write better than average journalism (sorely needed!) and some good books (ditto).

And yes, the more complicated our science, the more we need competent science writers, with the emphasis on clear and accessible writing about complex things. The more complicated our international/global/planetary society, the more we need people who can debate intelligently, argue convincingly, read thoroughly, and vote accordingly. And we desperately need students who speak, read, and write another language. This country has been "contractarian" (I don't see why people in this comment thread thought the neologism is a slur at all) like a hedge hog. How many politicians speak any Chinese here? Tagalog? How many lawyers speak and write Spanish well? How many US scientists read any French or German at all? The more the Humanities are retreating, the more this country is cut off from its potential.

Anonymous said...


Who said "the problem with the humanities [is] that there are too many overpaid star professors"?

Not me. Not anyone else.

This is like the chart of the ratio of UC's State funds to total personal income - it rips one piece of data totally out of context, ignores everything else, and by isolating as the only factor proposes unsupportable solutions and fallacious diagnoses.

It is like your earlier comment that I was somehow suggesting "an exlusive focus on debt."

Utter nonsense. No exclusive focus on anything: not on salaries, not on debt, not on Humanities, not on UC, not on the State.

Nothing I wrote is an assault on the Humanities.

Much to the contrary, I think there is a fundamental similarity of approach between what I am saying and what the poster said in "Bonfire of the Humanities."

Namely, I think the author of "Bonfire" and I would agree that there is a distressing tendency isolate and abstract out individual metrics that seem on first blush to serve the purposes of an interest group, while consequently ignoring a larger context in which pieces fit together and are interlinked.

That's how a broad critique of the economy, the trainwreck of California govt, the very different powers of the Federal Govt, and the mismanagement of UC in which we have all had a hand becomes, through alchemy, a supposed declaration that "the problem with the humanities [is] that there are too many overpaid star professors."

That is how a budget squeeze and a de facto political takeover by faculty and administrators who don't teach undergrads leads to budget raids on the Arts and Humanities, as the author of "Bonfire" wrote.

Opentop said it perfectly in a comment here: "by cutting the cheaper to staff areas with big enrollments that de facto support the more expensive to run units with smaller enrollments, you are harming not just Humanities, you harm the whole campus, the whole UC," and Opentop explained very well the connections that make this so.

Star salaries are a small piece of the puzzle. Administrative growth is bigger. Servicing the debt on capital programs is bigger ( see Bob Meister's post on fees and bond ratings). The cutback of State funds is bigger. The hole in the UCRP is bigger than the cut back in State funds. . . And the collapse of the national bubble economy trumps it all in size and significance.

But when the legislature starts talking about the fee increase, and as the public continues to talk about the fee increase, you can be sure that things like faculty salaries will continue to come up. Remember the LA Times editorial from when the fee increase was first announced a couple of months ago. The LA Times appluaded the furloughs, but critized the fee increase. This is a political problem. And it is also a real fiscal problem for the UC that is linked to many other problems, including the UCRP problem.

We can deny and stonewall and show charts about how there is plenty of money in California . . . and be shot down.

Or we can defuse some of the opposition by taking seriously some of the real problems internal to UC as well as the real economic problems in the State and the Country.

unionized said...

Bob Samuels: your numbers are obviously wrong. The UC retirement plan lost less than half of the sum you impute. Check the facts, this info is not secret, and stop spreading nonsense. Also, while on the subject of math, a few high earners being overcompensated is not nearly as much of a drag on payroll as a huge group of people (already compensated at market) holding the institution hostage for more. I know you have to ignore the comment from Sacramento Watcher, because of your ideological blinders, but if you are really going to blame payroll for UC's budget problems (the nerve!) then at least blame yourself first, buddy.

Bob Samuels said...

Regardless of the original intent of the original post, I think we are having an essential dialogue. Chris and I have been discussing this for several months now. He and Stan concentrate on state funding, and I concentrate on internal budgets. Perhaps these two strategies go together, and I do argue that we need to change the state funding and tax structure. However, Chris comes from UCSB, and I come from UCLA (and the two campuses are in two different fiscal worlds). I ask interested people to look at two of my blog entries where I show the growing inequality of salaries for an elite few (http://changinguniversities.blogspot.com/2009/08/who-are-high-earners-in-uc-system.html), and I also show this spread of inequality in the senate faculty ranks: http://changinguniversities.blogspot.com/2009/09/main-argument-for-changing-universities.html. Compensation takes up 70% of our $20 billion budget, this is not a minor issue. The Regents losing $23 billion dollars in investments is also not a minor issue.

opentop said...

... and this kind of chattering is why there's a decline in public higher education, too: nobody even reads with focus, everyone wants to deliver their stump speech about issues that are tangentially related, if at all...

Back to the original post, and enough with the off-topic ideology wars: How can the post's main message (about undergraduate enrollments, graduate student funding, faculty retention, and campus equity) be rescued from the fangs of endless hick-hack between right-wing populists and blinkered unionizers, and delivered to someone who can make the right decision to protect Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities departments in this crisis?

Bob Samuels said...

I just have to respond to "unionized," that the UC lost $23 billion in combined pension ($16 billion) and endowment and short-term investments and other retirement accounts. I do not think that is helpful to attack others for being ideological and wearing blinders. If people have different numbers, please present them.

Anonymous said...

Samuels: According to UCOP who are sending people around to campuses right now about this very topic, total retirement plan assets on Sept 30 this year were $60.5b. To your allegation that they lost $23b in two years: no, the recent plan value peaked at $73.4b in June 07. And one might add that UCRP has earned 12.2% in the last quarter, and 18.01% for the calendar year to date. Now compare that to CalPERS, please.

catherine Liu said...

I have followed this discussion with great interest, and my strengths are not in the budget area, but I do think I can see why it is so hard to focus on the general value and benefit of the humanities and arts for a research university.

Here is what I think is unique and valuable about grounding a university education in the humanities and liberal arts, including arts...an expanded understanding of the creative process, a suspension, however temporary of ends driven instrumental thinking allows for the exercise of intellectual speculation and freedom in the humanities and arts classroom. Experimentation, speculation, grounded in the forging of a shared, critical language are elements of humanities education and research that can be very exhilirating. Our students are inspired by this set of conditions -- not always, but more often than one might expect. Now, do these anti-instrumental values of creative engagement with materials and others, grounded in philosophical and critical traditions which we would all recognize as historically important whether for liberal, radical or conservative politics are being attacked by an explosive presentism in the administrative imagination. We are increasingly less free to do the kinds of speculative, critical and creative work that we committed ourselves to. Why? popular suspicion and defunding of these areas, a loss of prestige in Cold War free market capitalism, and the demise of Fordism and a transition to flexible accumulation forms of political and economic organization. All of that notwithstanding, the core values of speculative thinking and creativity are inspiring to our students, a minority of all students perhaps , but a large minority nevertheless, who find that we offer them a breath of fresh air outside of premed, prelaw, and preprofessional training. Do we have the language to defend these values at the macro-level? I'm not sure, but I do agree with contrarian that the star system has sapped our confidence in the humanities and arts...The star system is not the final problem with inadvertent undermining of ways of working and thinking in the University itself that are not ends driven or vocational.

Bob Samuels said...

Just a response on the pension. The pension went down $16 billion and the total investments went down $23 billion. Then, this year, they gained back $10 billion. My concern is that they are invested in derivatives and real estate, which can not be valued or marketed. Throughout the 2000s, the UC underperformed Calstirs and Calpers. These are the facts.

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cutting humanities said...


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