UC Berkeley Forum on Debt, Democracy, and the Future of the Public University, December 7, 2011
November was a good month for the free speech dimensions of the Occupy movement. Police brutality at UC Berkeley and UC Davis was denounced on an international scale, the outrage forced formal investigations to be convened, administrators at Davis suspended several police perpetrators, the Berkeley faculty senate censured some administrators, and the University president and the chair of the Board of Regents affirmed rights to certain kinds of protest.
Beneath the surface, protest and speech issues have not been resolved. Four days after the Davis incident the Riverside campus proposed protest guidelines that demand prior approval for everything including the size of protest signs (you can sign a petition protesting the protest guidelines). UC officials still reject occupations. And November was a very bad month for Occupy encampments around the country and for American civil liberties on a number of fronts.
At UC as elsewhere, the assertion of speech and protest rights is bound up with demands for full participation in policymaking and governance. This time around, the Chronicle of Higher Education spread the word that many students were fed up with what one called “a false dialogue with a body, the UC regents, that is not democratically accountable to the students or [to] any members of the community.”
Student speakers were also fed up with a budgeting policy that has clearly failed to sustain public revenues. As UCLA graduate student and grad union president Cheryl Deutsch put it to the regents, “Now you’ve said today that you are going to ask the state for more funding. But you have no concrete proposals for where that money will come from or how it will get to the UC.”
This is where we are now. We are in an unchangingly bad budget situation. The financial managers of the university have no realistic plan for fixing it. Just as importantly, senior managers are facing no pressure from the university faculty to come up with better solutions. I have the impression that most faculty are resigned to a high-tuition UC, are mollified by UC officials’ denunciations of the legislature, are hoping some public money will come back, and are OK with the general direction of current UC funding policy—all in the mode of hoping for the best.
There are in fact better budget plans, two written by UC faculty, that aren’t getting UC faculty support. First there is the work of the iconic independent faculty budget analyst Charles Schwartz, who presented a 12-step proposal to the UC Commission on the Future in December 2009. It has been completely ignored.
Secondly, there is the Council of UC Faculty Associations analysis by Stanton Glantz and Eric Hays, whose report shows that a full restoration of public funding is affordable. One of their main findings is that all three segments of California higher education could recover to their 2000-2001 levels of state funding (adjusted for inflation) with a surcharge on the median taxpayer of $49 per year. A second finding is that this additional amount would allow UC tuition to be rolled back to its 2001 level of a bit over five thousand dollars per year, or around 40% of today’s level.
The Schwartz and Glantz-Hays reports should be required reading for all UC officials. They should be widely discussed, refined, and injected into the statewide policy discussion. They should eventually be implemented in some form. But in our world UC officials treat alternative budget work as though it doesn’t exist.
Just as importantly, the faculty is letting them. We share responsibility for the limits to the open democratic dialogue that senior mangers are currently willing to allow, limits which excludes budgeting from below – and the open, collaborative, democratic, participatory procedures that would allow them.
We in the UC community might be more willing to tolerate exclusions from senior management’s budgeting were their results successful, but they are not successful. They have lost nearly 2/3rds of per-student state support over the last 20 years. They regularly ask for far less back next year than we have lost in the current year, whatever that year is. They are projecting a $2.5 billion structural deficit by 2015 (display 12), for a core budget of about $6 billion. On the campuses, we are in the position of a grinding mitigation of the effects of cuts that get us nowhere, for they are part of a budget strategy that will never work.
Why is UCOP insisting on a budget strategy that locks in decline? One reason is the anti-tax position of the top 1%. The Glantz-Hays proposal was reportedly shelved at UCOP when senior managers noted that additional taxes for higher ed were far higher for the upper brackets. Annual income for the top 1% starts at $386,000, and they would pay nearly $3000 a year more in taxes for 2001-levels of funding at the three segments. The tax tide may have turned for the public as a whole, but this has probably not happened for UC’s inner circle of business leaders.
The deeper reason why UC’s senior managers ignore proposals for rebuilt public funding is that they are pursuing a different strategy – to build what UC President Mark Yudof once called a “hybrid” university. The meaning of this concept can be found in many of Yudof’s statements, including his recent speech to the California Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco, entitled “A Baker’s Dozen Myths about Higher Education.” Mark Yudof formally opposes privatization. And yet his budget narrative describes the leveraging of public funds for purposes increasingly defined by private partners.
Here are his budget narrative’s official plot elements. The first is that tuition goes up because state funding goes down – “plain and simple.” It’s the state’s fault, and UC officials have played no role at all – there is no feedback loop. Cuts are fate. Cuts are inevitable.
The second element is the claim that a wealth and abundance of financial aid programs offset all tuition increases for all affected students (#8). The supposed proof is that UC student debt is below national norms (#10). In other words, for Yudof’s UCOP, there is simply no cost problem for students – except for some middle-class students just above the no-tuition cap of $80,000.
The third element is that low tuition is not good but bad. Yudof explained to the Chamber that low tuition hurts the middle class because it is a “massive tuition subsidy to the wealthy” (#9). So if you care about social justice on planet Yudof, you must favor high tuition.
The fourth element of the UC budget plot is our old friend: “you can’t just take money from laser research and give it to a professor of Portuguese” (#12). This is President Yudof’s way of saying that what he calls the university’s businesses make money and the academic core loses money. This is false, once you factor in cross-subsidies and calculate net revenues, but it allows President Yudof to frame university education as a drain on university revenues, which are sustained by its businesses.
The fifth element is that although private fundraising is 98.4% restricted (Yudof’s figure), fundraising is the university’s cherished activity – “phenomenally important” in his phrase (#11). In his account, the public university has always and will forever depend for its development on private fundraising, which is a remedy for and not a cause of its fiscal crisis. The particular fundraising program Yudof celebrates here is the “corporate scholarship program,” as originally advocated by leaders of the Berkeley campus.
All of this is tied together by permanent austerity. President Yudof presents UC's steady reduction of its “costs” as a great achievement. Austerity may not be desirable, but it works – the Chamber is told that the University spends less and does just fine. Yudof was in effect opening to the door to continuing austerity demands from audiences like the Chamber of Commerce as the price for their participation in programs like corporate scholarships. Austerity is the past and present of UC, and in this kind of a presidential lecture, it is also UC’s future.
In short, the administration’s defense of UC’s budget has the same logic as that which all over the Western world is lowering living standards for the 99%. UC leaders continue to envision cuts for the student and employee majority, more control for the corporate minority, and no big university missions for society as a whole. The public university exists always on the defensive, always begging for its health. We’ve lived the whole of the new century under this cloud. This has to stop.
There is enormous intellectual work to be done, involving analysis, writing and posting and publishing that I would like to invite you to do – on our blog and on the others represented here. But I will end with a separate proposal. If we believe that we, all of us, are the university; If we believe it is our university, ours who work and study here and ours, members of the state population who support it; if we believe we should govern it as a community; if we believe we know how to do that; If we know the conditions and the funding levels; if we dedicate the University to the most complete development of the human capabilities of the whole society; then we should do the following. We should write a confidence letter to Mark Yudof. We should say our confidence is conditional on you administering the university on behalf of the future society. We should specify what we mean by this in terms of governance, in terms of freedom of speech and protest, in terms of the financial model.
If there is no positive response, we would say, President Yudof, if you are unable to do this, our no confidence measure will shortly follow. We do not consent to our “collective impoverishment.” Help us instead with the rebuilding we need to do, Mr. Yudof, or we will find somebody else who will.