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Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thursday, November 26, 2020

by Cathy Gere and Adam Aron,  professors at UC San Diego

Much has been written about the problem of denial of climate change science. But the University of California exemplifies another, possibly much tougher, problem: How do you go from acceptance of the science to action? 

The UC is a leader in climate change research and policy. And yet, its ten campuses emit more than a million metric tons of CO2 every year from burning natural gas, a fossil fuel, to provide heating, cooling and electricity. Many in the current generation of UC students -- increasingly aware of the extent to which global heating poses an existential threat to their futures -- are asking themselves why a university that has done so much to raise the alarm about greenhouse gases has done so little to curb its own emissions.

In 2013, then-UC-president Janet Napolitano launched the ‘Carbon Neutrality Initiative.’ This unfunded mandate, handed down from the Office of the President to the individual campuses, promised that the university would go ‘carbon neutral’ by 2025. 

In the first few years, the focus was on energy efficiency measures, such as better insulation, and lights that turned on with movement sensors. These efforts were successful in reducing emissions, but those savings have now been erased with a dramatic new building plan at the UCs. While the efficiency gains were an achievement, the low-hanging efficiency fruit are now all picked, and the emissions goals set by President Napolitano are still way out of reach.

Three quarters of the university’s energy is supplied by natural gas, a fossil fuel, obtained by highly toxic hydraulic fracturing methods that emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The UC looked into replacing fossil natural gas with biofuels, but that is, at best, a limited solution: there are serious problems with price, scale, and supply. 

A group of experts concluded that the only path to genuine decarbonization lay with electrification of the campus energy systems, but that was rejected as too expensive. Meanwhile, billions of dollars were found for new buildings.

So, with minimal investment in genuinely decarbonizing the university’s energy systems, the Carbon Neutrality Initiative is planning to make up the shortfall with inexpensive "carbon offsets." These are schemes to which institutions and individuals contribute, to try to "make good" on their own greenhouse gas emissions: for example, UC continues to burn natural gas while paying for forest preservation somewhere else. These carbon offsets have been called ‘licenses to pollute’ and likened to the ‘indulgences’ of the Catholic church (a pay-for-prayer scam). Thus, for the UC, ‘carbon neutrality’ does not mean reducing its emissions; it means paying people elsewhere (generally in low-income countries) to reduce their emissions while we go about business-as-usual.

Along with many members of the wider climate action and climate justice movement, we object to offset in principle and in practice.

First, we object to offsets in principle. The idea that we can pay someone in a poor part of the globe to reduce their emissions so that people in the richest country in the world can continue to burn fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases is morally bankrupt. Even if it works exactly as promised (which we very much doubt), all that ‘carbon neutrality’ achieves is the maintenance of the status quo. The IPCC 2018, backed by the world's governments, was very clear: we need to reduce emissions by about 50% by 2030 from 2010 levels to have a chance of keeping global heating to only 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. So the UC must stop burning natural gas. It can also, at the same time, support reforestation projects. The latter is no substitute for the former.

Second, we object to offsets in practice. To take just one example of an offset program that the University has already mooted, indigenous reforestation in Ecuador, this can hardly be computed in terms of sequestered tonnes of CO2. 

For such a scheme to work, trees have to be planted across an enormous area and reach maturity. Wildcat logging, mining and agricultural encroachment have to be held at bay. Political agreements have to be honored without corruption. How likely is it that all these things will hold true at a time when the climate emergency is accelerating and countries are experiencing increased instability as a result?

The UC is currently soliciting feedback about the carbon offset program from members of the university community. We are urging the administration to abandon the offsets program publicly, and to redirect the resources set aside for it into planning for electrification of the campus energy systems. 

Any path to stopping global heating must pass through genuine decarbonization of our infrastructure. Investing in a false accounting of ‘carbon neutrality’ is a form of climate denial: it denies the reality of our emissions and our responsibility to curb them. The UC prides itself on being a climate leader; we want the university to lead the world in real solutions, not in greenwashing.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Monday, November 16, 2020

As soon as the Biden-Harris victory was confirmed, the media pivoted to a ritual rediscovery of "Democratic Divergence" between their moderate and progressive wings. This very obvious fact about a coalitional party, visible to all by1968, shouldn't distract us from the 2020 reality that the lifelong moderate Joe Biden campaigned for president as a progressive, and that every kind of Democrat gave him and Kamala Harris the largest popular vote in U.S. history. I note this as a reason not to be complacent.

There's a silver lining in the mixed results overall. Democrats lost part of their majority in the House and failed to flip seats in competitive Senate races in Iowa, Maine, Montana, North Carolina, and South Carolina. If they don't win both Georgia run-offs on January 5th, then Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell will continue to function as Washington's co-president, elected by 1.23 million voters in Kentucky, where he will control judicial appointments, environmental investment and fiscal policy, like his non-existent Covid-19 stimulus.

The silver lining?  Democrats have the chance to dig beneath their manifest differences to rebuild their intellectual foundations for the 2020s.  My goal for them is that they hold power as a center-left party that can protect more radical movements from the wholly toxic and destructive Republicans. But they can't do this unless they get the intellectual act together.

On the terrain covered by this blog, I noted last time that higher ed has internal contradictions and a weak overall narrative that, if not fixed, will keep it on the sidelines of the Biden Administration. The same is true for the Democrats on higher ed.  Their power is limited by the close election and Republican dominance in a majority of states, where public college funding is controlled. Longer term, their intellectual scope is limited, and not up to steering the economic and social forces currently in play. Though most of the great thinking being done about education is being done by people who at least vote Democrat, the Democrats as a party don't have a strong or even coherent tale about what higher education does. 

This might be okay.  The party itself may not be so relevant to a "scene that is irreducibly multiple," as Amanda Armstrong-Price reminds us about U.S. politics more broadly. But the major higher ed movements of the decade--student debt cancellation and free college--came about as partnerships (or collisions) between activists and national Democratic politicians.  This kind of synergy is useful and probably necessary in a country as dispersed and divided as the U.S. But real synergy will require intellectual transformation.


Taking him as he is, we can see Joe Biden doing a lot for higher ed with the executive branch. He can soon replace Betsy de Vos with someone much better (like former teacher-of-the-year, Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT), pictured above).  Most of Trump's damage to higher ed can be undone with executive actions (see the WaPo's good roundup of the coming "series of reversals" in K-12 and postsecondary federal policy; and also Michael Vasquez's overview of the higher ed portion in CHE). Biden can also do significant student debt reduction with executive actions. Congressional Democrats can push towards the version of free college that Biden supports.  Hope has been placed in the fact that the incoming First Lady, Jill Biden, is a working community college professor who was teased by Michelle Obama for grading papers on diplomatic trips.

And yet the Democrats' underlying narrative about higher ed isn't good.  It has allowed the party, over the decades, to participate fully in creating the student debt crisis, the student food and housing insecurity crisis, the faculty adjuncting crisis, and the crisis in core educational funding. I'll review a bit of this weakness as an example of what is required to enable Biden's effectiveness--and winning real Congressional power in 2022.

On the debt crisis, the government professor Suzanne Mettler showed that Democrats helped the Republicans erode the value of Pell grants as far back as the 1980s.

The compromises between [Democrats and Republicans] did not decimate the grants, but they took the entitlement option off the table and left benefit rates dwindling in real terms and falling well behind average tuition costs. Politicians in both parties found common ground instead on the expansion of student loans because that only required them to lift borrowing limits and waive restrictions on who could borrow. (Degrees of Inequality, 199)

35 years later, Biden has proposed the doubling of Pell grant ceilings that his party had previously managed only to tweak. But the deeper intellectual problem remains. The Democrats gave up "the entitlement option" that tied them to their only meaningful conceptual paradigm of the 20th century, in which people accessed relatively equivalent public goods like education with no reference to their personal market power.  The systemic racism built into the New Deal and Great Society programs starkly violated the universal entitlement, and in contrast built a legacy of white entitlement which damaged Black and brown lives and also U.S. democracy. But social rather than market allocation of essential goods remained a  distinctive conceptual lineage, one that the Democratic accommodation with Reaganism buried within the party. The parliamentary Democrats (elected officials and their managerial and financial apparatus) helped push ideas like free college out of its status as an established norm and widespread practice in the postwar period to a Left insurgency on the party fringes, from which it was rescued largely by Bernie Sanders in 2015. 

My point here is that non-market, rights-based allocation of educational goods isn't an inherently progressive position to be contrasted, as the media does, with centrist positions. It was the mainstream party position when the Democrats were in power, and it formed its only distinctive--and popular--conceptual frame.  (Its Dixiecrat segregationist base was popular but not distinctive.)

Democrats thought they'd invented a winning new paradigm after Bill Clinton's victory in 1992, but that helped create the problems we're facing now, starting with wholly unresolved white racism, inadequate public health systems, and economically dysfunctional, ethically indefensible economic inequality.  The New Democrat paradigm rested on attempts to get public benefits via the private sector, with the privatization of public revenue streams as the mechanism. A continuous side effect was the combination of higher costs and reduced and/or unequal services, that is, cuts in quantity and quality, usually both.  Democrats endlessly agonized over the legitimacy of health and welfare programs that did basic things like reduce childhood hunger, mostly because Republicans categorically denied it.

The private insurance-based health system is the most famous result of this ongoing history of cutting the private sector in as a provider, gatekeeper, and market allocator of public goods. It was preserved with Obamacare, improving an unpopular and exclusionary system in the classic New Democrat way--with higher government subsidies funneled through private firms so that the results of an unchanged system are more humane.

Putting their confused private--public good narrative into practice as standard Democratic coalitional compromise policy, the party got a reputation for not really solving the public problem at hand. As Biden's victory became more assured, Tressie McMillan Cottom and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote powerful analyses of the damage these policies have generally done to racial justice and to the public fabric of society.  Cottom demanded full accountability for Republican damage--not bipartisanship--which would include restoring the status of professional analysis. Taylor recounted the damage that Democratic management has done to Black communities, among others.  The Democrats, she writes, must deal with

the depth of the bipartisan failure to address the tangled roots of racism, poverty, and inequality. . . . [T]he overwhelming majority of Black voters backed Biden, but the fact is that millions of African-Americans experience the daily failures of Democratic officials to respond to the poor conditions of their public schools, the lack of affordable housing, rampant police harassment and brutality, and usurious loans. The answer to these legitimate grievances can’t simply be to say that they are Republican talking points.

What Taylor correctly describes as chronic policy failure is also intellectual failure. Both follow from corruption in more than one sense.  Focusing on the aggression of the progressive wing against the center (or vice versa) is a total diversion from the intellectual condition of the Democrats as a whole.  


A good place to study the thinking of this coalitional Democratic party is California, where it effectively rules as a one-party state.  The Democrats have a nearly 2:1 voter registration advantage over Republicans, who have fallen from a third to a quarter of registered voters over the past 20 years.  Both legislative houses have for years been near or above a 2:1 Democratic supermajority (the Assembly is currently 3:1).  This month, Biden-Harris beat Trump-Pence by a nearly 2:1 margin. The same ratio appeared, this time within the Democrats, in the 2020 presidential primary. Sanders and Warren together got about half the votes, and Biden about a quarter (with Bloomberg picking up another 12 percent). Okay there goes the 2:1 margin, but progressives by any measure are a majority of California Democrats. Color-coding in this Wikipedia chart nicely captures the extent of Democratic control.

This is the same period in which California became the fourth most unequal state by income (after New York, Connecticut, and Louisiana), acquired the highest poverty rate (geographically adjusted), and made housing unaffordability a permanent problem. By 2000, the California Democratic party had embraced the low-tax Proposition 13 framework and focused on deficit reduction and safety net programs that left business alone.  Parliamentary Democrats accepted that, beyond safety-net maintenance that the private sector won't touch, public goods would be defined and shaped (though decreasingly funded) by the private sector.

In the domain we follow here, higher education, the Democrats allowed the most diverse college student population in U.S. history to suffer a massive decline in real per-student public funding.  Here's the UC case, explained in detail in this post.

As the white share of UC undergrad enrollment fell, state investment fell in lockstep.  For ten years, Democrats said, "well, if we send you less tax money your studnets can pay you more tuition," then felt political heat for that, so they froze tuition, but without restoring the lost state funds.  In short, after two decades of liberal Democratic control of state government, UC has between 40 and 60 percent of the total per-student net revenues that it began the century with.  

As a result of Democratic underfunding, the state university systems encountered the Covid-19 pandemic without enough funds to operate absent new debt (UC took on another $1.5 billion in the summer, on top of overall institutional debt that has doubled in the past ten years). Neither Cal State nor UC could afford to open safely, even for a partial student body. 

There were two more reminders of the constant grinding shortfalls last week. The Legislative Analyst's Office reported that most campuses in both systems have enough uncommitted reserves to cover only a week or two of operations.  And materials for the upcoming UC regents meeting identify $25 billion in facilities needs through 2026 that have no identified funding source.


There's one more Democrat policy area I want to discuss, where the economy and higher education meet.  The Democrats wholly committed themselves to human capital theory, which among other things defined bachelor's degrees and their student debt through the wage return on a financial investment. Non-monetary and social benefits were downgraded or completely ignored.  Human capital theory was always flawed. I wrote about this in The Great Mistake (Stage 8), and will have more to say elsewhere (this week I'm reading what looks like a major intervention, The Death of Human Capital?, as part of ongoing research on a new political economy for education.) 

Though it sounds odd to say, human capital theory entails the privatization of work itself.  It treats individual capabilities as a private good rather than as something that is created through social processes and is always interpersonal; it sets wages and working conditions with no regard for their political and social conditions or effects.  (See Wendy Brown's Undoing the Demos for a definitive analysis of these.) Executive pay and founders' fortunes reflect, in reality, their beneficiaries' institutional and social power, not an objective valuation of a true contribution.  

Human capital theory has had many practical effects. One is that Democrats agree with Republicans on seeing capital gains, real estate, and very high net worth as entirely private goods, which makes them very hard to tax, even at the rate of wage labor. Another is that Democrats have participated in converting employees, entitled to benefits and legal protections, into contractors, without these benefits and protections. In this model, contractors voluntarily enter into private contracts as entrepreneurs of their human capital.

This Democratic confusion played out in several propositions up for a vote on the California ballot. There were three notable anti-progressive outcomes in the midst of a 2:1 Democratic majority vote, all of which implicate the university.

Proposition 15: Taxing commercial property at its market price.  This was another unsuccessful attempt to qualify Prop 13 from 1978, which tied property tax assessments on all property, commercial and residential, to the original purchase price and capped the tax rate at 1 percent of that value (plus a 2% annual increase).  California property owners keep the full value of the difference between purchase and sale price (doubling and tripling is not unusual if you stay put for a while), and don't have to share those gains with the state on an annual basis, though schools and other infrastructure, which must be funded annually, contribute to the property's value).  In the residential market, tying today's taxes to the prices of yesterday benefits the old over the young, who are doubly penalized by paying the newer, inflated purchase prices, which subsidize the capped taxes of the old.  Older homeowners are whiter, so racial injustice is also unofficial state tax policy. The artificially-lowered property tax dopes property values, letting asset price inflation sustain a housing crisis.  The situation with commercial property is even more irrational, and Prop 15 focused only on that, but it lost anyway. I've heard lots of tales of why--the hypocrisy and individualist selfishness of Californians is always a popular one. My candidate is the limit to Democratic thought that I've been discussing, which prevents it from advocating a public-investment model of private property that would allow proper taxation. 

Proposition 16 (to restore affirmative action).  This measure came from legislative Democrats, was oddly worded, appeared late, and had little money behind it, so faced an uphill battle (such was the KQED Forum verdict). I'd also point out that Democrats were unable to move from what I'd call the Level 1 justification for affirmative action to Level 2. Level 1 is that affirmative action is needed to breach an exclusionary white majority lock on an institution.  But in California, the most visible sites of contestation over race-conscious affirmative action--college admissions---now have minority-white student bodies (see the chart above). Voters might assume that on the goal of racial diversity, it is mission accomplished. The Level 2 justification for affirmative action is the persistence of both racism and racial inequality, very much including graduation gaps, student debt gaps, wealth gaps, and income gaps.  But these are issues that human capital theory (and the neoliberalism that rests on it) place in the private realm, as not a matter of public policy. Thus it's been decades since Democrats in any numbers espoused racial equality of outcome (proportionate admissions, income and wealth parity, etc.) as a vital goal. So party members would have no reason to turn out in force for affirmative action.

Proposition 22. (excepting some tech companies' contractors from re-conversion to employees via Assembly Bill 5). This was put on the ballot by a few Silicon Valley transportation companies, including Uber and Lyft.  AB 5 had been an example of parliamentary Democrats deciding in effect to rein in human capital theory, which was allowing some wealthy companies to evade labor law and force drivers to bear the structural costs of their employment privately.  Prop 22's passage (reverting drivers to contractors) exposed yet again the issue of whether the Valley will be allowed to use tech to force workers to negotiate the value of their  individual capital with huge platforms, whose size will allow the latter always to win the argument.  Prop 22 succeeded in part because of the tech plutocracy's access to customers' apps and their $200 million ad spend. But it also succeeded because the Democratic party has no clear intellectual critique of the political economy of the "independent" contractor. 

For example, on a Forum discussion of the proposition, a caller named Nick from San Rafael said this:

I voted to allow workers to stay independent--I voted for 22. I did it with mixed emotions. I just fundamentally believe that AB 5 is bad law. The most charitable description is that it has so many carve-outs for anybody who had friends in Sacramento that it doesn't have any teeth. but the practical effect has been really devastating to a lot of my friends. I'm over forty and I work in marketing, and if you're over 40 and you work in marketing you're probably a free-lancer. And if you're a freelancer in California, you didn't get any work this year. It's been a bad year for everybody. So I felt, not why shouldn't these Uber drivers be independent: I thought why shouldn't everyone? And it really frustrated me the way the conversation has been framed  as these big bad tech companies are trying to get away with it, when the reality is,  it's so hard to do business in California.  And trust me, it's easy to hire freelancers and contractors in other states. My downside to Prop 22 passing is now there's no muscle to fight AB 5 in Sacramento. . . . it's a classic story of posturing politicians, and I'm worried about my friends who don't have the money to fund a Prop 23 for themselves.

Nick's logic is a bit death drivey--California contractors had no work this year, so everyone should be contractors.  And AB 5 shouldn't prevent them from underbidding competitors in lower-cost states, so they can't afford to live in California.  Sam Harnett, KQED's Silicon Valley reporter, shot back, "why isn't [Nick] an employee with benefits and protections"? This didn't seem to cross Nick's mind. Nick's comment about "mixed emotions" makes me think he's a Democrat, which is also why he has no systemic critique of contracting. 

Marketing is one of the major career paths of non-STEM college grads, which puts universities in the position of enacting a human capital theory that makes the precarity of their (usually indebted) graduates that much more likely.  Even the people who go to college for personal development rather than marketable skills expect the degree to lead to relatively secure work. That is no longer happening,  and yet graduates of any age cannot turn to the Democrats for a worked-out conceptual alternative to white-collar precarity.  Nick in fact directed his wrath at Democrats rather than at the tech companies the Dems were trying for once to corral.  One likely reason is that he didn't see an underlying intellectual case. 

Universities are damaged by all three of these trends. Majorities want to keep state-suppressed property tax rates, which makes housing unaffordable for most university employees and students. Majorities don't support the strong forms of racial equality that should be a core public benefit of higher education. Majorities don't support secure employment for either non-college or college workers--and many of the latter don't either.

The common theme of these failures is the Democrats' tendency to hop on and off and on the Republican bandwagon of low taxes, racial laissez-faire, and business sovereignty over employees. They share a human capital theory until it gets a little too cruel. The immediate problem isn't the gap between the Democratic party's center and left, but that the party as a whole has not, for many years, narrated a clear alternative to the Republican paradigm.

Democrats now have to explain that government isn't a safety net. It's a coordinator, creator, orchestrator of collective effort--both builder and purchaser of goods in common (health, knowledge, transit, safety, justice, collective change). Democrats have to teach everyone in reach that public spending cannot be replaced by private spending for a wide range of fundamental public goods. That includes private tuition for university degrees. 

Nothing is going to get better in the coming era without more collective construction of common systems. The systems we have now, dominated by the self-interest of various firms and sectors (Uber, etc), are inefficient and unjust. We need structures that can transform climate change, warfare, poverty, migration, and human ignorance into better forms.  The current policy mashup, hatched in the 1990s, won't work. Really sophisticated governments will be essential.  Anti-masker individualism is finished as positive force: it can only generate a long series of national setbacks.  Democrats need a real story line about all this.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Trump will declare victory in the presidential election this week, but he will be lying, and after a ludicrous amount of maneuvering and some high-stakes drama in our McConnell-packed Federalist Society courts, Joe Biden will assume the battered office. Trump's infantile Rightism will be out of the White House, though not off the airwaves or the streets.

A long struggle of rebuilding will (re)start next year. The function of Democrats in my lifetime has been to clean up each Republican mess (Obama did mild financial re-regulation while paying down the Bush deficit) and get the country back to the starting gate.  We've had just two Democratic presidents in the last forty years, and the Republicans treated neither of them as legitimate. There was Whitewater and impeachment for Bill, and birtherism and blockage for Barack. Joe Biden can expect the same. 

His administration will need to work on twenty issues at once, and higher education will be about 18th, if it makes the list at all. Biden has a lot of social justice to do. He will also have to deal with a model of capitalism that's at the end of its functional life.

For higher ed, there's likely to be some immediate good news in a new stimulus bill in a Democrat-majority Senate.  Last spring, colleges got $14 billion from CARES (on a $50 billion request), only $7 billion of which could go to operations.  The later House bill that the Senate ignored (the HEROES Act) had $27 billion for higher ed. The American Council on Education has estimated the base need of colleges and universities to be $120 billion (for operating losses and increased Covid costs).  Even the full amount would just get colleges and universities back to square one. But getting some large percentage of a new $120 billion would stabilize the situation for the current academic year.

On the national flashpoints of high tuition and student debt, Biden, unless there's popular pressure, will stick with damage control. (Paul Basken has a good overview.) He has campaigned on a diluted version of the Sanders-Warren positions. He proposes free community college, free 4-year college for people from families earning under $125,000, and a cap on loan repayments at 5 percent of discretionary income for 20 years, after which both balance and interest are "forgiven."  In their valuable new report on free college, Georgetown's Center for Education and the Workforce has priced Biden's plan at about $50 billion in the first year, which would be a more than 25 percent increase in government support for  higher ed.  It's a pretty good "first dollar" plan that would offer better support for poor students and students of color. Biden should actually do this, right away. (It would help him hold the Senate in 2022 . . . )

However, the university is not actually the subject of Biden's proposal. The plan is "for education beyond high school."  It is very much about workforce training for mid-skill and middle-income jobs.  Free college and debt relief are way down the webpage, requiring repeated scrolling to find.  Biden notes that his wife is a community college professor, and that there are 30 million jobs paying around $55,000 that require education beyond high school but not a college degree.  

Community colleges are great, but Biden has no vision of educational effects or transformative powers. He doesn't quite have a 1990s New Economy human capital argument about the value of complex  cognitive powers through bachelors' degrees.  Obama was the same, seeing college as workforce development, with an emphasis on the kinds of jobs New Democrats helped Republicans ship overseas.  The model is patronizing and outdated.  It will have little economic benefit. And it won't do nearly enough for today's precarious students, who need full college and not the cut-rate version.

Higher ed is clinging to its individual monetary impacts after decades of lowering it with tuition hikes and student debt, and at the moment when capitalism is facing the death of human capital as we know it. It has tried to pivot to "social mobility," but this is the same thing--private pecuniary gain--measured differently. Colleges and universities need to redefine their roles in society. The Biden Administration will offer an stage, but all the dancing and singing will have to be done by social movements and by the people in universities.

There's this problem of not yet being back in the starting gate. Colleges and universities are fairly busted up inside. Their various constituencies have been set against each other. Here are the main fractures that need to be addressed.

1. Student Debt. Present and former students have had to address this crisis with little help and much opposition from universities. The white tax-revolt backlash that started in the 1970s always required high tuition, which in turned entailed high student debt. Nothing has damaged the public status of higher ed like high tuition and high debt have done, but administrators and most faculty continue to look to tuition hikes as their main fiscal strategy. Debt Collective's Can't Pay Won't Pay has just come out, as a leading example of a movement that universities need to join if they are going to regain public credibility.

2. Funding Cuts.  This is happening again under Covid.  When all is said and done, regular public funding cuts represent the deliberate forcing into mediocrity of the popular, public side of a higher ed system so it can't increase social equality.  Cuts are a classic example of systemic racism: the halving of per-student state support in California exactly tracks the declining share of whites in UC's student population. We're facing a new round of program closures plus a number of suspended PhD programs, particularly in the social sciences and humanities.  Universities and their godawful governing boards haven't attacked this crisis systematically, made a huge fuss, named names, denounced their political enemies, and figured out how to make them lose.  Universities don't care enough, because it's the students who pick up the tab in the form of higher tuition and lowered educational quality. Colleges have supported this extractive model.

3. Social Injustice. The current funding model has made college an engine of inequality: Black and brown students are most likely to go to the colleges with the fewest resources that reliability produce the lowest graduation rates.  The same is true for first generation and working-class students. Many are now being pushed by Covid back into for-profit debt mills because these have pre-existing proficiency with fully online ed.  Governments are doing nothing. The role of highly selective colleges has become completely absurd--they function as rejection factories that are to confer special title on the survivors.  As the new wave of critiques of meritocracy shows, they are protecting stratification rather than fighting it.  Even people who don't care about racial justice hate the renewed Stanfordization of the entire college system, where exclusivity is the sign of quality.  As they embrace individual social mobility as their major social benefit, they are staked to preserve economic inequality as the backdrop.  This is a total crisis for college's social mission, and a cauldron of hatred for the sector that goes well beyond the proverbial Trump lover.

4. Dreadful Governance. There's of course UC's self-serving regents, but they are fairly typical of boards that subject universities to external forces rather than cultivating their campuses by finding them resources and supporting their independence.  An important Chronicle of Higher Education study of governing boards showed that only 1 in 5 members go through a "meaningful bipartisan check."  Republican boards try to impose their political views directly onto faculty and students, while Democratic boards try to impose permanent austerity. Neither group knows much or cares about actual research and teaching, though both are preoccupied with increasing their direct control.  Both parties reliably give Black and brown students less money than their white forebears, though they talk differently about that. In short, cultures in which authority exceeds knowledge do not thrive over time. University boards present a classic organizational problem, and the divisions among major constituencies sown by their unaccountability  has undermined the entire sector.

5. Faculty Withdrawal.  In the major conflicts of the past thirty years, most tenured faculty have been  absent. A fairly small group works on important institutional issues they know well-- police abolition, admissions equity, faculty diversification, grad student unionization, among others.  Meanwhile, the majority of tenure-track faculty are completely silent on budgeting, administrative accountability, pseud-integration, and other major policy questions. Faculty senates work hard to prevent the worst, but they are 99 percent on the defensive. The AAUP and unions have done excellent emergency work, but are generally too busy putting out fires to rebuild the garden shed, to say nothing of the actual house. Rank and file TT folks have not developed an alternative to the austerity university for colored children or fought persistently over resources.  They have not fought obsessively against the adjunctification of the majority of their own ranks. This fracturing of TT from NTT faculty, and faculty from staff and students, is at the root of higher ed's status as a political basket case.

So there are some problems. 

There are also many many signs of academic mobilization. Just to stick with faculty: there has been good organization against anti-Black racism and campus police, for a New Deal for Higher Education, development of groups like Tenure for the Common Good, not to mention union campaigns against adjunct layoffs at CUNY, Ohio University, and many other places. The disaster has galvanized a broad counter-response.

One huge thing that must happen now is the writing of new stories for higher ed. Universities desperately need narratives about who they really are and what they really do. Such narratives are usually written for them. This is the most fundamental activity today of governing boards--to capture and define the story of the university for business, society, and the university itself.

With this in mind, I was happy to find the statement that the Berkeley Faculty Association wrote a couple of weeks ago. Called The University We Are For, it insists that higher ed admin should actively endorse the campaign to re-invest in public universities, noting that the “Keep California’s Promise” Campaign (or “the $66 fix,” for the $66 it would cost the median California taxpayer annually) would restore state funding of all sectors of California public higher education to their 2000 levels." 

At a time when Black Lives Matter movements are working to challenge systemic racism, the Berkeley Faculty Association insists that public higher education should not rise in cost and fall in quality at the moment that the historically excluded are at the university gates. . . . Social justice requires a bolder approach: one that sees California public higher education as an instrument of reparations for the historically excluded; one that seeks to renew its promise now, when it is most necessary.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Friday, October 9, 2020

Neither major party has one, for higher ed or for anything else. Higher ed boards and presidents don't either. (Pictured at left: UC Regents Gareth Elliott, John Pérez, and Sherry Lansing.)  Rebuilding this system is pretty much up to us.

I say this because however universities' operations people struggle to hold fall term together, the larger policy response has lost its grip on the unfolding disaster.  The most vulnerable students are disproportionately dropping out, academic programs are being closed, doctoral programs are being suspended, early-career women faculty's academic futures are put in jeopardy, student enrollments have been further destabilized, and testing and tracing regimes are too uneven to assure general reopening in spring.

There's also higher ed employment. At the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dan Bauman pulled together data on the worst higher ed employment collapse since modern statistics began. Since March 2020, the sector has lost seven percent of its workforce.  Here's the gruesome chart.

The rising employment trend you see largely tracked student enrollment growing by about 25 percent in this period. When Covid hit, most universities hadn't fully recovered from the Great Recession.  Employment during that downturn merely went sideways, rather than going off a cliff.   Now it is going off a cliff.

The minds of policymakers and governing boards have been dulled by promises of a V-shaped recession. Everything is supposed to bounce back when dorms and classrooms re-open.  You can see a small bounce above.

A bounceback in employment requires both political will and money. The two are linked.  In Bauman's other chart, note where the bouncing is not happening.

In spite of all the rhetoric about access and inclusion, politicians are not allocating money to the institutions--largely public--that offer those.  Everyone is concerned about the diversity of the academic pipeline.  Collapsing higher ed employment, much in various kinds of student services, squeezes the pipeline at its most diverse point.   (Private colleges both wealthy and reputable are also suffering: Ithaca College has announced a plan to cut 25 percent of its faculty.)

Lying behind this is the negative role now adopted by state governments. They applied austerity and helped deepen the Great Recession. They are playing the same destructive role againRepublican state governments are cutting higher ed. But Democratic state governments do the same, with New York and California in the forefront.  In spite of what you hear around UC, the Democratic legislature gave UC's general fund a 12.2 percent cut (details here).

Legislators and governors blame a Covid crash in tax receipts. States are having a terrible tax revenue year:  some expect to lose a fifth or even a third of their budgets (CBPP's State Budget Watch has an appalling chart of estimates state by state.)  But this problem is partially self-inflected. States can raise revenues by raising taxes on people and business that have wealth and income. Covid has been bad for labor and good for capital; bad for lower incomes and okay for higher.  Legislators could pass a solidarity income tax surcharge on high earners. They could pass a Facebook tax, a Google tax, an Apple tax, a Microsoft tax, and especially an Oracle tax; in New York they could pass a Goldman Sachs tax, etc. These would be taxes on the very wealthy and currently prosperous individuals and sectors these companies represent.  But today's Democrats are no more likely to pass even temporary taxes than are Republicans.

What about governing boards?  They are fiduciary authorities, and their job is to maintain the revenues that allow for the full functioning of their institutions.  In California, that means money to pay for non-commodity learning and (always) money-losing research while minimizing the debt of students emerging from a population with Deep South levels of economic inequality and the nation's number one poverty rate (corrected for cost of living), while dealing with Covid losses and added expenses. Instead of taking a $500 million cut, the regents should be pounding the table for a $1-2 billion raise.

(The same goes for senior people in public health, fire fighting, forest and other environmental remediation, disaster relief, housing and community rebuilding--all leading to using the full rainy day fund, raising taxes now to meet actual urgent needs, hiring unemployed people to do all the work of reconstruction, which would massively stimulate economic activity, tax receipts, etc.  Keynes did live and write his books, and he and his heirs are still correct. )

Given the need and the possibility, what happened at the UC Regents meeting? After the budgetary vaguenesses of their July meeting, board chair John Pérez demanded real data in September.  In September, there were if anything fewer data than in July.  UCOP presented a lesson on the 2009 furloughs.  The one bright spot was that it was interpreted to mean that furloughs aren't a magic bullet. The discussion gave the regents the chance to favor steep progressivity in the furloughs that they said they didn't want to impose, and also to oppose layoffs of frontline staff.

Fine, but there was no plan, and also very little data. For example:

There are no numbers attached to any of these very significant problems.  How bad is the total problem?  No one really asked, and UCOP folks didn't really say.  UCOP works to demobilize the regents, and vice versa, and anyone who wants to rally for the cause of proper Covid funding is cast outside the pale.

The low moment in the charade of deep uncertainty was the refusal to admit that the federal bailout is not going to happen, and getting proactive about the fact that the Democratic cut of 12.2% will start in the current year.  I noted in my last budget post that this is really at 20% cut from the regents' fairly modest request of November 2019.  But not a word about the problems this will present to campuses, faculty, staff, and students.

Rather than saying the feds won't save us, pushing the regents to demand a new deal from the state, UCOP continued to suggest the money will come. Dan Mitchell reports that in an October 6th meeting, a regental committee was told that even if they miss the October 15th deadline (a dead certainty), the state may get money later from a Biden administration and pass some on mid-year to UC.  This isn't planning but wishful thinking, and a commercial investor would dump the stock.

In one case, the slide title belied the data.

In fact, August losses increased again. Given the state's erratic Covid suppression, medical center losses may continue to increase.  The regents' asked no questions about this.  The routine is pretty well established: every regents meeting features UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood mechanically intoning that UCSF isn't really losing money after all--it has a "positive EBITA." Nobody asks him, given $850 million in med center revenue losses, what the hell he's talking about.  But the effect is to create enough uncertainty to dull the sense of urgency. 

Discussion of borrowing capacity has the same effect. UCOP's Nathan Brostrom noted new bond revenues of $1.5 billion over the summer, plus $10 B in available liquidity in STIP, and, in passing, identified another $5-6 billion in further borrowing capacity.  So UCOP makes the regents feel that cash flow is in very good shape.  Regent Lark Park observed at some length that the legislature has too many problems to give UC more money.  Regent Pérez said that the goal is smoothing losses so that they are spread out over several years.  Between the regents's desire to protect the legislative Democrats from the University, and their desire to avoid responsibility for layoffs, they will support further borrowing and campus cuts spread out over 2-5 years.  UCOP and the Board are locking in years of campus cuts where there is already nothing left to cut, but without ever actually saying so.

Earlier, new president Drake gave a short introductory talk that mentioned good things like rising awareness of systemic racism while never mentioning the budget.  His lack of affect and vague formulations said "caretaker president." I hope I misheard, since pressure tactics are required.

New Senate chair Mary Gauvin committed the Senate to supporting the Green New Deal project developed by UCSD faculty, and said good things about the need for greater mutual support during the pandemic.  She also said nothing about the budget-- or about the shared governance crisis.  All these good projects require money. But nobody would talk about the money.

The effect is a denial of the size of the budget problem.  In August, I detailed the possibility of a 16.6% reduction in 2020-21 revenues from January projections. What data in the September meeting refuted this? There is some good news, like resident student enrollments holding up. But UCOP offered no specific data that could dismantle a middle scenario like mine, much as I would like that to happen. 

Groups like UCOP and the Board of Regents can't fend off the worst because they won't openly plan for it, or even mention it. They can't negotiate a no-cuts budget with the legislature because they don't explain why it's necessary. Much of the damage to public universities after 2008 was self-inflicted.  We are watching the same exact internal leadership failure happening again.  Its first victims will be the lower-income employees and most vulnerable students that Democratic governing boards want to protect. 

The current board--presidential system hasn't worked well for a while. In my next post, I'll suggest a distributed governing system that would do better.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

August 17th was new UC President Michael V. Drake's first day of work (red gown at left, at CSU Dominguez Hills).  He picked a hard time to start the job. But the Board of Regents has made it harder by pushing the president and the faculty out of the search for the campus chancellors.  The Board did this to the University's first Black president in the name of diversity.

Lack of diversity was the lead reason the Board of Regents (BoR) gave for rushing through changes in the selection process.  Both staff and faculty (especially tenure-track faculty) do need to be more diverse at UC.  But the Regent-commissioned report didn't  analyze applicant pools and hires to show racial disparity or anything else.  They would have had to offer evidence of systemic bias, since, in terms of outcomes, President Janet Napolitano (2013-2020) has a reasonably good diversity record with her 6 chancellor hires.  She brought on board two white men, Sam Hawgood (San Francisco, 2014) and Howard Gillman (Irvine, 2014), both promoted from within the campus, an African American man, Gary S. May (Davis, 2017), two white women, Carol Christ (Berkeley, 2017, from the campus) and Cynthia K. Larive (Santa Cruz, 2019), and a Latino man, Juan Sánchez Muñoz (Merced, 2020).  The 3 external hires were a Black man, a white woman, and a Latino.  First glance suggests that the easiest way to cut the white majority is not to hire from within.  

The Regents proposed a much more dramatic solution: a set of new search rules that overshadowed all other issues at their July meeting, including Covid infections and costs and the possible 12-16% revenue losses in 2020-21 that I discussed last time.  A review of the case suggests that a lack of chancellor diversity was not the main motivation.

In November 2019, Board Chair John Pérez convened a Regents Working Group on Chancellor Search and Selection. It produced the report, which does note the opportunity to "underscore how UC can better integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion practices into its chancellor search and selection process." But first came this:

While over the years, the Regents have delegated authority for many of the operations of the University to the President, appointing chancellors remains one of the most important responsibilities, which the Board has reserved unto itself.1 This reservation of authority requires particular attention and dedication by Regents with respect to the appointment of chancellors— the specific process which is set forth in Regents Policy 7102. (1)

Footnote 1 cites Bylaws 22.2 and 31.  Bylaw 22.2 sets out specific reservations of regental authority, and is a series of unilateral approval rights.  Bylaw 31 states that chancellors "are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the Board," with the president advising and consulting on appointments without appointment power.  It also defines the chancellor as a direct subordinate of the Board as well as the president--as someone who can be line-managed by the Board. 

The Board's main motivation for the review appears to have been to increase its direct power over appointing chancellors.  The two discussions of the items were fraught, with both the Senate and the current UC President objecting to the changes and asking for further discussion. In the end the changes sailed through. 

First, the changes. The Board's Governance Committee Agenda for July 29th had three items on this matter, in which the acceptance of the Working Group Report would lead to immediate changes in the search policy, Regents' Policy 7102.  You can see the modifications here.   The new and approved clean copy is here.   The key changes are: 

  1. Though the Board of Regents always appointed chancellors, candidates were identified and a finalist proposed to the Board by a "Committee." Now, this body is a "search advisory committee," with its powers identified as advisory only.
  2. The president was the lead on running the search.  Now, "the Board and the President each has a role"--they are co-managers of the search process.
  3. The five faculty members of the Committee were appointed by the Academic Senate.  Other groups selected and sent their representatives. Now, the chair(s) of the search advisory committee will select members from a slate of three for each position.
  4. The Committee membership was constituted by the process of submitting names, not subject to further adjudication (I assume).  Now, the president meets only with the regental members prior to retaining a search firm or any committee meeting to insure a "strong balance" on the committee.
  5. The five faculty members of the Committee were responsible for reviewing candidates and submitting names to the full committee, "working with the president."  Now, this reviewing is done by an outside search firm.
  6. The Committee deliberated the virtues of the long and short lists submitted by the faculty reviewers.  Now, the lists prepared by the outside search firm are discussed by the president and the regental members of the committee.
  7. The Committee came to a conclusion about the final candidate(s) together, through some (unspecified )process; the president would then communicate the nomination to the Board of Regents for approval. Now, only the regental members of the search advisory committee will vote amongst themselves on the name to be forwarded to the full Board of Regents.

In short, the chancellor search will be run by an outside search firm hired by the Regents and the Regent members of the search advisory committee. Only Regents will vote on the committee, and the result will be handed from the Regent members to the full Board. The president has been removed as lead authority in the search, and the faculty have been removed from the review process.  Faculty can submit nominations to the committee, just like anyone else.

Ironically, the actual search issue this year was not faculty having too much influence over administrative hires but having no influence at all.  During the search for the new president that led to Michael Drake-- the Regents completely excluded the faculty advisory body from contact with the applications or any of the candidates. The Senate Chair has in the past functioned as a member of the Special Committee; after an initial meeting, she was never allowed back. The Academic Assembly formally protested in a February Resolution, when the problem could have been fixed.  The Academic Council also protested in a July letter dated the day before the discussion of the chancellor search items. It objected to the refusal of the Regents even to acknowledge receipt of formal requests to be consulted. The new chancellor's search process will make them more like presidential searches, which in the current case meant the near-total bypassing of the faculty. 

The Senate response to the Working Group's search changes was strongly negative.  Before the letter I just mentioned, on July 23rd, the Academic Council wrote to the president to say that the "lack of inclusion" of faculty from the Report's interviews had skewed the results, and that it offered no justification for marginalizing faculty expertise about and personal commitment to their campus. It also stated that research university faculty members have special knowledge of what it takes to run a research university and asked that the new rules be delayed for further consultation, including consultation with President Drake.

The next Senate response was the bombshell, a letter signed by 20 former chairs of the Academic Senate, including virtually every head of the Senate for the past quarter century.  Though I've often wished for it, especially for demanding the Regents improve their generally poor job of maintaining UC revenues, I've never seen this kind of united Senate front before. The chairs' letter rejected the implication that "the UC faculty have been an impediment to the diversification of the University," pointedly contrasting the Senate's longstanding defense of affirmative action with the BoR's overturning of it in 1995, from which Underrepresented Minority (URM) student representation has never fully recovered. The letter defined the process of the recommendations as "not in keeping with the best practices of our University" in having excluded faculty from the Working Group and the Senate from meaningful prior review.  In addition, the former Senate chairs criticized the demotion of the president in the chancellor's search.

[T]he proposed Section 6 of the policy . . . would require the President to meet privately with only the regental members of the search committee, and then seek their approval of the President's choice prior to submission for approval by the full board.  The effect of this change is to fundamentally undercut the authority of the President in selecting Chancellors.

This critique of the Regents on both process and substance was the basis of a Los Angeles Times article by Teresa Watanabe. Many Regents, including the Board chair, first read about the 20 Chairs' retort in the newspaper, and they were riled before the discussion began.

There were two discussions of the search process changes during the meetings , first on July 29th (here) and then July 30th (starting at 2'09" here). The Working Group report was defended by Regent Lark Park, the WG chair, and by several of its other members.  I watched both discussions on line, and didn't hear anyone identify a clear operational problem to which the changes were a solution.  Park said the point was to be "more efficient, accountable, and inclusive" (2'04").  No one objected to this goal,  but there were questions about how these changes accomplish that? A few Regents expressed frustration with getting only one finalist  at the end of the search on which they were asked to do an up-or-down vote. But there were other, simpler ways to address this understandable concern. For example, the Committee could meet with the BoR while the process is ongoing, or the President could write reports to the Board chair every 2 weeks, or the Committee could submit a short list of 3 final candidates to the full Board instead of just one (as will now be done for Committee selection). None of these would require pushing the faculty or the President out of the process, as these changes do.  

The outgoing President didn't support the changes. Janet Napolitano noted there's "the question of what the problem is that we're trying to fix here" (2'41").  She said the Working Group could try to reduce their differences with the faculty and also said that "it would be useful to consult with President Drake." She noted that while most of the changes are "not necessarily objectionable," that one is a change to the president's power and the other is change to the faculty power. She said to the Board that her preference was that they "receive the report" at that meeting and engage in "greater consultation" with the faculty. They should "then consult with President Drake. I think that would be very respectful of him "(2'43"). 

Here the President offered the Regents accurate definitions of both respect -- consultation and discussion prior to a decision--and of shared governance, in which the process treats the views of all parties subject to equal treatment.  The sharing of governance requires what we can call epistemic parity, in which one set of views cannot simply negate the other, but must seek some kind of mutual understanding if not reconciliation.  In the previous process for selecting a UC campus chancellor, the sharing took place during the review and consultation process, after which the BoR hd full decision rights.

The expression of regental views went on for quite a while. A handful of Regents, including immediate past chair George Kieffer, acknowledged the deep dissastisfaction of the faculty and the clear non-support of the president, and said these were reasons enough to delay the vote until further consultation had amended views (3'08").  They were in effect speaking for shared governance's underlying principle of treating the epistemic positions of each party as valid, requiring further efforts at accommodation.

A bit later Board Chair Pérez asked Regent Park a narrower question-- whether she had in fact not shown the document to the Senate leadership in time for the Senate to deliberate and opine. She said there had been a meeting with the chair and vice-chair, and they had noted they needed to consult with the Council, which then produced the negative letter linked above.  Park then responded to the general concerns (starting 3'23").

I will just go back to this Chancellor appointment being the purview, responsibility, and duty of the Board members and the Board members alone in ultimate approval, and that is why Regent search committee members are treated differently in the proposed amendments to Policy 7102.  With regard to . . . the letter signed by many academic chairs. I was at some level astonished to receive that letter. I felt that the letter was not respectful, or did not acknowledge the purview of the Board, and the many Bylaws and Standing Orders that currently exist that show exactly who reports to whom, what has been delegated to whom, and what responsibility lies where.  22.1, 22.2, 30, 31 of the Bylaws all speak to this. Standing Orders 100.1, 100.4 clearly lay out the responsibility. . .  This idea that the Board does not have this prerogative is frankly surprising in terms of coming from past members of academic leadership in that acknowledgement, and seemed to suggest that the Chancellors function more as political appointees of the President, and again that if they're not picked by a president they cannot be loyal.  I find that not credible, and contrary to all the policies and bylaws that I have seen. Not to mention that upon that logic, none of these chancellors today could be loyal or follow the direction of our new President because he did not have a hand in picking them. So that to me is a fear that can be quickly dispelled by taking a more vigorous look at the existing Bylaws and Standing Orders. 

I really welcome the wisdom of our new president in a great many things. But I will take today as a case in point for not delaying further action. 

Park said that we've had a lot of discussions already and that to say "we should spend a great deal more time on these recommendations " would suggest that the Board cannot do  time and process management, and "then as a Board we cannot govern if we literally tie ourselves up in endless discussion." She was totally opposed to further consultation. She added, 

This is not an attack on shared governance. Truly it is not.  Faculty are the lifeblood of the university. That will not change with these recommendations. . . . And I would really love to see 24 [sic] academic senate leaders come together to opine on things that are deeply concerning and weighty to the institution--rather than whether shared governance has been quite respected enough in these modest recommendations.

There are several issues here. First, Regent Park missed the point of the Past Chairs letter.  It did not challenge the Board of Regents' appointment authority, but disputed the plan to end the shared procedures that had traditionally led up to the exercise of that authority.  

Second, Park read disagreement as an attack on regental authority. 

Third, her response to that perceived attack was to reassert that regental authority-- as unilateral. 

Fourth, she told President Drake that approving her recommendations was more important than getting his "wisdom."

Fifth, she denied Academic Senate's clam that this was an attack on shared governance by asserting that it wasn't. 

The full Board did indeed respond to Park's call to power.  Few explicitly echoed Park's claim that the point of the changes was to give the Regents full unilateral control.  Many instead told the faculty that they didn't want what they said they wanted, or that not having it didn't matter like they thought.  Regent Leib specialized in this Orwellian discourse, telling faculty that the Report was a "gift" to them because it meant they wouldn't have to do so much work. The discussion was often patronizing and dismissive, and oblivious to common sense basics of sharing and collaboration.  Regents like Lansing and Leib didn't want the faculty to feel bad, or think they were part of doing a bad thing to them. But they and nearly all of the rest of the BoR voted not to wait to give either the faculty or President Drake reason not to feel bad.  

Obviously nobody is going to die from all this, but the Regents' report, discussion, and vote were a textbook case of epistemic injustice, resting on the five features above.  This happens when the more powerful side tells the other that their concerns are wrong, that they need not be considered further, and that they comprise an attack on legitimate authority. 

Let me finish by widening the picture a bit.  Faculty, staff, and most campus administrators have no power over major University decisions of top management appointments, budget policy, layoffs and furloughs, system health and safety regulations, and the like.  But they do have clear jobs to do on their campuses. The function of governing boards is not so clear. What, today, is their value-added to the overall institution?  

University governing boards were justified in earlier centuries as a kind of natural aristocracy: the better people had a monopoly on wisdom, and board membership were drawn exclusively from them.  Few now espouse this kind of social Darwinist view of concentrated intelligence.  In addition, today's universities are enormously complex. The needed intelligence is widely distributed.  Experiences and needs are quite diverse. Front-line contact is more valuable than ever. The intelligence that solves problems must be integrated from a range of quarters. In this context, boards of trustees or regents are archaic forms.  The unilateral authority affirmed by Regent Park is this form at its most archaic point. 

Board members almost always lack university expertise, so that members of the campus community cannot be heard to say to each other, "How can we keep UCPath from ruining our lives? Regent N might be able to help us."  Or, "How do we reduce houselessness among formerly incarcerated students? Let's call Regent Q: she knows a ton about this, and would be glad to listen."  I have never heard a comment like this. Campuses and their many units feel entirely on their own;  the BoR is treated as a ruler, distant and adversarial, to be managed and dodged but not consulted for special insight.  The stereotype is that they are most concerned with (1) implementing the views of external powers in business and politics; and (2) exercising their own rights and powers.  

Unfortunately, Regent Park fulfilled this stereotype.  The Board, faced with a choice between power and consultation, sided with power.  Personally, I would love to bring to bear the achievements and capabilities of Regents in their own domains. I would love to see them exercise their sophistication and influence to protect the university from political interference and financial damage. Such Regents would be outward facing. Their internal gaze would focus mostly on managerial competence--on helping the senior managers serve the increasingly beset employees of the institution.  In the three domains of politics, management, and finance, such Regents would be especially focused on the third. They would insure financial vitality--they would protect and increase core revenues as necessary. 

Good trustees--like good professors, physicians, presidents, landscapers, cooks, civil engineers, parents-- don't push their authority beyond the limits of their competence. Power beyond knowledge is the great American temptation: U.S. organizations are top-down and prone to chains of command. University governing boards are generally granted quasi-monarchial sovereignty, as is UC's. The structure is inherently and deliberately anti-democratic. It is not justifiable on grounds of standard political theory. Elizabeth Anderson's book Private Government is a good analysis of the anomaly of governing authorities that have "arbitrary and unaccountable power over workers" in a putatively democratic society. Still, though lacking in political justification, unilateral power might have operational claims: Power can be earned by operational effectiveness.  But, as we have been forced to note repeatedly on this blog, the operational achievements of the UC Regents are rather modest.  Instead of addressing this problem by, for example, spending all of one day on the buried budget crisis, the Regents made themselves less accountable to faculty and to the president--the clear purpose of Regent Park's Working Group.  

As the Regents succeed at greater power and distance, epistemological bubbles will form around them, and consultants--who report to them and are unlikely to challenge them--will replace people in touch with real conditions on the ground. UC's split between Oakland's Office of the President and the campuses will continue to make this worse with a structural gulf that can be crossed only with consistent and accurate communication, and that has been undermined here by the regents own action. To be accurate, this communication must be between parties with relatively equal standing.  Exchange between superior and inferior is distorted by the inferior's need for self-protection, and the superior's entitlement and self-overestimation. I can't go into this here.  To summarize in a formula, epistemic inequality insures error.  When the Board turned a collaborative committee into a two-tier set up with superdelegate privileges for its Regents, they insured the intellectual distortions that no one actually wants.

One final note: governing boards all over the country, like UCs, have gradually come to regard the faculty as a problem for university success.  There are many sources and causes for this, but the result is default prejudice against faculty as people who just defend their privileges rather than the interests of education or university.  I must call this managerial bigotry against professionals. It is categorical, uninformed, and wrong.  UC will never move forward until its Board, including its Jerry Brown Bloc, and its allies can work through their anti-faculty prejudice and make use of their deep expertise, always freely given.  For example, each of UC's 10 campuses has some of the world's most respected scholars of race and ethnicity, who would bend over backwards to help increase educational justice and diversity.  

The saddest moments in the regental discussion on July 30th were when outgoing president Napolitano asked the Board, at least twice, not to decide the new president's role in chancellor searches before President Drake arrived. It would have meant waiting 3 weeks.  The Regents couldn't wait, and so the outcome of her last meeting as president was the triumphant affirmation of Bylaws 22.1, 22.2, 30, 31, and Standing Orders 100.1 and 100.4.

I wish President Drake the very best in his new role. I'm very sorry the Regents cut his power over  chancellor's searches.

Photo Credit: Los Angeles Sentinel (Michael Drake at the investiture of  CSU Dominguez Hills President Thomas A Parham)

Monday, August 10, 2020

Monday, August 10, 2020
That may be my worst title ever but it's an important point.  So here we go. 

Where are university budgets near the end of our bad policy summer?  In a bad place -- a worse place than seemed likely during the weeks of activist government from mid-March to mid-May. In this post, I'll discuss the national issue, describe a flawed university budget discourse that makes universities more vulnerable, and link this to the failure of today's mainstream Democrats to accept the economic role of government.

The federal CARES Act was signed on March 27th, and sent universities $14 billion of the $46.6 billion they'd requested (with half of that going directly to students). Having gotten 1/6th of their stated need, higher ed advocates placed their hopes in a follow-up HEROES Act passed the House on May 15th, which Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, sat on throughout the summer.  Thus the nation's schools and colleges planned for fall in a state of deep uncertainty and growing dread.

This past weekend, POTUS signed executive orders (mostly "memoranda") mandating supplemental unemployment benefits at $300 rather than CARES's $600 per week, with another $100 to come from the states. He extended student loan forbearance from September 30 to the end of the year.  Even if these orders go into effect, there are no provisions for supplemental funding for education at any level, including nothing for the K-12 systems that POTUS and his Department of Education secretary have been trying to bully into opening.  If the states are forced to pay part of the federal unemployment supplement, which some say they can't, that will mean even bigger state cuts to education.

The American Council on Education has a helpful summary of the current situation:

There are technically three bills under discussion in the COVID-19 emergency aid negotiations. The first bill is the HEROES Act written by House Democrats and approved by the full House two months ago. The second is the HEALS Act, which represents the ideas of Senate Republicans and the White House. Finally, the Coronavirus Childcare and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) is legislation introduced by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) that reflects Senate Democrats' ideas about education spending in response to the pandemic. . . . The bills all include emergency aid for students and institutions, but the levels of funding proposed differ greatly. ACE has estimated that institutions have a total of $46.6 billion in increased student financial need and lost revenues, and will spend at least $73.8 billion on new expenditures to reopen in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. While CCCERA provides a total of $132 billion to meet these needs, the $37 billion provided for higher education in HEROES and the $29 billion provided in HEALS fall far short. 

The federal bill that comes closest to meeting actual higher ed need--at $132 billion--has no chance of passing McConnell's Senate.

Republican control of key governing bodies has artificially induced massive state failure in suppressing SARS-CoV-2.  The U.S. has the worst Covid-19 suppression record in the wealthy world, and, by failing to build public health infrastructure (see Jeneen Interlandi's superb overview), will continue to inflict massive suffering, disparately along lines of race and class, in all of the areas where common life should offer equal treatment, including education.  The failure of public infrastructure is damaging the private economy that Republican-driven premature opening was trying to protect. Republican opposition to a new stimulus increases the odds of a new depression (see Hiltzik and Krugman for summaries). 

Operating on this familiar political landscape, it's hard for people to maintain transformative ambition.  I sketched one version at the end of April ("Our Converging Crises III"), which involved massive public spending for full Covid-19 suppression, full employment, and educational experimentation. The American self-conception is of a nation that leads the world into a better future. The reality, given our decrepit social infrastructure, is a vast majority focused entirely on getting by. 

The Real Covid Budget Crisis

The same is true in higher education. There's been no follow-up on the early burst of federal effort,  and higher ed is engaged in a new round of austerity, translated as operations cuts, layoffs, and program downsizing. The Cal State system threw in the towel early, announcing on May 12th that it would be all-online.  This was at a time when most administrations assumed Covid-19 would be well in hand by fall; Cal State's Chancellor Timothy White could see pretty clearly that they didn't have the extra billion they needed for testing, tracing, isolating, cleaning, tent classrooms, and the rest. Since then, reopening plans have gone into full reverse, including at wealthy private institutions like Princeton and Johns Hopkins whose core value is small-scale face-to-face learning.  

University of California campuses are quietly joining Cal State's closures on a case-by-case basis.  Berkeley announced all-online on July 21st.  The other semester campus, UC Merced, will open August 26th with an unspecified ratio of remote and in-person. Among quarter campuses, which start a month later, UCLA has dropped its in-person proportion from the 15-20% announced in June to 8%.  UCSB hasn't officially updated its mid-June description of fall quarter as "some face-to-face," but is heading toward basically closed. UC Irvine is keeping its students in the "most classes will start remotely" twilight zone.  All sorts of intensive planning is going on behind the scenes.  And so are planning for budget cuts when UC needs that same extra billion that Cal State needed to open safely.

Although dominated by liberal Democrats, the California state legislature put stable CSU and UC funding in the hands of Mitch McConnell at at time when he was already holding it hostage.  In the final state budget, UC will get a 5% increase over 2019-20 if and only if California gets $14 billion in federal stimulus.  If there's no stimulus, UC gets what UCOP calls an 8% cut from 2019-20.  

In addition, the permanent state budget is cut either way: the federal stimulus money will be treated as a one-time backfill on the state cut.  Even that was a bizarre combination of "augmentations totaling $212.9 million and reductions totaling $471.6 million." Rather than offering higher ed affirmation and stability during the pandemic, the legislature provided a changing combination of cuts and increases that, without an unlikely Senate backfill, gives UC and CSU a major cut.

How big a cut, actually?  The legislature reduced the state allocation for UC from $3.938 billion in 2019-20 to $3.466 billion in 2020-21.   This is a year-on-year reduction of 12.2%.  Its a Covid cut of a size that a red-state legislature could brag about.

It's worth remembering all the way back to November 2019, when The Regents requested an increase of $422.1M in overall state funding, which would have brought state general funding to $4.360B (see the slide here minus $25M for the Riverside School of Medicine).  Annual base cost increases at UC are a bit more than 5%, and since that's 5% on less than half the revenues of the core budget, which comes mostly from (long-frozen) tuition, 5% state increases put core funding further behind.  Campuses have tirelessly tried all sorts of revenue workarounds, mostly involving overenrollment coupled with non-resident student growth, but it hasn't worked. (For the resulting long-term austerity, see "Three Essential Charts"). On top of its rather brutalist history, the California legislature now proposes to cut UC by $903.5M from its November request--barring a McConnell conversion like Saul's on the road to Damascus. The is a cut of 20.7% from the Regents's November request.  

Remember too that even had that $903.5 million November increase been enacted, many campuses were projecting deficits in 2020-21 or the following year. That was not a luxury budget. To repeat: because of prior cuts by Govs. Schwarzenegger and Brown, years of tuition freezes, and sub-inflation state growth, the non-miracle state budget cut that now looks likely is a 20.7% cut from pre-Covid's home for UC semi-solvency.

This would be a disaster for UC (and CSU). And it's likely enough to be treated explicitly in plans for both budgeting and the University's political engagements.

Budget Idealism at the UC Regents

This brings is to the July 30th UC Regents meeting. The Regents have absolute authority over budgeting, revenue strategies like borrowing, as well as political advocacy. If alerted to a budgetary emergency, the Regents might be expected to instruct UCOP to mount a massive siege of Sacramento and Washington D.C., pulling in their contacts in the tech community as well as in national politics.  But UCOP's budget presentation (see the July 30 afternoon session at the bottom of this page), rather than rallying the Regents, kept the real dangers behind the curtain. And Regental behavior encouraged this concealment. 

UCOP presented the budget as in basically good shape.  Medical losses for March-June 2020 are $1.7 billon rather than the earlier projection of $2.8 billion.  UC Health VP Carrie Byington had already suggested that the med centers have learned so much about Covid treatment that they won't repeat spring's revenue losses during the current and future infection spikes. 

Undergrad enrollments are "looking very strong," in the words of associate budget VP David Alcocer (11'47"). He said the same was true of international enrollments, in spite of a very turbulent policy picture on top of Covid travel problems.  He basically claimed that enrollment targets would be hit no matter what. I'm also a bit of an optimist on enrollments because I'm a pessimist on the economy: even remote-college looks good compared to a nonexistent job market.  Polling data suggest we're both wrong, and that colleges should expect a growing enrollment melt.

The presentation noted that housing and dining revenues will be down, but UCOP did not quantify or tie these to different durations of Covid-related reductions. A bit later, UCLA chancellor Block offered some campus numbers, and in later questions a couple of Regents clarified that only single rooms will be offered in the fall, though without revenue numbers for system losses. New VP for Research and Innovation, Teresa Maldonado, gave a candid appraisal of major disruption to research, UC's distinguishing educational activity. She was particularly direct on the damage to women and early-career researchers. But this remained a matter of delayed research progress more than a fiscal crisis.

The presentation of the state budget was a delicate matter (starting around 7'40"; I'm not following UCOP slide order). Alcocer explained the numbers in the slide below (they are different from my calculations above). He noted that the final July budget has a better upside than the May Revise and a smaller potential downside. 

He then went on to explain his right-hand column. He noted that "there's a lot of uncertainty here" because the range of outcomes is nearly half a billion dollars, or 5% of the core budget (9'20").  I can attest that the uncertainty has created in campus planning a somewhat toxic mixture of paralysis, wishful thinking, gloom, and fatalism about cuts. Uncertainty is actually encouraging austerity by making the early stages seem very mild.  

But Alcocer's statement about uncertainty incurred an interruption from Chair John Pérez, who said, 

I just want to push back on the way we characterize this uncertainty. And here's why. The way this reads to me, in simple terms, is "uncertainty is bad, and smaller uncertainty is better than greater uncertainty." When in fact the final budget, in both the worst-case scenario and the best-case scenario, are better for the University, than the May Revise. . .  "Uncertainty" is inherently a bad term, so if we want to look at "range"--some other way to characterize it--because we don't want a negative connotation to the spread we see in the final budget, when in fact it serves us better than the May Revise does."

This intervention forced Alcocer to repeat what he had said two minutes before, which was that the upside was better in July than in May. It suggested to me that Pérez has no idea how uncertainty is weakening the campuses. It also suggested that he would not tolerate university officials criticizing the state legislature in even a polite and indirect way. Any campaign to get a reliably flat budget from the state (not conditioned on McConnell's conversion to St. Mitch), or an increased budget that could cover Covid costs, would never get off the drawing board under Pérez.

The misty aura of fiscal stability was punctured only by Berkeley chancellor Carol Christ, who projected a $340M deficit through fiscal 2021 (or more than ten percent of the campus's $3 billion or so in annual revenues).  She read a version of her administration's July 15th statement, and stressed the dependence of the campus on tuition and state revenues. She stated that the latter were $100M below their 2008 level even though the campus enrolls 8200 more students today.  

If the Regents had paused to take that in, they'd get a glimpse of the system's deep structural woes. Berkeley is historically wealthier per student than any campus except UCLA, so a responsible Board might wonder what its woes say about the rest of the system.  This was the only time in living memory that a Berkeley chancellor has said point blank that privatization doesn't work and thus we need good state support. Actually Christ didn't say that, but she came closer than ever before to noting that the problem isn't just Covid but a flawed business model in which the University has let state funding massively decline.

Later, as Alcocer was about to move to UCLA chancellor Block for a campus view of losses in auxiliaries, Board chair Pérez interrupted to complain about how long the budget presentations were taking.  "This was identified as a thirty minute discussion. . . . when an item is 30 minutes, the presentation is no more than half of that. We've now exceeded 35 minutes, before we've gotten a single Regent engaged in discussion." (32'30"). The obvious remedy would be to allocate more than a half-hour to analyzing what may be most important fiscal crisis in the University's history.  The time overrun was entirely due to letting three chancellors say a few words about their campus finances outside of the UCOP PowerPoint story.  Things got even more rushed after that--and even more superficial.  

In questions, terribly delayed to minute 38, Regent Makarichian performed his solo role of asking for budget numbers, and guessed at overall losses by adding some numbers in his head.  Pérez instructed CFO Brostrom to have those figures in the September meeting. I know Brostrom had versions he could have produced then, but who would dare try the Pérezian patience by pulling up another slide?  

In the meantime, UC is covering its losses with borrowing. It floated a bond for $2.8 billion in July, with $1.5 billion in "working capital" and the rest for capital projects. (UC debt has doubled in a decade from around $10 billion in 2009-10  to $24.6 billion in 2018-19). The budget discussion ended with a hopeful wait-and-see good-case scenario which, as I've said, is translated on the campuses as cuts.  

A Plausible Scenario for 2020-21

The Office of the President and the campuses are all doing projections, so I'm going to adjust some internal UC numbers to draft a plausible negative scenario.  This is not a good case, but it's not a worst-case: for example, I optimistically assume that students who can enroll do enroll, and that all are willing to pay full tuition for mostly remote instruction.  The nicer scenarios assume a return to mostly-normal after the fall term. Based on our country's failed-state approach to Covid suppression, I assume that full fall impacts last through the end of Spring 2021.  I use the governor's January budget as a base for state funding, which was $220M less than the Regents' November budget.

The assumptions:

  • Tuition: full undergraduate enrollment.  Though 75% of admitted international students do not enroll, many are replaced by domestic non-resident and resident students. Waitlists and "appeal" lists are liberally used, maintaining overall totals.
  • Housing is converted to singles, and dining does not return to normal, costing campuses 70% of normal revenues.
  • Grad student enrollment. This falls 15%, slowing research, but it has little impact on revenues as campuses simply eliminate sections as necessary in remote courses, while canceled grad seminars free up some faculty to teach more undergraduates.
  • Research continues to be affected by outbreaks made worse by shortages of tracing and isolation programs.
  • Philanthropy is reduced by renewed turbulence in the markets, as is UC investment income.
  • Medical center and clinical revenues recover from spring 2020 levels but don't get back to normal.
  • The Republicans block higher ed stimulus funding in the Senate. Although the Democrats win back the Senate in November, President Biden wishes to govern from the center, and decides not to antagonize the 48 remaining Republicans by giving too much help to education.  Like public universities everywhere,UC goes to its lower permanent state funding base.
Here's a rough estimate of what this would look like by standard budget category.

Scenario B

Budget Category

Decline $Millions

Negative % Change

2020-21 Base



Student Tuition and Fees



Auxiliary Enterprises



Research Contracts & Grants



Philanthropy & Investment Income



Medical Centers



Educational Activities (esp Clinical Rev)



State General Fund Appropriation



Total Losses



Projected 2020-21 UC Revenues



Scenario B is a decent guess at one possible program for 2020-21: 17% revenue declines for the UC system overall, and 12% or so for the educational core.  Cuts like these would cause major damage to teaching and research, and of course prevent meaningful Covid-19 suppression.  If two things happen, first, Covid illness persists for several years, as some medical officials predict, and second, U.S. politics allows economic decline, then UC, like other universities, will be permanently downgraded.

The Governance Problem

The Republicans are obviously the biggest problem, but so are Democrats and their governing boards.  The Republican donor base sees government as a potentially victorious competitor to business and finance in economic management (through equitable tax policy and regulation but also better social infrastructure and more productive investment).  Weak government has enabled today's "plutonomy." Republican politicians logically oppose programs that will make government useful, effective, and popular and thus empower their direct rival.

But Democrats are also a problem when they reject both strong and weak Keynesianism.  In the strong version, public agencies spend massively to reconstruct society on the principle of equal treatment. This would fund a Green New Deal in which, for example, some of our tens of millions of unemployed people would be paid by the government to insulate the country's housing stock, starting with those owned by low-income people. I pointed towards this kind of spending in an April post.  Let's call it democratic-socialist Keynesianism, Sanders and AOC-style.  

There's also weak Keynesianism, a very useful combination of FDR and LBJ, in which public agencies spend massive amounts to keep an unjust and unequal status quo economy from imploding.  That would include the common-sense goal of keeping the education sector from shedding employees into a non-functional economy by giving schools and colleges stable funding. It would include the UK policy--enacted by the Conservative government--of covering 80% of the salary of laid-off employees so they can be furloughed rather than fired.  

Mainstream Democrats don't exactly oppose this kind of thing. But they don't promote it as their bread and butter. They also don't clearly expose the urgent need for it, or encourage others to expose it. At times, liberal Democrats like John Pérez actively block the creation of a budgetary need for weak Keynesian spending by preventing the open declaration of a budgetary problem. 

The current UC Board of Regents is chaired by the former Democrat Speaker of the Assembly. It includes the Democrat Lt.Governor, the husband of California's senior U.S. senator, and several former or current members of two Democratic governors' immediate offices. It also boasts several wealthy and prominent Hollywood liberals.  There is really no reason for this group not to activate itself in centrist Keynesian fashion. They would then create an urgent obligation on the part of the state to sustain its educational workforce, infrastructure, and student population, whose lives are currently set to be permanently damaged by the Covid depression. 

I don't understand the complacency that demands the current UC budgetary vagueness in which nothing is true and everything is possible, until the only possibility becomes austerity. It feels like proleptic excuse making--"we didn't fail to act, because we didn't know." I don't understand the lack of ambition, even the bare ambition to keep the rising generation whole. We can obviously do that, but it will take much clearer budget work at the level of senior management and governing boards.  It will take boards willing to support unprecedented mobilizations of political will for higher education, or at least willing not to block them,