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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Advocacy and the Done Deal

by Kristin Peterson, Anthropology Department, UC Irvine

On Monday, November 2, UCOF stopped off at UCI -  a very good post to this blog on the same day summarized this dire event.  At one point, the panel moderator asked the audience for ideas on how to lobby the California Legislature - ideas were needed to advocate on behalf of the UC. My colleague next to me was incredulous, "that's not our *job*!" Yeah, but whose job will it be? 

This question posed to the audience came after the panel detailed the strategies that each of their own committees were considering in terms of UC fundraising. External private and federal government funding as well as private industry partnerships were elaborated upon as if we were all having a pre-determined agreed upon conversation that imagined an already privatized university. There was no pretense to the absent role of the state in the public university or even the public sector. This was a Done Deal. Until a couple folks from the audience got up and implored the commission to rethink the role of state funding. Chancellor Drake was entirely amenable, I must say. Yet, it is extraordinarily disturbing to be in the midst of a dangerous and changing definition of the "public" where we must beg our own leadership to reconsider telling the state to do its job. It's even worse that the state's job has become debatable.

But truly the stupidest thing of all is that as an audience at these meetings we are expected to offer up suggestions on how to complete our obsolescence for them. At every turn, Chris Edley posed questions to folks - who were narrating the dire conditions of their environment - that essentially asked them to figure out how to downsize themselves even further: What should the size of a graduate program be? Should campuses have differential financial aid? Should Merced get less? Pathetic.

So what gets advocated in the context of the Done Deal? Of course, what should: restructuring the extraordinary inequity of the CA tax structure, Prop 13, minority rule in the Legislature, tax the rich - yes, I said it! - and the obvious list goes on. But more recently since September 2008, the successive CA budget agreements produced extraordinary slashes in the public sector while creating new tax breaks for corporations. The California Budget Project estimates that over $8 billion in revenue was lost in the Sept 2008 and Feb 2009 agreements alone.  This race to the bottom for foreign direct investment while slashing the public sector is classic Structural Adjustment, only the incredible thing is that California is gleefully agreeing to this, whereas historically, sane nation-states only complied while kicking and screaming and dying.

So, aside from Mark Yudof and the Regents having their pity party about the lameness of the Legislature, will they ever chain themselves to the gates of the University and demand that corporate tax loopholes be reversed, that California should have a progressive tax system, that Prop 13 should be abolished, claim that this is all robbery and demand that the public deserves to be restored to something resembling an entity that has a social contract with the state? Not in a million years. 

Not in a million years because those corporate tax loopholes and the tax system and our lame-o Legislature are all doing the Regents a big favor.  Lets' take a look: the industry most commonly represented by the Regents is finance/investment banking /securities; the second most commonly represented industry is large-scale commercial real estate. Others include business and regulatory law, defense, conglomerate corporate media, and corporate/foundation philanthropy. When you read each of the Regent's biographies, only three voting members, if I am generous, out of 19, plus Yudof can claim any experience in education. The ones who have no experience in education do not even mention the word "education" or mention it as an interest or concern in their bios.

So, while these UCOF meetings do the remarkable thing of actually constructing a sane conversation over the disappearance of public education - as if it is perfectly natural and ok by all of us - how will it be possible to advocate for education and the restoration of the public sector in the face of the Done Deal? Perhaps a People's Commission on the UC is in order, one that could refuse the terms of this conversation and one that could both compete and discredit what we all fear to be an already pre-determined outcome of our future.


Bronwen Rowlands said...

Yes, a done deal. But don't fall for UCOP's state-blaming distraction game. The juggernaut is upon us and it's not the state of California. It's Mark Yudof and Richard Blum and their cronies, intentionally molding UC into a cash machine. (Garamendi will no longer be a regent now, will he? He seemed to have a conscience.)

Do faculty ever violate the rules of decorum at these meetings? You know: stand up, shout, get angry? It's OK to show some passion. Now is the time.

I keep hoping some right-thinking and savvy UC people are diligently working behind the scenes to mount a class-action suit to rid us of our rotten tyrants. Is there any chance of this?

Mary Furner, UCSB said...

Kristin Peterson's account of the futility of arguing against a Done Deal is compelling. What evidence do the Task Force people or Yudof have that cutting higher education to the bone is what the CA public wants? None. As several of us pointed out a while back, polling data from the spring point in the opposite direction: given a direct choice between tax cuts and spending for higher education, those answering chose funding higher education by 2-1.

So, how can a further test of public sentiment go forward? Obviously it would be marvelous if we a candidate for governor committed to restoring funding would step forward. It looked momentarily, before Gavin Newsom withdrew, that he might take that step. We can't count on Jerry Brown.

How about this? Why are we hearring nothing from the state legislators--Senate and Assembly--who have UC campuses in their districts? Surely the UCs must be among their most important constituents? Why not invite them all to participate in a panel , initially on each campus, and then statewide, at which they will be expected to state their views on the budgete cuts, proper funding of UC, the Regents privatizaton project, the importanct of a truly public UC to the state's future, the implications of tuition hikes and corporate funding for democracy in our state, the impact of Prop 13 on the state's revenue streams, the lack of a rainy day fund, the refusal of UCOP to provide full disclosure of its spending, and all the other questions up for consideration.

How, I wonder, could such a request for accountabiity to their own publics on these vital matters be refused? Thoughts on this, anyone?
Mary Furner, History, UCSB

UCSB Lecturer said...

A colleague pointed me toward this one--over in the right hand column of the blog. It has some bearing on the questions Mary Furner raises.


I too am in Santa Barbara, and while you would definitely think that the opinions of UC faculty (in sheer numbers if nothing else) would be listened to by our elected representatives, I'm cynical enough not to take it for granted. The UC may be one of the largest employers in town, but that doesn't guarantee that its values are shared, and there are many more political factions in the district, many with stronger lobbies in Sacramento.

Anonymous said...

I think UCSB Lecturer hits a key point:

"while you would definitely think that the opinions of UC faculty (in sheer numbers if nothing else) would be listened to by our elected representatives, I'm cynical enough not to take it for granted. The UC may be one of the largest employers in town, but that doesn't guarantee that its values are shared, and there are many more political factions in the district, many with stronger lobbies in Sacramento."

We cannot win if we (the faculty) make this a battle on the level of the State about what we want or about our values.

But we can win if we, with others, make this a battle about a wide cross section of the middle class - i.e., about the end of high quality subsidized UC education for moderate to well off middle class families.

The focus needs to be on the fee increases, backed up by the argument about diminished quality.

This is a pocketbook issue. Rather than arguing that the furloughs are really a tax on the UC employees, make the argument that the fee hikes are a tax on the middle class and a broken promise.

Inside the UC we can fight about governance and fight against UCOP and Yudoff. but the main fight is outside UC and the main interests on which the fight will turn are not the interests of the faculty or staff or students, but the interests of a majority voting bloc that can be turned in the public.

Kristin Peterson said...

I completely agree with the idea of public hearings. I also think that a household conversation across society needs to be instigated because so much is at stake for the younger generation and their families. Leaving our discussions between UCOF and us is a form of privatization for which the public is not privy.

Here's the thing: the state budget decisions that screw us are the same decisions that serve the interests of the Regents. This is a conflict of interest that makes the premise of UCOF illegitimate. The kind of advocacy we need is not possible in this frame. And it is entirely unreasonable that we are even having a conversation with these people. It is even more perplexing that they have been put *in charge* of setting an agenda when they should be the subject of a public hearing that understands how they in fact are poised to destroy the "publicness" of the UC - even prior to the budget crisis. And yet, this destruction is strangely the premise of our future.

I would advocate scrapping the UCOF in favor of public hearings. Senate and Assembly members, media, unions, students, civic groups, PTA and local boards of education (make the K-12 link), and the UC communities should all be able to participate and discuss the topics that Mary Furner suggest above.

One of my colleagues met with our Assembly Rep. The point of the meeting was to convey how once you lose infrastructure you don't really get it back. Our Rep had no idea what was at stake - I mean really clueless. So, there is work to be done on our part.

If we are to take public hearings seriously, we would need to figure out all the nuts and bolts - independent bodies to help facilitate and explore the various streams of revenue possible to restore the 1990 budget pathway or at least get us back on the 2000 budget track. The public could define new roles for itself including making demands about budget transparency, student fees, as well as new forms of action, etc, etc. Budget analyses provided by unions and non-governmental organizations and many of our own researchers at UC is there but completely off the table with UCOF. A public hearing/committee could pull all that data together and produce a report that looks to ways to advocate for the university's *growth* despite the economic crisis, rather than figuring out ways to pound the last nail on the coffin.

Chris Newfield said...

these are esp helpful comments. I think the Senate, the FAs, the unions and other independent groups should push for leg hearings on the funding of higher education - this is really important idea and nicely articulated here. UCOF is going to continue but there is no reason to allow it to have a monopoly on systematic analysis of where to go from here

Anonymous said...

Birgeneau screws UCB by spending $3,000,000 on consultants when the work can be done internally and impartially by the world-class professional faculty and staff at no additional costs. The problems is not Sacramento. The problem is UCB Chancellor Birgeneau. Face the problem!

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