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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thursday, March 31, 2011
It’s bad enough to live through budget crises that go on for years at a time while paralyzing planning and development of every kind. We also have to deal with leadership problems, centering now on the fact that neither the Regents nor UCOP nor the campus chancellors have credible plans for reversing or coping with the relentless grinding away of the university’s public funding base. The failure of Jerry Brown’s doomed, misguided effort to exchange massive new cuts for a public vote on tax extensions means that UC and the state's other higher education segments will need to fight like dogs to avert a major budgetary meltdown.  Brown is unfornately on track to undo in a couple of years what his father’s generation—among others--took decades to build.

But will UC fight? Its leaders won’t, if my conversation with a vocal senior UC offical reflects the wider thinking.

As bad as the Governor's original proposal was, the budget situation is now worse.  While it is possible that the collapse of the budget talks will turn out to be political theater that seems unlikely.  Instead, we are faced with a situation where the already terrible cuts to education, health, work programs, and social services will become worse.  Although Jerry Brown and the Democrats are talking about placing an initiative on the November ballot there is no certainty that they will be able to get the signatures, if they do it will compete with numerous republican backed initiatives including one on pensions, would then be considered a tax increase rather than an extension, and might not pass.  And of course without revenues programs will be hit harder over the summer and fall--most likely falling most heavily on the poor, the elderly, the sick and the young. 

For Higher Education the fallout has already begun.  The Community College System now expect their cuts to double in size and have announced that they expect to slash enrollments by approximately 400,000.  CSU had already announced that they were cutting faculty, staff, and enrollments--and this was before the collapse of the Budget talks.  Neither the Regents or UCOP have issued any statements yet but given the recent Regents meeting there is little evidence that they have any compelling plans--either for the short or the long-term situation. UCOP had estimated that even on the best-case scenario there would be 500 million in cuts compounded by several hundred in rising costs.  We are now far from a best case scenario.

We will keep you posted in case there are any new developments.  But faculty and staff need to insist that they have a voice in whatever strategies are adopted.  Please share campus news here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011
Updated Below: (1), (2)

William Cronon is a professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the President-elect of the American Historical Association.  For those of you who do not know his work he has been a major figure in the development of environmental history and a leading figure in the study of United States history.  He recently began a blog "Scholar As Citizen"  to engage public discussion and debates where he can bring his scholarly knowledge to bear.   He is now a target of the Wisconsin Republican Party.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011
No, Richard Blum didn't actually say that.   But that's where the plan he mentioned at a Wednesday Regents' session ends up.  Let me explain.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Regents were treated to a helpful budgetary presentation by senior UCOP budget officials Patrick Lenz and Nathan Bostrom - helpful because it looked at the next five years, was frank about the acute shortfalls that UC faces, and and quantified a range of options for dealing with these shortfalls. Everyone involved with UC should give each slide in the deck their undivided attention. The whole exercise will take you about half an hour. You can't understand  the meaning of Regent Blum's call for high tuition unless you understand the slides that came before.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I came in late on the webcast of the UC Regents Committee on Finance meeting.  I missed the three chancellors presenting their campus pictures.  I'd wanted to hear this because their last presentation, at the infamous furlough meeting of July 2009 was a devastating picture of declining quality, and clearly came as new information to the Regents.  The first voice I heard today was Berkeley Chancellor Bob Birgeaneau saying a couple of interesting things:
  • the $1.4 billion cuts to California higher ed could still get worse. He has gone to Sacremento and can't find a single legislator that is willing to say that higher education is just too important and these cuts are unacceptable.
  • compared to his experience at MIT, the level of corporate support for UC is very dissappointing. Silicon Valley leaders complain to him that UC isn't producing enough graduates for them, so they keep on stealing each others' employees.  I said to them, Birgeneau continued, that we need better funding to produce them. Silicon Valley leaders just don't step up to support public universities.  A bit later, Birgeneau remarked, frankly, they owe us, because we educated the people that are making them, that are providing them with resources.
This might have been an opportunity for the Regents to focus on increasing support for restored public funding, which scholars of higher education myself included have shown repeatedly is the only source large enough to fund high-quality public education for all who can take advantage of it.  Birgeneau rightly focused on one of California's wealthiest business sectors that has been largely missing in action.  Before anything like this could get underway, Unconfirmed Regent David Crane launched into one of the most relentlessly negative assessments of state funding that I've ever heard in public.  Here is my inexact paraphrase of his comment:
I’m very familiar with the state budget. We ain’t seen nothing yet. You’re going to look back in 5 years and say these are the good old days. Even if we had legislators that like higher ed, and we don’t-- for some reason they are again raising spending on corrections . . . -- the state faces a  wave of expense that is inexorable: increasing health care costs, and increased spending on unfunded benefits, not because workers are earning excessive pensions but because politicians are not funding promises made.  I see a customer that is paying 13% of our revenues, and I see that customer going away entirely . .. We are a public university in name only. We must remain true to why we are all here - access and so on. And yet that customer is going away.
 Obviously Crane is right about sizable liabilities, but he completely ignored revenue solutions, and the rhetorical effect was to make any suggestion of restored state funding impossible, unrealistic, not tough minded, and simply not playing in the big leagues.  His  bombastic certainty has no doubt intimidated many an audience in the past.

There were two dissents.  One came from Superintendent of Schools Torkalson, an ex-officio Regent, who said (more approximate paraphrase)
we should maintain faith in the california voters and legislature.  We have to have a strong educational system – it’s embedded in our constitution as a top priority. Remember that I recently declared for K-12 a state of financial emergency. We had 38-40 students per class but the lights were still on. The public wasn’t aware of what was happening until we got out there on the road about the situation we’re in.  Also note that we’re collecting $5-8 B less per year in taxes than we did 10 years ago. California and its great wealth has more to give and more to invest. We have to talk bluntly about new revenues, taxes, whatever we want to call it. The immediate big dollars are to get the tax extension measure on the ballot. We all need to the members who are critical to get the 2/3 majority we need.  The $12b on the ballot is the big big picture and we need to focus on that.  We need to do that for all the students that are coming that deserve to have this great  education and we want them to have it. Should we declare a state of financial emergency for the University of California?  We’ll get the votes and then have the great California conversation: are we going to have great education or not?
The second dissent was Irvine Chancellor Drake reminding the Regents of the slide he described from A+ to A to A-, noting that maybe A- would sound pretty good to the legislature, and that it was the Regents' job to keep the legislature from accepting that decline.

But this was drowned out by a superogatory blast from Regent Chair Russ Gould, who seconded David Crane in saying that all the new dollars were going to go to things other than higher ed. Everybody loves higher ed, no one puts it first, so UC needs to build self-reliance, and that's the end of it.  His speech made it clear that, at least in Regents meetings that he chaired, the idea of increased public funding is dead.

The meeting then turned to a range of "balance sheet initiatives"  These are perfectly reasonable changes that, in the best case scenario, were said to be able to raise $62 million in near-term revenues plus, more ambiguously, $300 million for FY 2010-11 through debt restructuring and what will probably be a one-time purchase of very cheap municipal bonds that had just been dumped in a temporary panic in January.  The Regental praise for Peter Taylor and these strategies was extravagant, a genuine love fest. These ideas are terrific, Regent Gould exclaimed.  The pursuit of the "big picture" dollars in the public domain was forgotten in the enthusiasm for investor strategies that will yield far less than would a successful public strategy.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Saturday, March 5, 2011
Updated Below (1), (2)

Opposition is growing to the confirmation of David Crane, Arnold's last nominee to sit on the Board of Regents.  Crane, a Democrat who served as a Schwarzenegger economic adviser, made his career in the  financial sector.  He recently wrote an op-ed attacking collective bargaining rights for public employees.

In response, Senators Yee and Lieu have come out in opposition to Crane's confirmation.  Lieu in particular has called out Crane for perpetuating myths about the responsibility of public employees and their unions for the current budget crisis.  Crane has since tried to walk back some of his comments--claiming that they did not apply to UC.

Of course, none of this activity speaks to the question of why Jerry Brown has not withdrawn Crane's nomination, a nomination that at the very least will further entrench the corporate and financial sector's dominance on the Board of Regents.  One would think that Brown, at a point when he is asking tremendous sacrifice of those throughout the University would want to broaden the perspective of the Board.

There is a petition to Brown calling for him to withdraw Crane's nomination.  You can find it here.

Update: Video of the Rally Against Crane's nomination included speakers from CUCFA

Update 2: "Is David Crane Just Another Kochhead?"

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011
Here are some links (hat tip to Bob S)  to coverage of the National Day of Action to defend higher education against rampant and constant cuts.

UCLA protests
Santa Cruz
Berkeley
Irvine
Dail Cal coverage of other protests

The small size of the UC protests may flow from UC President Mark Yudof's repeated assurances that UC students will not see another tuition increase of the 32% variety that provoked much larger protests in November of 2009.

Given the approaching end of the federal stimulus money, cost increases in areas like employer pension contributions, and the long series of cuts that have already been made, the $500 million Jerry Brown cuts will logically create the worst course access and worst student: instructor ratios in living memory.

UCOP's calculations (slide 16) show that $500 million is the amount a new 32% tuition increase would raise.  The same amount of damage is being done to students that was done in 2009.  Their payment is just taking a different form.

Graduation delays and massively reduced instructor feedback are only the most obvious damage being done to quality.  Public university students need to compete against private school students who can improve their skills through individualized monitoring while creating coherent sequences of courses that lead to a recognizable expertise. UC is not enabling its students to compete with private university graduates in feedback, coherence, sequencing, or most other ingredients of intellectual development.

In comparing the careers of equally talented and motivated people, will we have to start talking about the "public university disadvantage"?  Will we be needing job affirmative action for all public university graduates?

Mark Yudof's demobilization of students has neutralized one of his big political problems.  But it would be smarter to allow justifiably outraged students to help him pressure Sacramento to support higher education rather than continue to wreck it.