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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Same Flat Revenues, Same Flat Pitch: How to Do Better

On occasion, in private conversations, UC officials will admit that their strategy with the state has not been working.  But the next sentence is generally a challenge: "so do you have a better idea?"

Well, actually, yes we do. So do other people.  Better ideas are in constant circulation.  Here's one example of an advertizing campaign that was prepared by a member of UCPB in conjunction with a professional publicist.
Promoting UC Education 1

Sound familiar? "Pay more, get less" emerged in the Fall of 2009 as a protest slogan.  But this advertisement was first presented to UCOP officials in Fall 2003.

There are better ideas for promoting UC funding - just not ones that UCOP, in its higher wisdom, are willing to use.

Instead, we get copy like this.  Responding to budget cuts, the president of the University of California issued the following statement:
California is facing a major budget challenge, and as a result, pain and sacrifice will have to be spread widely across the state. We at the University of California recognize that we need to play a role in the state's solution to its budget gap.
At the same time, it is important for all to recognize that every additional budget cut to the University of California is a painful cut. We already have taken deep cuts in previous budgets . . .  Our ability to preserve this institution's world-class quality and continue making a major contribution to California's economy will be compromised by these growing budget cuts.
Later, on the same subject, the president of the University of California issued the following statement:
While we deeply appreciate the governor's actions, notwithstanding the crisis in the state budget, there is still a significant gap as we seek to repair a budget that has been severely cut. . .  The university requested $913 million to address this critical issue. . . .This money is vital if UC is to avoid declining educational quality, access and research.
 The first statement was released by President Robert Dynes on November 25, 2003. The second was made by President Mark Yudof on January 8, 2010.  Any number of similar statements were issued in response to bad budgets.  The statement, "cuts hurt, but the state can't avoid them," forms the normative baseline for UC reponses to budgetary challenges in the 2000s.

Here now are the graphs with the updated benchmark promised in a budget post last week.    Click on the graph for more detail.

There's a sag in the Benchmark, which is state funding for UC relation to state personal income, whose 3-6% annual increase came to a temporary end in 2008.  But the governor's budget, while deeply appreciated by UC officials, insured that UC state revenues didn't just stagnate but rapidly fell. 

The updated correction for consumer inflation looks like this:

Governor Schwarzenegger's higher educational achievement has been to flatline UC funding from the time of his first budget proposal in early 2004. This has occured while enrollments have increased 20%.  He forced UC and CSU to sign a low-growth Compact in 2004, then abrogated it in 2008, with the result being that UC revenues in real dollars will be 20% below the Compact figure for 2010-11 even if the May Revise survives the 2010-11 budget process.

So one better idea is to stick with this one simple point: a UC education is being gutted, and then shouting it over and over and over again.

Instead, last month, UC officials thanked the governor for another bad budget. Then they launched their administrative savings scheme with a grossly inflated, multi-year savings target of $500 million.

This said said 2 things to Sacramento:
(1) UC will never fight so there is zero political cost for cutting it.
(2) we were right that UC has been wasting money. It doesn't need any more from us.

In fact, far below UCOP level, people are not buying new computer systems. People are quitting or getting fired. For example, UCSD is down nearly 20% in temporary instructors over 2 years, and nearly 10% in staff over the same period. In my division at UCSB, there will no longer be main offices for departments, but multidepartmental staff pools clustered by building, where students will seek an advisor for linguistic courses in an office named "Humanities South."

 UCOP says we are inefficient while in fact much of the university no longer has anything to be inefficient with.  When it does this, it manages to sound ignorant, insult the campuses, and undermine its recovery strategy all at the same time.

I wasn't any happier about this last month than I am now. So on May 19th I wrote an email to UCOP CFO Peter Taylor, architect of the $500 Million in savings plan.
Dear Mr. Taylor,

As a former chair of UCPB, I have received a number of distressed emails today from colleagues who read the SF Chronicle coverage of your efficiencies initiative.  The $500 M figure is close enough to last year's GF cut to imply to most people that strategic sourcing and software coordination can make up for state cuts.  Your slide 2 states that the budgetary shortfall after your initiative is implemented is $237 M.  Unfortunately, this is an order of magnitude off the $2 billion UC is actually short by comparison to 2001, a number established in a UCPB report several years ago and indeed mentioned by President Yudof  about an hour before you spoke.

Your presentation has doubtless confused the public and probably many Regents about the size of UC's public funding need, and given the legislature yet another excuse to do no more than they are already doing.  The real shortfalls on the campuses are impairing our educational services to the state, and I do hope that in the next few days you and other UCOP officials will clarify this matter.

Sincerely yours,

Chris Newfield
Professor of English
A few days later, I received a long reply, which I thought was to me and the 6 officials cced, but which wound up getting facebooked on the Mark Yudof page.  It's nice to know I wasn't the only one who wrote in.  Peter Taylor's main point is that "administrative efficiency in no way negates UC's severe need for state support" and that they never said it did.  He adds later,  "I'll note that over the course of our ongoing budget negotiations, Sacramento has asked for evidence that UC is also "helping itself" as it were, and operational efficiency serves to exhibit our good faith stewardship of this great University."  So having been screwed UC again, Sacto is asking UC for proof that it shouldn't be screwed again.  Add twitter, repeat as often as necessary.

My reply is as follows, of May 25th.

Dear Mr. Taylor,

I very much appreciate your detailed reply.  I certainly support the substance of the program you outline.

It's clear that if we allow the state to maintain its current perspective on higher ed funding, UC is dead in the water.  The May Revise puts us at $200 M below our GF for 2001-02 in nominal dollars. In real dollars, it puts us below the trough year of 2004-05, and these figures are not corrected for enrollment growth or for cost increases above California's CPI.

The coverage of UC last week said (1) UC was a big winner in the May Revise, and (2) UC has discovered it is sitting on $500 M in waste.  It's hard to see how these stories do anything but kill the chance for near-term increases in GF.  You are right: now UC will be expected to "help itself" by finding its next $500 M in state funding from its own internal system savings.

We need to present the state with a new framework or we will never recover.   I see only one possible starting point: There is no substitute for correct levels of public funding.   Either the state's leaders restore it or they will be shown to be wrecking California's future.

I know you all are perfectly well aware of the public funding crisis. But I think you all get the messages reversed, and lead with the minor story (administrative savings continue to be found, and UCOP has a new initiative to accelerate them with better coordination).  This then relegates  the major story to parenthetical status (continuing budget damage to high-quality UC education).

For an example, I'd refer you to Nathan Brostrom's very well-spoken appearance on the Patt Morrison show.  He said all the right things about how the campuses have long been seeking savings, etc., but the lead vision of an impaired UC which can only be fixed with restored GF came from a caller named Kyle, with whom Mr. Brostrom then agreed.  Somebody should make a transcript of Kyle of Costa Mesa and put it up on the UCOP web site!

We can easily lay out companion educational initiatives -- all in fact accurate -- once the lead message about public funding is in place:  explaining the full costs of running a research university; proclaiming our extraordinary productivity and efficiency given the poverty of the campuses relative to our research university peers;  describing efficiency savings as widespread, continuous, determined, and restricted (Jane Wellman's estimate to the Gould Commission was 2-3% / year); describing the damage done by budget cuts ("they're wrecking the future") coupled with clearly identified concrete public benefits when the cuts are undone (countercyclical economic stimulus achieved, educational attainment restored, specific grand challenges addressed).

The common theme is  UC needs and UC contributions, not UC's unfixed flaws.  I know you have collected many many examples of these from the campuses and other UC units.

With all best wishes for your work,

I think just about any of this would work better than what UC is doing now.


browlands said...

Well said, Chris. Good work.

Unknown said...

The UC administration continues to send out mixed messages to the public and state legislators. Consider that it took demonstrations and protests to get the message across to the governor that the cuts are devastating our campuses. What is UCOP doing? As Chris correctly states, they are thanking the governor for maintaining a reduced budget. Last spring as the crisis was unraveling, I saw weekly full-page LAT ads clearly aimed at potential donors that downplayed state funding. As I read them, even I began to believe that the cuts weren’t so bad! It should come as no surprise, then, that the California public directs its anger at UC (rather than state defunding) when non-resident enrollments are increased. The public image of the university is that it is so flush with private donations, it does not need state money. The public image of our university is that it benefits a few individuals rather than the entire state. Administrators have finally begun to talk about the university as an economic engine for the state, but it is too little too late. Yes, as Chris says, we need one message and to drive it home. What is unfortunate about the mixed messages is that the “public” in public education is a mere shadow of its former self. All that the talk of a high tuition-high aid model does is put a happy face sticker on a very ugly transformation to a university system that many of us chose over privates because we believed in its egalitarian model.

JB said...

Chris, you are suggesting that the only way that UC can work is if funding is restored to previous levels. But that's not true.

The University of Michigan is thriving and they have been mostly weaned from public support.

The choice is really one of public priorities, as it should be in a democracy. Do the people of California want a low cost public higher education system, or not?

If so, they need to provide the tax dollars to support it. If not, UC will look more and more like a private university. Out of state admission rates will rise rapidly; student fees will also rise.

It's that simple.

Michael Meranze said...


Thanks for raising the question of Michigan and also the democracy question. Both are important points here. But I don't think the situation is as simple as you suggest at the end.

For one thing, despite the mythology, Michigan still receives about 13% of their total funding from the state so it isn't the case that they have freed themselves from that. For another, the Michigan case only shows that it is possible for a single campus in an area with few serious private challengers to flourish. There really is no evidence that it could be extended to a system like UC with so many good private schools who would become competitive for students with the sorts of fee increases we would need to talk about. For another, we have to recognize that Michigan has transformed itself from a school that is primarily responsible to the students of its own state.

Even more fundamentally, the sort of choice you are talking about is not the choice that is being presented. UCOP is acting as if UC can remain UC, continue to deliver as much across the system without increased state funding. They are not saying to the state--if you do not fund us you will destroy the system of public higher education (which might make for the sort of democratic debate you suggest) but instead are saying that we can compensate with fee increases etc and stay the same system. But that is false.

I doubt that the Michigan model could work for more than a couple of campuses--but even there it would cease to be a public higher education system in the tradition of UC. So in saying that the only way UC can function is if funding is restored that means it can function as an excellent public university system responsive to the needs of the state's students. Of course if we eliminate the system and the public quality and the responsiveness then there are other ways to finance what is left.

Chris Newfield said...

JB: U of Michigan has been damaged by privatization. I discuss the decline indicators in "Unmaking the Public University" 176-77. It isn't what it used to be (though it is better managed than UC), and the UM system is a complete disaster. So is the state of Michigan. I don't know why folks like to bring up Michigan as anything except what we should try to avoid.

I agree that the public should finally decide about UC's condition. My work for years has been to try to create an informed public discussion of the educational effects of our history of budget cuts, which for decades were denied and distorted by leadership on all sides. If the public could vote with genuine information about the future effects of various budgetary pathways, I doubt they would vote for less education at a higher price -- 10k heading to 20k per year for scantron tests, no feedback on interpretative work, drastically curtailed lab experience. Would they vote for $20k for strictly rationed drollops of what we KNOW works to produce creative adult workers and citizens? I think they are already voting with their feet, and the most informed, most ambitious K-12 students will increasingly head for the privates, from LUM to Pomona to Stanford, who DO offer real college on the great US liberal arts, hands-on, active-learning model for not much more $ than UC. That's what UC needs to avoid. It is failing to avoid this, and faculty fatalism and cynicism isn't helping.

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