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Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Saying the Thing that is Not

By Anonymous.

To the Reader:  I have done my best in this post to translate Yahoo into something approaching common English.  As you all probably remember from your reading of Gulliver’s Travels it is common for Yahoos to speak mostly in grunts and to express their dismay in an unintelligible lack of reason. I have also attempted to track down some of what the author may have been referring to so that you can follow his “logic.” Obviously we have to take into account the source of this “confession” in judging what to make of its rambling nature and near madness.   So I need to apologize in advance for imposing on you what may appear to be silly and disrespectful observations.—

At several points this summer I have felt appropriately chastened and shamed by my doubts about the plans of our university leaders.  As Professors Cr--han Pow--l, Interim Provost P--s, and Dean E--ly have reminded us Yahoos, we have been unjust to the President’s Court and were making unreasonable demands and claims about the state of the University and the reasons for its present crisis.  Despite the best efforts of these teachers, I have unjustly continued to think that something is happening unworthy of the Houyhnhnms in charge of the University.  My continuing lack of blind faith has, I must confess, troubled me deeply.

It was with great relief then that I discovered UCOP had graciously provided a new fact sheet about the University’s funds entitled “UC unrestricted Net Assets: myths and facts.”  I eagerly sought to read it (admittedly a difficult task since I was never taught the great Language Administraticus) but, but, to my dismay it only furthered my doubts and skepticism.  While proclaiming that it would lay to rest the myth of “unrestricted assets” it seemed, I think (Ed. Note: ?), to change the subject to what it calls “uncommitted assets.”  Here I was informed that “substantially all of these net assets have been committed internally to specific programs and to meet a wide range of needs…”  This turn of events left me deeply confused.  I had thought—perhaps mistakenly—that the criticisms that had been raised about the use of UC funds were suggesting that the issue wasn’t legal restrictions but the choices of university administrators.  But now I am told that the reason that the funds cannot be used is because university administrators have chosen to use them in other ways!  How can that be an answer to the question? I wondered.  But Houyhnhnms would never say anything that was not.  And while the fact sheet explained the decline in UC endowments and the commitments of some funds it didn’t speak to the $200 million dollar loan to the state—money it seemed that might have been spent to protect endangered programs.  I was struck to the core with dread.  For as far as I could see, either UCOP had not shifted the terms of the debate and failed to directly address the criticism or else they were not
Houyhnhnms.  But if they were not Houyhnhnms then were they…..”  But I could not go to so fearful a thought.  I must, I grunted to myself, must be misunderstanding.

            To gain relief I returned to the Great Chastisements of the summer.  Here I was relieved to be told by Professor Cr—han and others that the President “has worked closely with faculty, staff, students and Regents to resolve our budget deficit in a way that minimizes harm to our academic enterprise” and that he “listened to faculty and staff suggestions in crafting a furlough plan built on fairness and shared sacrifice.” 
 But sadly my relief did not last long.  Undisciplined and unworthy thoughts started to flood in:  I remembered that as the furlough system was elaborated more and more people were allowed out of the system and income of some of the best endowed protected; I realized that while UCOP maintained its overhead tax on grants it was allowing programs to be cut in the colleges (programs once cut which may never return), and that while there was consultation on the size of the furlough cuts, UCOP had succeeded—over what I believed to be unanimous Academic Senate opposition—in receiving from the Regents emergency powers that allow them to intervene in academic governance in unprecedented ways (for instance the Interim Provost’s decision on furlough days). 

            Fearfully, I ran next to the great Teacher of Boalt.  Here I was truly reassured.  It was simply “provocative fantasy” to think that UCOP and Regents had not done enough to lobby the Governor and Legislature.  And there were “zillions of alternatives” being considered to the actual plans for cuts and downsizing (Ed. I assume that he must mean “reforming” but I could not be sure given his obviously unrealistic use of language).  I looked eagerly then for examples of alternatives that had been proposed and the reasons why they wouldn’t work.  Yet out of zillions I found none.  Of course it was reassuring to be reminded how unreasonable it was to expect “masses of faculty and staff [to] spend the time to become proficient in budget tradeoffs, and sensitive to competing values and goals.”  Better to leave the decisions to those already making the decisions and already sensitive to different “values and goals.”  I felt tremendously reassured.  I’m sure, for instance, that if I had access to the Berkeley budget I would find that the Great Dean of Boalt had used some of the revenue from rising tuition at the Law School to help support the College in its time of need.  But, once again unworthy thoughts flooded my brain.  I remembered that although this crisis was triggered by the crisis of the California budget its damaging effects were much, much worse because of the foolishness of the Compact signed by UCOP and the Regents with the Governor years ago.  And although my memory is weak as Yahoo’s memories are, I seem to remember that several years ago an Academic Senate Futures Report predicted the dismal state of University funding.  Yet when I looked at the University Commission on the Future none of the authors of the study were listed as members.  But the Great Dean was.

            And so I am left with my own despair.  The Great keep telling me that they are right and that I should not question their policies.  And indeed, that is my Yahoo nature.  But, and this way madness lies, they seem too often to be saying the thing that is not.  And I seem to remember having been told that a University was not a place for saying the thing that is not.  That it was a place where debate and questioning should flourish.  That calls for information and transparency should not be belittled.  Is this not a University any longer??

            I have cut off my translation here.  As one can see the author (whose identity I will protect because of the clear instability of his mind) is beginning to fly off into a madness beyond his previous irrationality.  Perhaps one of the members of the Medical Centers will be able to nurse him back to whatever health a Yahoo normally has.
            Your humble editor:  Jonathan Lemuel


Charlie Schwartz said...

Swiftly beautiful.

Anonymous said...

is that your signature, there, after all?

Bronwen Rowlands said...


xicano said...

Brilliant! Could one of our literary colleagues be behind this masterful swipe at our Masters? No, it must be a scholar whose ability to capture our collective sense of betrayal is rooted in a deep knowledge of the ironies of history. Who said the study of anything pre-late 20th century wasn't relevant?

Anonymous said...

Very nice indeed, but some of the links do not seem to work.

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