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Saturday, January 9, 2010

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Method to the Madness?

By Michael Meranze

While it is too soon to tell the true implications of the Governor’s State of the State and his proposed 2010-2011 budget certain strategies seem clear and they should give pause to any enthusiasm that might have greeted Arnold’s general statements about shifting priorities from punishment to education. I think that we need to try to seize the rhetorical opening that the State of the State provided while challenging the ways that Schwarzenegger frames the problem and proposes to solve it.

There were positive elements to this week’s policy announcements. When Arnold declared that “The priorities have become out of whack over the years. … 30 years ago 10 percent of the general fund went to higher education and three percent went to prisons. Today, almost 11 percent goes to prisons and only 7.5 percent goes to higher education. Spending 45 percent more on prisons than universities is no way to proceed into the future. What does it say about our state? What does it say about any state that focuses more on prison uniforms than on caps and gowns? It simply is not healthy” he opened up a space to challenge one of the most devastating policy trends of the last several decades—not just in California but throughout the nation. The shift from social investment to mass incarceration has been a fundamental moment in the growth of inequality since the 1980s. This recognition of the need to alter public priorities, along with his promise to protect CSU and UC from further cuts is something to be taken up and pressed.

But as the Governor’s elaboration of his vision (both in a supplementary statement and in his budget) makes clear, we need to resist his strategy to reverse this trend. Although this is beyond the direct question of higher education, the Governor’s proposal depends on reforming corrections not by reforming sentencing but by contracting out inmate care to corporate prisons. In doing so, the Governor aims to sidestep the demands placed on the prison system by federal courts and strike another blow against labor costs while avoiding a real re-consideration of the policy of mass incarceration itself. It is the costs that he is concerned about. In effect, the Governor would be engaging in a subsidization (to use Aranye Fradenburg’s phrase) of corporate prisons in order to slow down the privatization of higher education (as is marked by the rise in student fees).

These problems become clearer in the Governor’s actual budget proposals. The Governor’s proposal depends on the arrival of large numbers of federal funds. For that reason alone it is probably not long for this world. But more striking is the distribution of actual cuts. While the State of the State placed great emphasis on the relationship of punishment to education, in the proposed budget the really deep cuts will be coming out of transportation, the protection of natural resources, and health and human services. If the rhetoric is that of education vs. punishment (and it is true that there are some proposed cuts to corrections) the real tradeoffs seem to be between education and services for the poor, the sick, and the elderly. (BudgetSummary, 13) While the Governor is presuming that he can gain additional funds from the Federal Government he is refusing to consider expanding the state’s revenues.

It is the logic of the zero-sum game that the Governor is playing. He has steadfastly refused to consider new sources of revenues or any fundamental revision of our regressive tax system (note that while he proposes increased off-shore drilling but no mention of an oil-extraction tax). Once again he is urging legislators to take up the Parsky Commission suggestions which not only will make the tax system more regressive but probably will lower revenues in the long-run. Under the welcome rhetoric of a shift in the state’s priorities from punishment to education, he is proposing to further strip those in greatest need without discomforting those with the greatest resources. Susan Kennedy’s fascinating comment that “Those protests on the U.C. campuses were the tipping point,” indicated not only that the fall’s protests made a real difference but how much remains to be done. Personally, I don’t want to fund higher education at the expense of the poor and the sick. We need to make sure that we make our commitments to higher education and our commitments to a wider shift in the priorities of the state clear. The Governor’s State of the State opened up a new space to make that argument—we should do all we can to prevent his budget from closing it off.


Anonymous said...

Contrarian Anonymous says:

This is kind of what I was trying to warn about.

Michael Meranze said...

To be frank, I don't think that anyone who was actually involved in making arguments about higher ed and public policy is all that surprised about this turn of events. That is why I and others had such trouble with understanding your critiques this summer since you seemed to be attributing things to others that they weren't saying. The budget was going to look like this in all probability. Arnold's rhetoric--which is in response to the pressure he was getting from the protests--provides an opening for people to try to change the larger assumptions behind social policy. The question is how to prevent The Governor from using education to hide other things.

He has also, for all that is worth, taken up the rhetoric of demanding more from the Feds. But that is another cover since he isn't going to get that and then will use that as an excuse to cut even further.

Anonymous said...

Contrarian Anonymous says:

Yes, Arnold is responding to the protests or, more accurately, using them. The more money kept in the budget for UC, the more must be cut elsewhere, and I think that has been the main goal for Arnold and the California Republicans.

Privatizing the UC does not interest them much because a privatized university is stilla non-profit.

The prisons are different. Wackenhut trades on Wall St.

And cutting social services gives these folks orgasms of joy.

UC isn't the point. It is a wedge issue. Make the middle class fight for its share and shaft the working class and poor.

I think a look back at the main blog posts here will show that the UC share of the budget was discussed without much attention to the rest of the budget. And it will also show lots of talk about the plot to privatize UC.

Toby Higbie said...

Dear Contrarian Anonymous:

You comment isn't helping us move forward with a constructive response. I appreciate your critique, but I'd like to see you articulate a suggestion for future action rather than enjoy a "told you so" moment. Also, it's hard for me to take you seriously with that pseudonym. Is there some reason you are afraid to use your name?

I think Arnold (and Yudof) have tactically retreated from their earlier approaches, and I suspect they were surprised at the level of protest. But the goal for Arnold always seems to have been to pit elements of the Democratic coalition against each other (state workers vs higher ed vs. working class). So we have the choice of working against that strategy or taking whatever crumbs come our way. Either way it looks to be some lean years ahead.

Faculty should be building alliances with other workers and students on our campuses and with organized education workers beyond the UC. This is the most efficient way to blunt the Arnoldian wedge.

Joshua Clover said...

Dear Michael,
without wanting to be merely anonymously contrarian, I do have a serious question for you. First, I should say that I am entirely in agreement that there isn't much to celebrate in the Gov's proposal. First, as a late-ter lame duck he has no way to get a constitutional amendment passed; second, there is no actual provision for increasing revenue expenditure on education, only a promise to spend less in incarceration by shifting the expenses to the private sector. So at best this is a rhetorical gesture — or perhaps we could say it's a fantasy solution to a real problem.

But the real problem isn't the defunding of education, a process the Gov has done nothing but support. The real problem he is addressing — by his own admission — is that of extraordinary and aggressive campus action. It is this which has compelled him to such a posture.

I want to ask you in all seriousness and in hopes of formulating tactics for the spring and beyond: has this caused you to reconsider your own position on this matter, which has leaned strongly toward petition politics, toward "telling it to Sacramento," and a clearly-stated reticence regarding strikes and occupations (documentation available, of course, including your declining to sign on to the September 24th faculty walkout that catalyzed this sequence)?

For me the question is whether the administration and Sacramento (which can clearly hear just fine the actions on local campuses) can be pushed to pursuing real solutions. We're not there yet, but we have just been given a pretty decisive indication of what has started working. Where do you stand currently?

best, Joshua

Michael Meranze said...

Dear Joshua,

Happy New Year!

I guess that I have a different interpretation of Susan Kennedy's (not Arnold's) comments than you do. In speaking of the protests I don't think that she was speaking simply of the occupations or the called strikes but the wide range of different types of public actions that students, staff and faculty have taken on different campuses. My position has never been in favor of simple petition politics as you put it. Instead it has been about letting different campuses move ahead as they see fit--without accusations of inadequate radicalism.

Looking ahead I would expect that the different campuses will continue to put a lot of public pressure on the administration and on Sacramento. My point in this piece was that we also need to think of ways to get out to the public an alternative vision of what the state can and should do more generally in terms of shaping the future and not let our commitment to public higher education cause us to overlook the damage that is being done to other sectors.

One thing that I may disagree with in your characterization of my post is that while I think you are right that Schwarzenegger doesn't have the power and authority to get this program pushed through as is, I think that it is more than a fantasy. He is representing the general trend of policy of the last several decades while seeming to nibble at the margins. I worry that a lot of this program can get pushed through.

Hope all is well.

Joshua Clover said...

thanks for your answer, and happy new year to you as well. I agree with several elements in your repsonse. (and didn't mean to suggest that we wouldn't see increased privatization of prisons; I meant that the Gov had no standing to forward any increases in education funding via constitutional amendment, should he actually want to do so).

However, I fear it is very difficult to argue on the facts that the Gov was responding to a "wide range of different types of public actions that students, staff and faculty have taken," rather than the strikes and occupations. What is this remainder of actions? Well, it is nothing but what has been in motion for quite some time: letters, speeches, teach-ins, and so on. These are simply not the new facts of Fall, and this response from Sacramento is clearly particular to a new situation. So on the face of it, evidence tells us quite assertively that what is new in the intensification of "protests" is having an impact that previous approaches did not.

The issue, of course, isn't to accuse anyone of insufficient radicality — the imputation of this is simply a misdirection. The issue is to identify effective tactics and pursue them. So I will ask you again, with a bluntness I hope you won't mistake for accusation: has your own analysis of effective tactics changed over the last four months?

I send my best, and my most serious thoughts, as ever —


Bob Samuels said...

I met this weekend with several legislators, and they all said that the governor's budget is dead on arrival, and they see it as a media ploy full of tricks and false assumptions. They deeply resent tying higher ed to prisons and the environment to oil drilling. Many legislators said that the protests in the UC system did help tomake higher ed a priority and that we need to keep up the pressure. I also interviewed Jerry Brown, and his strategy is not to come out strongly on any issues because the Republicans have so much more money, and he is afraid of their attack ads. Everyone is against privatizing prisons, and no one thinks it will work.

I met with Alberto Torrico, who is running for Attorney General and is the assembly leader; he really seems to get the UC system, and has reintroduced his bill to tax oil extraction at 12.5% and use it for higher ed. He wants to set up a board to oversee the funds so the UC does not use it on administration. He is meeting this Tuesday with Yudof who is against the bill because it takes control out of the hands of the Regents. I have pledged to help organize events on the UC campus to promote Torrico's bill and Lakoff's initiative.

The legislators do not want to give the UC a blank check, and they are looking for accountability measures. I detected a strong distrust of Yudof and the regents. The Democrats feel that they have been blamed all year for all of UC's problems, and they want to support the students, but they do not trust the administration.

In planning actions for March 4th on the campuses and in Sacramento, we need to keep up the dual strategy of putting pressure on the state and the UC system. UCLA still plans to slash the undergraduate budget and cut hundreds of classes and layoff hundreds of lecturers. I think we have a two-front battle.

Michael Meranze said...

Dear Bob,

Thanks for this update. I think that is helpful. I don't think that Arnold's budget can get passed. The problem is that it is designed to set a whole bunch of normal allies against each other in battling over who gets cut. And that it provides for the sort of indifference to suffering and need that we should fight.

Dear Joshua,
I don't think that it was misdirection on my part. In fact, I think that your response points to what I was talking about. I don't think that it is true that the only thing that was new in the fall were the occupations and the strikes. I don't recall such large scale protests, days of action, marches etc prior to the fall. Nor do I recall as many faculty challenging the administration's position etc. If you want to define beforehand that strikes and occupations are the only effective and new actions then I suppose we differ on the evidence.

So in answer to your question: no, not really. I haven't changed my position on how to get the ball rolling and to build up pressure. Now, of course, the question is how we can not only continue pressure--in all its forms as Bob's information suggests--but make sure that we don't do it at the expense of other parts of the state that we care about.

Hope all is well. michael m

Unknown said...

Michael...clean up the $3,000,000 waste created by UCB Chancellor Birgeneau's decision to have consultants do the work of his senior management team at UCB. That's $3,000,000 that can be spent on faculty and classes. search UCB Chancellor Birgenea UC President Yudof on the internet for details.

Roddey Reid said...

I have been following the discussion with some interest.

It seems to me that Schwarzegger's gambit with Yudof's support can be understood at several levels:

--wresting back control of public discussion and debate on higher education that was lost last fall and demobilize the storm of protest by forcing people to devote their energies to debating and passing the proposition as opposed to changing how the state passes its budget and challenging the on-going restructuring of higher education;

--pitching a political package designed to please both Republicans (privatization of prisons) and Democrats (guaranteed public funding for higher ed);

--a classic ploy by politicians that consists in proposing something destined to fail but which makes you look good. In the unlikely event it succeeds, you look even better;

--as such, the proposal could possibly be viewed as win-win for both Schwarzenegger & Yudof;

--but even if the constitutional amendment goes through, the escape clause that allows the state legislature to redirect the guaranteed funding elsewhere--as we've seen with the K-12 guaranteed funding--offers no assurance of steady funding;

--so it is quite possible to imagine that if the proposal were to fail or couldn't be meaningfully implemented such a turn of events would reposition them to return to the UC alumni, faculty, staff, and students with a alibi in hand to pick up where they left off with their plans to restructure UC in the years ahead.

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