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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Unhappy Anniversary!

One year ago this week, the UC Regents approved furloughs for state-supported UC employees, emergency powers for President Yudof, and looked ahead to the fee hikes that would be coming at the November meeting.  The Chancellor's dramatic testimony of cuts to campus operations at the July meeting shocked the Regents and caused Regent Chair Russell Gould to form the Commission on the Future, whose working groups were just recently dissolved.  In parallel with UCOF, the President's Post-Employment Benefits Task Force, formed in June 2009, has spent the past year considering major reductions in employment benefits. One year later, UC has poorer employees, poorer faculty, and poorer students.

A bad year would be made bearable if we could see planning with a reasonable chance of leading to recovery.  But where is this planning?
UCOP and the Regents have no plans for achieving the recovery in state funding that is the campus's only chance for the restoration of UC's former secret formula of mass access to great quality.  UCOP has created a statewide expectation for huge savings through unified administrative systems ($500 million) and for better indirect cost recovery ($350 million) that their long track record suggests will not be realized.

The only result of a year's activity that the Regents will consider this week is the approval of an "Undergraduate Online Instruction Pilot Project."  This project has no realistic chance of producing budgetary savings on anything close to the scale of what UC has lost.  Nor is it the kind of high-quality access that people still expect from a democratic society, as is made clear by medicore press for the UC online plan and growing hostility to the high default rates and broken promises of the for-profit sector that lives off government money without delivering the educational goods.  So why is online education UCOP's flagship project one year into the UC state of emergency?

Much of the answer is that UCOP has turned its back on the collective wisdom of the UC system and cut itself off from grassroots knowledge.  Major stakeholders are treated as outsiders (unions, whose members are rabbalized during public comment period at Regents meetings but are never put on the meeting agenda), or ignored with impunity (the Academic Senate, whose leaders' extraordinary pledge of allegiance to President Yudof in opposition to assistance from the AAUP signaled to the president that he had nothing to fear from them).  Even the chancellors are requiredd by by-law to be seen and not heard at Regents meetings, which continues to generate Regental ignorance of campus conditions. The process has been incarnated in the repeated comments of top officials that UC employees impede progress rather than create it.

The cost of this strategy is levied not only against UC as a whole but against the quality of the thinking of its main leaders. That is clear in moments like President Yudof's interview with Inside Higher Ed, which comes at the two-year mark in his presidency.  President Yudof presents himself as salesman-in-chief, and is unable to credit his critics with seeking coherent alternatives to charging more for less.  He sounds defensive and isolated,  and neither of these conditions are conducive to creative solutions.

We received a comment about the impact on campus atmosphere of this kind of leadership.

There seems to be a large amount of academic detachment going on, at least among the academics.  There seems to be an acceptance that business types have taken over higher education and as long as their grants keep going until they are ready to retire they aren't going to get too involved.  There will be little outbursts of resistance and then someone higher up on the food chain has a little talk with them and the resistance dies down.  I believe what calms people is that they are told that despite what they are hearing about all this "change," their own department will somehow be spared.  That is what has happened to chairs and deans I know who once seemed ready to resist but who have been assured that most academic departments won't be affected yet, so they have quieted down.   The campus restructuring process seems to be shrouded in secrecy, and I suspect they don't want to be open about who will lose their jobs because they are not yet ready to lay them off and they don't want a bunch of vacant positions.

Staff are extremely demoralized and afraid to speak up for fear of losing their jobs.  I've spoken out enough times that some people are starting to give me a wide berth because I am obviously not being a "team player."  Which tells me it's time to move on, if there was anywhere to move on to.  In reality I will grit my teeth along with the rest and hope I land somewhere that will be safe and bearable for the next 5 years.  Two managers I know are on the verge of retiring and they have a gleam in their eyes, unlike the rest of us.
All this is understandable, but also unnecessary.  It would not be happening in an organization with a healthy culture and the ability to pull together in a time of crisis.

This demoralization is also unaffordable, in an institution that is trying to right itself. The state of California needs us now more than ever.   We, the UC: we need to remember that we have not failed, we have not lost.  We will keep speaking out, honored from above or not.  We will keep sharing our ideas and pushing to make things better and carrying the university forward.

I thank all of you who have been doing exactly this for years.  Your efforts have made UC a place that people still believe in -- as a cornerstone of the better future California they have every right to expect.


Charlie Schwartz said...

Thank you, Chris, for your wisdom and your forthright explanations of what is going on at UC, and elsewhere in higher education. You remind us all what Teaching is about.

Former Staff Member said...

Having been laid off last fall by UCB, I went back recently to have lunch with a couple of former co-workers. They are so dispirited. There have been so many layoffs this past year, and jobs lost to attrition, that more and more work is falling upon fewer & fewer people. They tell me they've never seen morale so low (and I thought it was terrible LAST year!)
The commenter who mentioned the lack of faculty action against what's happening has it right. So many faculty are retiring in the next 5 - 10 years, they just can't be bothered to fight (or have no fight left in them). As long as their grants keep rolling in, they are more or less content. It is up to the younger, more recently tenured to take up the fight, but will they do it now, or only after their departments have been completely gutted?

cloudminder said...

I was UNHAPPY to see that Bob Samuels presentation was relegated to public comment
and I was also disturbed to see
UC Regents Break Open Meetings Law
Member of the public denied access to meeting in “clear violation” of state law

SAN FRANCISCO – A member of the public was denied access to the University of California Board Regents meeting today in San Francisco in violation of state law.

An independent filmmaker documenting low-wage UC workers who face poverty was denied access to the public meeting with his video camera and was told by university officials that only “credentialed media” are allowed such access. However, state law specifically allows all members of public to record proceedings of a public meeting.


cloudminder said...

just want to share a some happy news re: SB 650


anon_staff said...

I'm sure faculty are being told that if they want to keep getting merit raises that some staff will have to be sacrificed. It's a very efficient way of pitting faculty against staff. Faculty are willing to gamble that they will still be able to teach and do research with less staff; I think some don't realize the buffer zone that department staff provide between them and the relentless record keeping and bureaucratic needs of the central offices.

UC is structured in such a way that there is a constant stream of new duties pushed down to department level by central administrative offices. Nobody ever analyzes or acknowledges how much time these duties require of staff. Those of us on the receiving end feel like our work life is becoming increasingly fragmented and that we are always in danger of not maintaining the proper standards of compliance. It's an insult to now be told, after all these years of absorbing responsibilities, that we are inefficient and some of us are superfluous. UC is planning on getting rid of its staff before it makes its systems efficient. The result will be new centralized office clusters that will become administrative log jams because nobody has time or training to perform their duties.

Bronwen Rowlands said...

Well said, and right on the nose. Most members of the public and many faculty don't realize that department staff may be technically non-academic employees, but because we're the membrane between UC's exploding business side and the actual teaching/research, we are vitally important. We are unique among admin workers in that respect.
Apres nous, le deluge?

aline said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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