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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010
By Catherine Liu

We are in the midst of a class war, but only Fox News dares to use that scandalous expression. According to its pundits, it’s the “havenots” with their healthcare reforms and “entitlements,” public pensions and other soul sapping “scams” who are attacking the “haves.” At least Right-wing pundits aren’t afraid of the word “class.” Liberals, Leftists and Progressives are about as eager to talk about class as they are to undergo voluntary root canal surgery. The “haves” are much more aggressive than the “havenots” about guaranteeing that they have more and more, and the “havenots” have less and less. The “haves” continue to militate against public inefficiencies while Progressive economists and analysts have tried to show that the diminished powers of the state and the financialization of global economic activity are responsible for our slow burn crisis and the concomitant loss of consumer and political confidence. The “haves” may have lost a few skirmishes after October 2008, but you can be sure that they remain vigilant and aggressive about their long-term agenda. On a Federal level, the “haves” have targeted social and public services of every sort, from Federally funded after-school care to Social Security. At the state level, they relish the idea of privatizing public universities, whose successes have been based on decades of public investment. They have also succeeded in securing profitable arrangements between privately owned testing companies and public schools, where the demand for accountability has produced a need for ever changing instruments by which teacher and student performance are measured. They continue to argue for school vouchers and school choice and they continue to make public school teachers and unions feel the heat of their reformist ardor.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010
By Charles Schwartz, UC Berkeley October 25, 2010


Earlier this year, perusing the published list of reports regularly provided to the Regents by the University of California Office of the President (UCOP), I noticed this item, “Annual Report on Use of Outside Counsel,” and submitted a formal request for a copy of that document, under California’s Public Records Act (PRA).

I received an official response, dated June 8, which said,

The annual report on the use of outside counsel legal expenses was an attorney-client privileged communication from General Counsel Robinson to the Board of Regents and is thus exempt from California Public Records Act disclosure. (Government Code section 6254(k)).

On August 7, I wrote again to the UCOP-PRA office:
I have just seen the 2008-2009 Annual Report of the Office of the General Counsel; and there one finds published data on the very topic I had inquired about: overall outside counsel expense was $100,000,000.
This discovery leads me to ask that you reconsider my original request for that report, perhaps in some redacted form if there are particular details that would best (in the public interest) be kept confidential.

On August 19 I received an official acknowledgment of this renewed request and was given an estimate of six weeks for the production of the documents requested.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Budget shortfalls are now frequently being used to justify decisions that clearly undermine educational goals.  In most cases, as in that of the SUNY-Albany suspension of five humanities departments, the few figures given do not offer specific evidence of the stated budgetary need.  In the case of the Browne Report that threatens to cut Britain's public funding for university teaching by 80%, the mayhem is prompted by a polemical metaphor at the start of a section on page 47 -- public funding is a "hidden blanket subsidy to institutions" -- and anchored by one entirely unexplained number for "minimum investment" -- 700 million pounds per year. The tone of this report is one of blithe immunity from counterargument, and it is superficial in a way that is possible only for a small, appointed committee that does not feel the need to make a serious case for the millions of practitioners of the professions on which it passes judgment.

In this climate, it is particularly urgent to get the numbers right, and for everyone affected to inform themselves about what the numbers actually are.  America's most prominent English professor, the New York Times blogger Stanley Fish, got into the act last week by commenting that the SUNY-Albany cuts could be rejected on professional grounds but not on budgetary ones, since the humanities "do not earn their keep."  Fish was roundly criticized for this, and takes up a couple of pieces of mine (the one he doesn't link is here) and by the UCLA English professor Robert N. Watson (UCLA Today version).  The good news is that Fish describes the much more aggressive stance university leaders need to take in relation to political and business leaders.  On the other hand, the post unhelpfully reiterates the common misconceptions about university funding that Prof. Watson, I, and others, working independently, have been trying to undo.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010
Despite UCOP's efforts to limit the discussion of Pension reform to PEB's Options A & B they have been unable to prevent alternative approaches from emerging.  The Senate Members of the task force argued forcefully in a Dissent  that neither of the administration's preferred options would maintain staff and faculty quality (an argument developed further by Bob Anderson).  Faculty and staff groups have moved ahead with alternative approaches.  AFT, AFSCME, UPTE, and CNA in consultation with the Council of UC Faculty Associations have endorsed a set of principles to guide reform of the pension system.  These principles have also been endorsed by the Executive Board of the UCLA Faculty Association.  The Berkeley Faculty Association while acting in solidarity with the unions and other faculty associations has also argued for an Option D.  You can see their rationale for their approach  here and here.  We have offered an analysis of the implications of the PEB task force recommendations as well.  You can get additional information here. James Chalfant and Helen Henry have responded directly to the administration's defense of Options A &B here and pointed out that Options A& B would make UC uncompetitive for faculty and staff in an op-ed. Slide presentations from the recent UCLA Town Hall on PEB are also available.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Meg Whitman raised the issue of UC pensions in her last debate with Jerry Brown arguing that the UC Pension problems were blocking access for students.  Everyone should be aware that she will most likely try to move against the pension systems if she wins.  You can hear the audios at the UCLA FA Blog.  Thanks to Dan Mitchell for catching this point.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010
Gov. Schwarzenegger tried and failed to covert California public pensions to 401(k)s with a special election in 2005. This year, he used the budget negotiations to force permanent reductions in the pension formula for state workers. This was a major reason for the furloughs and IOUs and uncertainty and the rest of it.  According to the California Report Sunday broadcast, this was done before the future savings for the new forumulae were quantified.  A cynic would say the Gov and his legislative allies held the state hostage so he could cut public pensions in the midst of the great recession. 

The University of California Post- Employment Benefits Task Force has also proposed significant reductions in the UC Retirement Program.  Comment on their two options, Options A & B, has been quite negative, and another major faculty critique is due out this week. 

According to a report cited below,  President Yudof now plans to end the comment period on October 14th, and that the Regents will vote on permanent changes to UCRP in a special meeting in December.  I hope this is wrong: detailed analyses are just starting to come in (see below), the Academic Senate has not yet taken any position, and a rush to dilute one of the central propellants of the University of California's rise over the past forty years makes no institutional sense.

We cite beneath the break an employee coalition's "Statement of Principles" and then provide additional links to presentations and commentaries for those wanting to catch up with the enormous changes being prepared over the summer.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Saturday, October 9, 2010
The University of California's permanent base budget share of the General Fund for 2010-11 will be about $100 million below expectations. This bring in the budget somewhat below the 2006-07 level in nominal dollars. I'll discuss the UC situation in more detail below, but will start with the overall state situation, which is even worse.

Commenting on the new budget and its $1 billion in last minute gubernatorial line-item vetoes, Palladium wrote this on the Sac Bee site:

Probably the worst Governor in California's history will soon be a thing of the past, only to leave the state torched, plundered and dying from his mostly inept handling of the state's affairs. A legacy of lies, treachery, deception, mistrust, favoritism and bullying litters the landscape left behind. It appears a brutish barbarian-like THUG and his closed-door cronies have all but bankrupted California to appease their baser impulses. True to the end - doesn't even get the last budget done without causing suffering and misery to tens of millions of Californians. California can flush its toilet - good riddance!
California will still have great mountains, beaches, and deserts, but "baser impulses" have wrecked the only thing that ever made its society special:  the use of state government for public development, sometimes at full throttle. 

Taxes in post-war California weren't meant only, in the low-brow contemporary way, to create a "safety net" to keep the absolute worst from happening. Taxes expected the best to happen --the country's best roads, best hospitals, best schools, best public universities.  All this was for a population that had through no fault of its own suffered through the Great Depression and World War II, and was now going to collaboratively develop itself into something really special.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010