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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday, November 25, 2012
By Toby Higbie, Department of History, UCLA

Mulling over Jerry Brown’s recent comments on the disruptive impact of digital technology on education, I’m reminded of the lead character in the Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski. Another spokesman for the California Dream, The Dude lumbers through a mystifying course of events that seem to be related, but are not. At one point he thinks he’s figured it all out and quips, “My thinking had become very uptight.”

Yes, Governor Brown’s thinking has become very uptight, myopic, and apparently funneled through the tiny screen of his iPhone. When he thinks about the digital revolution in education, he sees only online courses. When he reads an old out of print book on his iPhone, he sees Only Google Books and not the library that contributed the book. When he Googles “university education online” he just reads the hits, and doesn’t see the educational infrastructure that trained the computer scientists who wrote algorithms and designed his iPhone.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Friday, November 23, 2012

by Toby Higbie, Prof. of History, UCLA

At the last Regents meeting, Governor Brown mounted the digital barricades and sent a shot across the bow of every University of California professor and administrator.  Tossing a mixed green salad of metaphors about technology, education, capitalism, and revolution, he warned us to embrace online education or go the way of the Post Office and the daily newspaper.  Fossilized. Downsized. Out of business.  Also, we need to "fix this" in the next two years, and don't expect any money from Prop. 30.  

Helpfully, he's planning to recruit business and technology advocates of online education to make an hour-long presentation to the next Regents meeting (and maybe faculty will be able to reply).  Thanks Governor!

Listening to this eight-minute clip from the Regents meeting, I was struck by the reality that UC faculty should not count on our administrators to defend our interests, or those of students.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012
I understand why Gov. Jerry Brown went to the University of California and California State University board meetings this week. He wants to protect the political meaning of his Proposition 30 victory, which is that state funds will not be cut, so student tuition should not go up.  He knows that in the death grip binding higher ed officials to state politicians, fee increases are annual and automatic. Naturally, the UC Regents and the CSU Trustees were slated to celebrate the Prop 30 victory with some variable tuition increases for professional degrees.  Gov. Brown headed these off by saying they need more study.  Hence Nanette Asimov's headline writer at the San Francisco Chronicle entitled her coverage, "Brown Makes Sure Regents on the Right Path." Gov. Brown was cast in the role of the Regents' AA sponsor keeping them away from the fee-hike vino.

But they were also supposed to stay away from the state-funding mineral water as well.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Florida Governor Rick Scott's "Blue Ribbon Task Force on Higher Education Reform" has finally issued its final report.  Designed "to advance the State University System's Constitutional charge to operate, regulate, and control, and be fully responsible for the management of the whole university system" the report has already generated considerable controversy.  And well it should, because the Report proposes two fundamental changes in the relationship of higher education and society each of which are ideologically driven with little, if any, evidence to suggest that they make sense.

About 10 minutes ago, I dropped into the Finance Committee discussion (streaming here), to hear either Peter Taylor or Nathan Bostrom, UCOP's finance chiefs, talking about savings to campuses from e-purchasing and strategic sourcing in the hundred of millions of dollars.  The published figure is $20 million. A comment from President Yudof clarified that the $300 million or  so expected savings this year is on the $23 billion total budget and mostly concerns medical centers and other non-campus operations.  So Finance is being taken up with the same exact discussion the Regents have every two months about administrative savings, which in fact have very little to do with UC's actual campuses.

Back to my real job.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday, November 12, 2012
Since the passage of Proposition 30 prevented another 10% cut to state funding for the University of California, blocked similar cuts to CSU, and blocked still larger ones to the community colleges, the higher leadership guidance has been "curb your enthusiasm." 

The new head of the California Community College system, Brice Davis, said, "We are guardedly optimistic that we're beginning to find a bottom here in California." UC president Mark Yudof stated that the vote "put public higher education back on a pathway toward fiscal stability."  These are obviously not battle cries but expressions of relieved exhaustion.  What does that look like, for UC?

Here's a simplified version of our traditional chart, since you love to see it as much as I love to update it:

As we know, investment in UC has long been falling behind growth in state per capita income.  This is not a response to downturns but is an erratic yet secular trend of disinvestment.  After years of turmoil, UC is slated to wind up next year exactly where it would have been had the state capped its share at 2005-06 and never increased this sum for enrollment growth or inflation.  What we have had for years, and what we will continue to have with the Prop 30 track, is de facto privatization.   It is privatization American style, will a hefty dose of public subsidy, but however much we don't like to say it, that is what it is.

This won't work, it sticks us with a new normal of assured mediocrity, its coping mechanisms will suppress new state investment, and it guarantees that students and faculty will gradually seek and find better venues than UC for that unique prerequisite to a non-plutocratic society that we call public higher ed.  We now need to fight the Prop 30 norm as hard as we worked to install it.  

 First, in this post, let's look at where the UCOP budget proposal puts us.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Saturday, November 10, 2012
The Regents are meeting this week.  Among the central issues they will discuss are the short- and long-range budgetary situation of the University of California.  We will have more extensive discussion over the coming week but I wanted to provide you with links so that you could start reading for yourselves.  The bottom line: UCOP continues to be more forthright about the damage that defunding has done to the University although they refuse to take full stock of the damage done to access and affordability.  But despite their insistence that the University needs to improve its undergraduate education, their actual budget proposals will do little more than maintain the University in its present diminished state.  And that is true only if the State provides the funding that the University is hoping for.

The Executive Summary of the Current Operations and Capital Budget Proposal for 2013-14 can be found here.

The full Current Operations Budget Proposal can be found here.

The Capital Financial Plan can be found here.

The full Potpourri of Regents' discussions can be found here.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday, November 9, 2012
"University of California President Mark G. Yudof announced today (Nov. 8) that he has selected Nicholas B. Dirks, Columbia University’s executive vice president and dean of the faculty of  Arts and Sciences, as UC Berkeley’s 10th chancellor." The rest of the official statement is here.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wednesday, November 7, 2012
With close to 99% of precincts reporting, Proposition 30 has won with 53.9% of the vote, or nearly a 7 point spread.  KCET's map is at left, with green indicating a majority of Prop 30 yes votes. It trained by over four points at the start of the night.  For everyone wanting to avoid another 10% cut to UC's general fund, and similar cuts to CSU and the rest of California's already lagging education sector, this is an obvious relief.  Many thanks to all of the people who were part of the ground game that got this fairly solid result. Molly Munger's Prop 38 lost by a surprisingly large margin of nearly 3:1.

Kevin Kiley's coverage at Inside Higher Ed gets the right tone:
After four consecutive years of appropriations cuts, tuition increases, constricted enrollment, and concern that one of the best systems of higher education was suffering a death by a million cuts, higher education leaders in California got a bit of good news Tuesday night when state voters passed a tax hike that averts what many called potentially disastrous cuts. . . .
The measure's passage is not a panacea for the problems California higher education faces. Because the measure was designed to address previous cuts, and because the state is still struggling with multiple fiscal challenges, including entitlement and public safety costs, there is a a chance that the state's colleges and universities could see further cuts in coming years.
Quite true. There were some positive statewide shifts for education, including a possible Democratic supermajority in both houses of the legislature. But have a huge amount of work to do.

I'm speaking about next steps at a UCLA FA panel today, and we'll be back with more analysis when we've had a chance to go through the data. I'll enjoy the results at least for today.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Both of the education propositions on the California ballot may lose today.  The higher ed communities have focused on Gov Jerry Brown's Proposition 30, whose passage will avoid "trigger cuts" that will reduce Cal State and UC state funds by another $250 million beyond the cuts that Gov. Brown has already delivered to them. (Failure for Prop 30 will also mean another $338 million cut to the community college system.)  Prop 30 "buys out" any tuition increase this year for UC students. Prop 30's failure will result in a mid-year tuition increase for UC students: the number I keep hearing is a tuition increase of 20%. Given UC's ongoing structural deficit, this would put in-state tuition on track to rise to $20,000 by around 2015-2016, if not sooner

If Molly Munger's competition Prop 38 gets more votes than Prop 30, it nullifies Prop 30 even if Prop 30 has majority support.  Both propositions have quite a bit of money for K-12 but Prop 38 has more.  Prop 30 mixes seven years of income tax increases for the top brackets (starting at $500,000 for joint filers) with four years of a quarter-percent increase in the sales tax.  Prop 30 is also linked to the state budget, and is to provide $6 billion to balance the budget we are already in.  Hence its failure would require cutting $6 billion mid-year, and 98% of the cuts will come out of all levels of education.

Prop 38 offers more thoughtful support for schools, and funds quite a bit of early education (see the LAO analysis). There are also requirements that local school boards consult with their community over budgetary decisions and that they put their budgets on line, presumably so that parents can monitor the share of school funds that goes to instruction and related programs as opposed to administration and so on.  The duration of the income tax supplement is nearly twice as long, and it is a general tax on the population.  I find that politically and philosophically preferably to soaking the rich (all should pay for all). I would prefer a much more progressive income tax structure than California has, but this is beyond Prop 38's control.

I have disliked Prop 38 partly because it does nothing directly for higher education--which the Schwarenegger-Brown Axis of Mediocrity has been slowly strangling--and also because I am revolted by the plutocracy politics that has enabled two children of Warren Buffet's business partner Charlie Munger to saddle us with two propositions (Prop 32 and Prop 38) that they can fund with tens of millions of their personal dollars, and in general manipulate the political process as though they were landed aristocrats of ancient times.  I was also worried that Prop 38 would beat Prop 30 and cancel it.

I've changed my mind.  Prop 38 addresses a range of real problems with primary, secondary, and preschool education--now funded 47th out of the 50 states-- and does so relatively well.  It's polling well behind Prop 30, so I am less worried that it will trigger the shotgun that Jerry Brown has kindly trained at higher ed's head. On Warren Olney's show that covered the two propostions, Munger noted that Prop 38 sets aside around $3 billion for contributions to the state General Fund, which the legislature could freely use to reverse cuts to the three higher education systems it has been gouging for years.   There is of course no guarantee.  So I'm swallowing my irritation will both of these propositions and with the asinine education politics that has completely destroyed California's educational advantage and am voting yes on both.