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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

UC Budget: After the Audit Edition

If there was ever any doubt that the results of the UCOP audit and the University's response has damaged UC's political standing, the 2017-2018 budget should put those to rest. The Budget displays a remarkable suspicion of UC.  In this post, I want to indicate 3 of the crucial indications of that suspicion.  I hope to discuss some larger questions about the state of UC governance and ways to overcome its evident difficulties in a follow-up post soon.

The bottom line is that the new budget provides less state money directly to campuses while increasing the demands that the State is placing on the system. Let me explain.

1.  The 2017-2018 budget provides an additional $132.2 million increase to the university's base funding.(21)   But at the same time, and contrary to previous practice, the State has declared that $296.4 million of the General Fund support will be used to support the Office of the President. (An additional 52.4 million will go to the ever increasing costs of UCPath). (21) Crucially, these set asides mean that the $348.8 million are not additional monies but must be taken out of the base state funding.  In other words, less General Fund money--which is crucial to support the core--will be going to the campuses.

The Legislature has taken this step because they believe it will provide them greater leverage over OP and also eliminate the burden of the campus assessments that have previously funded the President's office.  I am not persuaded that we want legislators deciding which systemwide programs UC should pursue.  But leaving that issue aside, there are important unintended consequences here. Previously UCOP had been funded through assessments according to calculations on total campus funding, personnel, and students.  This system meant that OP tax was levied on all of the auxiliaries, medical centers, and businesses of the campuses in addition to the core.  Now, in effect, OP is being funded solely by the core. Eliminating the assessments and funding OP through the general fund is designed to lessen the demands on campus resources.  But because auxiliaries are no longer being taxed to support OP this shift may increase the financial constraints on placed on the core functions of teaching and research.  This particular line item does nothing to reduce the costs of UCOP.  The same amount of money is simply being drawn from a more narrow range of university functions--in fact the functions that make a university a university.  Whatever its intent, the legislature has effectively shifted funding from the core to auxiliaries.

Now it is possible that individual campus chancellors will work out some sort of internal tax to transfer money back to the core from the auxiliaries.  But that will be a matter of internal politics and power.  It is also an even less transparent system than we have now since these transfers will differ campus by campus. It will face potential legal obstacles if monies are shifted from overhead to undergraduate teaching.  How all of these changes will effect the uniformity of funding per student that has resulted from rebenching is unclear to me.

2.  At the same time, the budget withholds an additional $50 million until the Director of Finance certifies that UC has met certain specific legislative and gubernatorial demands.  Some of these are easy to accomplish and unobjectionable: progress on implementing the 33 recommendations of the State Auditor that UCOP has already agreed to; eliminate retirement supplements for senior managers; and provide better justification for presidential and systemwide initiatives and clearer budget presentations.

But two are deeply problematic.

The first is the completion of pilot programs in Activity Based Costing already underway at Riverside's College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and to be expanded to two other campuses.  As Chris has discussed, ABC, though claiming simply to be a tool for ensuring that funding goes where it is needed, in practice its effects are to drive universities towards the reduction of costs and the establishment of arbitrary benchmarks (otherwise known as speedups) while sidelining the question of quality.  Equally importantly, as Academic Chair James Chalfant has pointed out, the budgetary demand for ABC intrudes upon the autonomy of academic decisions, "the delivery of the curriculum is an Academic Senate function and the allocation of teaching resources is an academic decision; such decisions are based on academic priorities, and any methods used or choices made to optimize the educational enterprise with available resources must be left to academic departments and schools."

The second is a demand that all campuses achieve a 2-1 first year/transfer ratio in applications (with the exception of Merced and UCSF).  I suspect that this demand has its long term roots in the original Master Plan expectation that lower division students would make up only 40% of the overall undergraduate population. (24)  To achieve that goal, something like a 2-1 structure would have been necessary.  But that expectation was for the system as a whole not for every campus.  UC as whole is on the verge of achieving this 2-1.   The sticking point appears to be that Riverside and Santa Cruz have not been able to meet this benchmark. But all evidence suggests that both campuses have admitted as many transfer students as have met UC requirements (I will leave aside the ridiculous idea of thinking that Riverside, which for decades has been the most important campus for achieving social mobility, is turning away eligible transfer students).  If there was some evidence that these campuses were dragging their feet it would be one thing.  But instead we have an overly rigid demand threatening to reduce UC funding even further.

Both ABC and the Transfer demands are examples of the imposition of ahistorical and non-contextualized demands far removed from the actual practices or local conditions of the university's campuses.

3.  Finally, the budget demands a 1500 undergraduate student increase.  There are no additional funds for this increase, simply a command that money be shifted from systemwide and presidential initiatives. (6440 sec2.2)  Despite all of the talk over the last few years of the growing state support for the system, in reality the state has not been providing adequate funding for the increased student populations and the University has not been directing adequate funding towards faculty and front-line staff to meet the enrollment growth.  I think that all of us are aware of growing class sizes, increased demands on staff, inadequate housing for students etc.  This budget will make things worse.

I'll discuss internal governance issues in my next post.  But for now I think that it is clear that this particular budget is a step backward in maintaining UC quality.  It is a dramatic display of the increasingly broken relationship between UCOP, the Regents, and the State that affects all of us who work or study at the University.


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