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Monday, July 6, 2020

Monday, July 6, 2020

UC's Next President: A Few Necessities (Updated for the Appointment of former UC Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake)

California is a state with nearly 40 million people (bigger than Canada and Poland, smaller than Algeria and Spain). It had a 2019 Gross State Product of around $3.2 trillion (bigger than India, Great Britain and France, smaller than Germany and Japan).  It has ten research universities with the letters "UC" in front of their place names. Each of those ten universities has a president, though the ten call this president a "chancellor."   Tomorrow, July 7th, the UC Board of Regents will announce their selection for UC president, a kind of president of presidents.  What functions might this new person perform  to avoid being superfluous, or worse, a conduit of oligarchic state policy into the university?

A few come to mind, moving from specific to general. The new president should:

1. Get separate state and federal funding for full Covid-19 mitigation. After two decades of austerity budgets, March-June 2020 losses of  $1.8 billion, and a likely 7 percent cut from the state legislature for 2020-21 (p 43), UC doesn't have the money to open campuses safely. Continuous testing alone could cost around $1 billion a year.  The many other needed changes  would pile costs on top of that.  UC campuses may eventually decide to put fall term (almost) entirely online (they will need to comply with today's ICE rule that international students in all-online programs cannot stay in the United States).  But they shouldn't have the program decision forced by sheer lack of funds for testing, tracing, isolating, and temporary facilities.  The new president will need to seek special Covid-19 funding for at least the two-year period 2020-22.

2. Undo top-down governance.  President Richard Atkinson (1995-2003) was not an organizational democrat, but UCOP rule-giving used to be balanced by new-program funding and distinctive UCOP expertise.  The latter was long ago duplicated on the campuses, and UCOP no longer supports growth or quality upgrades: the underdeveloped Merced campus is Exhibit A, the Riverside campus's medical facility is Exhibit B . . . UCOP never asks the state for enough money to cover the actual costs of combining full access with high quality. Several years of underfunded enrollment increases--the "surge" that President Napolitano negotiated with Jerry Brown and state government--caused serious damage to education on the campuses, but this news, which I and others still regularly try to convey in meetings with UCOP officials, has yet to be received.  Although they are removed from the everyday struggles of the campuses, UCOP monopolizes the University's public image as well as its governmental and financial policy.  Campuses spend quite a bit of time conveying basic information up the chain, with apparently limited success.  The next president will need to restore campus confidence in UCOP's ability to formulate policy that reflects campus needs, rather than trim campuses to fit state policy.

3. Fix the broken funding model.  In the coming years, the University of California needs to do a lot of things: increase racial diversity and equality of outcomes, expand STEM research, fully support social and cultural research, improve undergraduate learning, increase doctoral student pay to relieve rent burden, rebuild a deteriorating physical plant, reverse the adjuncting drift, and close employee pay gaps.  But UC doesn't have the money to do these things. The reason is that the half-privatized funding model doesn't work, and never did.  The only way to make up for low state funding is with massive, unacceptable tuition increases.  The only way to freeze or cut tuition is to increase public funding.  I've written volumes about this, with abundant data, but proof lies not only in the financial critique of privatization but in the policy of the privatizers themselves. The "compact" with UC and CSU devised by Arnold Schwarzenegger and his first finance director, Donna Arduin, cut state funding increases to 2-3 percent per year. But even they knew that neither UC nor CSU could live on that, so the compact required tuition increases of 7-10 percent per year.  Those folks didn't care about UC greatness, but they understood that if they held state funding growth to inflation then UC would need in-state tuition of around $20,000 by this year to keep the place afloat. Today, UC gets about 40 percent per student of its 2001-02 funding, had that kept up with enrollment and state income growth. The next president needs to rebuild the public funding model, not do extend and pretend with the current semi-privatized hybrid. This person will also need to explain that politicians who underfund  public universities are politicians who advance systemic racism.

4. Redefine university education around nonmonetary goals.  A college degree should lead to employment at good wages, but this is the only thing college presidents and politicians have been selling lately.   Economists and policymakers also fixatee on college's impact on upward mobility, which is another version of wage gains.  There are two problems with this.  First, private monetary effects are only a portion of higher ed's total effects, which are mostly social or nonmonetary or both. (Nonmonetary benefits include analytical skill, research findings, and dozens of others.)  So colleges hide most of their benefits behind a rhetorical invisibility cloak, and speak only of money all the time.  Second, the money payoff has never been more uncertain in the postwar era than it is today.  Net monetary gains have become harder and riskier as the cost of a degree goes up and automation and the gig economy chew into the white-collar vocations that seemed impregnable as recently as the 1990s.  Recall Robert Reich's "symbolic-analysts" inheriting the earth, then read Scott Timberg for a good overview of the 2010s in his book subtitled "the killing of the creative class."
The current economy weakens higher ed's financial arguments, but the next president should see this as an opportunity to take the PR eggs out of a shrinking basket, and educate everyone on the non-monetary and social benefits of universities.  The latter are more exciting and gratifying than wages alone, but more to the point, they are more durable in our post-knowledge economy in which universities are building a post-middle class.

Overall, I'm perhaps most sad about how hard it has been for UC folks to feel excited about and confident in the university's future.  Recent presidents have modeled a diminished realism, which has meant accepting less and learning the austerity mindset.  This is obviously at odds with the state and country's self-image as heroic leaders of technological and social progress, but who notices the contradiction anymore?  The Regents further demoralized the UC community by kicking everyone except themselves out of the search process, and making the selection of the next president an expression of their sole ownership of the University.  Then Covid-19 came along, and the immediate reflex was to start planning for cuts. With rare exceptions, administrators did not resist, even for a few days. It's obvious to me that the university, the state, and the country can only spend its way out of this crisis, and that we should spend massively on the things we want, like environmental sustainability, intellectual progress, and social justice. Universities should be central articulators of the solutions.  Do we have it in us? We've spent years just trying to hang on financially while ignoring the stupid slings and arrows politically.  Can we still go really big?  UC needs a president that wants a major role for universities in maximalist social reconstruction-- and will learn from the people of the university how to enable it.

UPDATE JULY 7: My first reaction to the widely-expected announcement that Michael Drake is coming back to UC as president is total relief.  He's an academic. He's an educator. He's a good administrator. He knows how UC works.  He will not require basic education--quite the opposite. He'll be the first president of color of a university whose student body is 27 percent white.   He is  certainly capable of doing the things listed above.

Two other things.  During the financial crisis of 2007-2011, when he was serving as Irvine's chancellor, he told the regents more of the truth about quality decline on campus than did any other officials. In March 2011, he told the Board that "faculty members now spend a great deal of time mitigating damage caused by cuts rather than building for the future. He described the situation of the University as one of slow decay rather than growth. Most effort is focused on protecting the educational path for students; innovation and growth are not being fostered."  He fudged it a bit, and said UC was going from A+ to A, but his statements of struggle and slow decline was a pointed heresy in a rigid, formulaic governing system. It got the regents to pay more attention to the chancellors.

On the other hand, Drake gave up on public funding in the 2000s. He may continue to think, as I wrote at the time, that "the budget shortfalls can be handled with regrettable but nonetheless manageable layoffs that have already taken place. The non-UC reader would think, well they’re tightening their belts and fixing their IT problems and we’ll end up with a UC that gets an A for only $2.5 billion in state funds. There is no screaming on our end that says no it cannot be this way and also no it need not be this way."

Michael Drake is an historic appointment--of a continuity candidate, in a time when continuity won't work, in the minimal sense of keeping UC solvent with an intact workforce.  If he is going to rebuild UC for the future, by doing those things listed above, he will need help and also pressure from faculty, staff, and students beyond anything that has been offered up before. Lots of work to do.


Adam Aron said...

Great post, thanks Chris. But you omit the climate crisis. Drake's record at OSU of "carbon neutrality by 2050" is not encouraging*. Yet during the President Search, the climate crisis was the top concern in Town Halls and comments to the Regents. Drake will need to lead the UC to get real on this within about 5 years: genuine emissions reductions. If the massive UC can't get real, why should we expect any major institution to do so: We will witness an escalation to the point that the wider university programs, research and teaching are imperiled.
* https://drive.google.com/file/d/1J56pI9C4nsmSGDc7g9fxJpIwoGtWNMGS/view

Sharon Traweek said...

I too hope Drake pursues the goals you outline. Have you or anyone else reading this seen signs of upper level US univ administrators rethinking the income/efficiency focus of the last 25-30 years, such as giving priority to students/faculty/education, including debt, precarity, etc.? Almost all university planning announcements I’ve seen the last 4 months have focused on how to revive declining ‘revenue streams’ [tuition, residence fees, event income (including sports), donations, grants, etc], aside from strategies for and costs of campus ‘social distancing’ for health. All seem to be thinking ‘inside the box’ of 80s-90s software tools/protocols for ‘risk’ management. Many universities include experts on how major organizations in various times/places have changed substantially and successfully during major ecology shifts; as yet I see no signs of them being consulted on how to build new futures for universities amidst the current crisis. I’m intrigued by what appears to be a substantial poverty of imagination.

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