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Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011
Reports surfaced today in the San Diego daily newspaper that three core members of UCSD's Center for Theoretical Biological Physics are moving to Rice University, and bringing much of their collaborative infrastructure with them. The story illustrates one of this blog's perennial themes, which is the damage being done right now by the ridiculous cuts in public funding, and by our leaders' foolish acceptance of each current massive cut as the new normal.

But the story also illustrates the vexed and subterranean relations between public universities and big science.  Nothing here amounts to a comment on the research or the individual scientists involved: the story is a structural one of high-cost research and public subsidies that must be thought through if public higher ed is going to make it to the other side.

The story is this:
The three scientists [José Onuchic, Herbert Levine and Peter Wolynes] are transferring their labs to the Rice's BioScience Research Collaborative (BRC), a new center that specializes in the study of cancer in association with other Texas Medical Center institutions. The BRC arose from the $3 billion bond package that Texas voters approved in 2007 to study and treat cancer. The initiative specifically calls for the recruitment of prominent scientists. Rice says it was able to recruit Onuchic and Levine was the aide of $10 million in state money provided to the university.
Star scientists move a lot, though not so often as a team. Making this situation unusual is that one of them, Herbert Levine, explicitly named public funding cuts as a "secondary reason" for leaving:

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011
I only have a few minutes today to look at the Governor's May budget revision, and here's what I see. Current-year revenues are up $2.8 billion over forecasts, and $6.6 billion over two years. Governor Brown, true to his turnscrew austerity vision of aHooverite unstimulus for all Californians, increases allocations to no one except K-12 and the community colleges "pursuant to Proposition 98," and, unbelievably, prisons, with a drop for mental health (page 4).

The Regents' strategy of saying that state funding is never coming back has paid off big-time: UC and CSU get exactly zero - not even a $10 million or $50 million booby prize for not fighting the $500 million cuts. The crappy squeezing of health services is intact (page 3), as is the closing of 70 state parks to save a whopping $11 million this year. There is no wavering of Gov Brown's vision in which government's one and only priority is reducing the deficit. 

If I have misread something here, or you can explain why it's a lot better for health and education and public infrastructure to have Jerry Brown rather than Arnold Schwarzenegger in the governor's mansion, please write.

Michael Here: Just a quick note to reiterate Chris' comment on spending.  The May Revision assumes that the Governor will still get almost all of his tax extensions (although the income tax is shortened).  In other words, it is still possible that he will end up with an "all-cuts" budget with even more fierce slashing of the budget for education, health, etc.

See helpful background on the state deficit at the UCLA Faculty Association blog.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday, May 15, 2011
I'm grateful to Cloudminder for a steady stream of UC news updates: check out this past busy UC week. Berkeley's Daily Cal has been providing coverage of management and finance issues that is as good or better than the state's daily newspapers. See this piece on UC's decreasing net assets, for example.

But staying in the steady stream of dismal news does make it harder to remember that it doesn't have to be like this. I can still imagine an Arnold Schwarzenegger who forced a state funding growth ceiling on UC and CSU via the Compact but who did not then abandon it unilaterally in 2008. I can imagine a Board of Regents whose members get close to a couple of local campuses and use independent information to assess UCOP reports, and who evaluate solutions offered by faculty, students, and staff. I can imagine a UCOP that decides that transparency with more state trust is better for revenues than opacity with less state trust, and that makes a real long-term effort to explain the details of the budget, including answering questions like why basic arithmetic doesn't back up core claims such as the amount the state gives to UC per student each year (supposedly $7200, page 3). I can imagine a state legislature that would allow higher ed revenues to grow at the same rate as state income (if this had happened since 1990 UC would have $6 billion in state funding rather than be looking $2.5 billion). I can imagine a state population that would be willing to pay the same share of its income in higher education taxes that it did twenty years ago, and not closer to the half that share that it pays now (chart 2d).

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday, May 13, 2011



Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sunday, May 8, 2011
What the state really needs is UC Uncut  - not UC down another $500 million next year on top of previous rounds of similar cuts.  For the twenty years that I have been in the system, UC has steadily squeezed undergraduate instruction, with the effect of herding students into huge lectures and relying on the testing of passively acquired knowledge because it couldn't or wouldn't spend its resources on the small-scale forms of active learning in the tutorials and seminars that the world associates with US higher education because that kind of active learning-to-create happens at Harvard and Reed and Occidental and Stanford.  UC's nominal student-faculty ratio of 17:1 or 20.7:1 or whatever it is in a given chopping-block year has meant in actual practice offering one seminar of 20.7:1 to each major over the course of four years. What students are largely getting instead are 35-student courses that now have 70-80 students in them, 400 person lectures with 1 TA for every 100 students instead of for 50 or 25, and the near total absence of individual mentoring by a regular faculty member.

This latter is a special tragedy for a public university that does not take its students exclusively from the ranks of the top few percent of test takers on the international scale. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tuesday, May 3, 2011
by Susan Cook
Assistant Professor of English

This past fall, and six weeks into my tenure-track position at Bemidji State University, I was advised by senior faculty members to go back on the job market. Our new university president, Richard Hanson, had just announced a “recalibration” plan that focused on what he termed the “distinctiveness, sustainability, and innovativeness” of the university. “Recalibration” is of course a euphemism for budget cuts. Bemidji State, a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system, is a campus with approximately 5,000 undergraduate and 300 graduate students. It faces a $5 million shortfall over the biennium. In practical terms, “recalibration” means the loss of 35 faculty positions, 32 graduate assistant positions (half of the current positions), 10.75 staff positions, and the men’s track program.

I came into the English Department this fall with two other new colleagues, both of whom were called on the MLK, Jr. holiday and asked to meet with the president the next morning, when they were given their retrenchment notices. Faculty lines were cut in English, Visual Arts, History, Philosophy, Art History, Modern Languages, Music, Physics, Environmental Studies, Sociology, Economics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Accounting, Technological Studies, Physical Education, Professional Education, Psychology, and Theatre. The cuts will mean the termination of Art History and Theatre. By cutting entire departments, the administration was able to cut tenured as well as tenure-track and fixed-term faculty.