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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Thursday, December 31, 2020

While UC campuses weighed current-year budget cuts in the range of 6 to 15 percent, the Board of Regents contemplated a vision of equilibrium. When the UC Office of the President's November presentation was done, a regent invited chancellors to respond. UC Riverside's Kim Wilcox (at left, perhaps showing the size of his budget gap) started a courteous series of dissents from the junior campuses, with a timely assist from Berkeley's Carol Christ. Wilcox was featured in Teresa Watanabe's LA Times story that covered the disconnect between celebrating UC's racial diversity (done) and actually funding it (not). The effects of cuts are swaddled in confusion, a confusion seeded by UCOP's budget narrative and planted in the fertile soil of the regents' modest knowledge of their university.


Each November, UCOP proposes a budget to the Board of Regents for the following fiscal year. In November 2020, they proposed a budget for 2021-22, which the regents then voted unanimously to approve. The result becomes the University's official budget request to the governor and the legislature. 

Here's the summary attachment of the request. Noteworthy items include the request for a full restoration of the state legislature's cut to UC's 2020-21 budget of about $300 million, a second year of pay freezes for faculty and most unrepresented staff (merit increases are funded), and a 1.5% wage increase for a category of non unionized frontline staff.

The dominant narrative is . . . a balanced budget! (Same for Finance and Capital Strategies.) Each item is an increment on an invisible base. Nearly all the items are personnel costs, in keeping with the perennial narrative element that workers are the cost albatross around the university's neck.  The failure of the state to fund capital projects is given the artificially minute price tag of $15 million (debt service).  The exception is deferred maintenance, featured as mostly an investment in cost savings, and expressed as a one-time sum, with no definition of total need (likely 100 times larger) or notice that DM is in fact the opposite of a one-time thing, by its very nature. The request for a state funding increase ($217.4 million, oddly parceled into four items) is not defined as a percentage of a general fund base or as a response to specified campus conditions. The amounts are very small, and have no obvious connection to the mass of current operations.

The budget document (B4) was presented to the regents by the two budget officials who do these honors at regular two month intervals, Nathan Brostrom and David Alcocer. They are both highly competent people who are genuinely devoted to the wellbeing of UC: my comments are not about the individuals but the narrative.  The presentation began about 2'15" into the last session (bottom video on this page; perma-archive of audio is here).  UCOP framed the current year cuts with a full "V-shaped" recovery.

The shortfall is minimized as "near-time," even though these non-core operations are, on campuses, forcing cuts to the educational core.  The term "bridging strategies" suggests losses have been contained, the further implication being no damage to the workforce and no need for better state funding support. As we have often noted in this space, the virtue signaling of self-reliance lets the state off the budget hook.

In presenting this slide, Brostrom noted the campuses have different shortfalls and different strategies for filling them.  This slide looks at the system aggregate.

The main message is, again, the balanced budget. The state cut UC $300 million in the middle of a pandemic when it was losing $2.2 billion in revenue and incurring an additional $431 million in Covid-19 expenses. This reality disappears.  In the UCOP story, cuts don't really matter because the cuts were made up with a bunch of harmless-sounding stuff, like attrition and using reserves. 

Same thing for next year.

The state's cut to UC funding is permanent, so it shows up again. The current year's cost increases do too--so they apparently weren't actually covered as shown in the previous slide.  There are some new "savings." These are really self-imposed cuts: the 10-year UCPath fiasco (a systemwide personnel transactions platform), in which IT "efficiencies" have really meant "morale-crushing rigidity and huge new costs," should have ended UCOP's annual invocation of such savings. But the regents don't seem to know operations realities like UCPath's impacts on staff, so there they are again.  Non-resident student tuition is assigned a full bounce back, and the rest is supplied by restored state funding (though Brostrom noted verbally that this would be "one-time"). It all adds up to the standard budget narrative of equilibrium.  

In reality, it doesn't.  It adds up to cuts on every campus, and a scramble to maximize alternative revenue streams that, in another unstated problem, move workforce effort away from the state-funded educational core.  The actuality of cuts surfaced briefly when the opening regental questioner, Michael Cohen, said about the phrase "cost savings" that "I think you probably grabbed a sentence from some prior documents from the last decade or so," and then asked what long-term savings they mean. Brostrom noted that NRST is capped now, and new high-tuition programs are already in wide use. Translation: the budget patches of the 2010s are now used up. In fact, that leaves workforce cuts, delicately phrased as "attrition and others."  (Cohen also got Brostom to move the number for reserves on the core budget from $174 million to $2 billion, although the issue died there.) In short, "cost savings" mainly means "workforce cuts."

Before we get to the Riverside dissent, let's tote up the core budget story elements:

  1. Budget cuts happen, but they never cut UC's world-leading excellence.
  2. UCOP cannot stop these budget cuts, but has already neutralized them.
  3. All fund sources are basically the same: private is as good as public; borrowing is as viable as state funding.
  4. The burdensome costs are personnel (not capital projects, deferred maintenance, or internal subsidies for sponsored research).
  5. Campus budgets have inherent differences that the campuses are handling differently.

November brought the latest installment of the "wait and see" policy advanced in every budget presentation during the 2020 Covid period. Covid will fade, and the business cycle will bring UC back to normal. In this story, no new framing, no new thinking, no new policies, no new advocacy, no new mobilization is needed. 

2. The Chancellors

Cohen's question was followed by one from Lark Park, who noted that the system budget doesn't always reflect the campuses and asked if one or two chancellors would like to speak. Enter UC Riverside's chancellor Wilcox.

A lot of people have talked about the pandemic as a magnifier of differences. . . . It's true that we haven't raised resident tuition in many years. And we are a campus that is almost exclusively resident students. That part of our budget has been fixed for many years. . . .And of course that's in the face of the same kind of cost increases that everyone else has faced.  This has been a serious challenge for us at Riverside. To give you an idea, we have now people on campus suggesting that we eliminate the entire athletics program, shut down the study abroad program, our UCDC participation, and our UC Sacramento participation. And that's simply so we can preserve the dollars so we can maintain the core of the university. And ironically the last three . . . are because of our low participation rate, which, ironically, is because our students have fewer resources to participate. So for us, this is a dire situation. There are 6 FTE employed in the chancellor's office at UC Riverside.  I'm one of those six. We anticipate next year there will be 4.  We're cutting everything we can to manage this budget situation. While I appreciate the perspective of Nathan and David on the total being balanceable, the impact on the ground is significant. (2'44'':45 - 2'46":30)

Two other junior campus chancellors backed Wilcox. Juan Sánchez Muñoz at Merced added that his local community depends on campus services that are being curtailed. Cynthia Larive at Santa Cruz noted the added burden of the very high cost of housing in that coastal location. Finally, Berkeley's Carol Christ chimed it to say that although Berkeley's budget is completely different from that of the younger, smaller campuses, "this is the most severe crisis I've ever experienced in my career in higher education. It is a really challenging crisis for the campus.  . . .We have a deficit measured from March 2020 through June 2021 of 340 million dollars." She described a few sources and added, "our losses in athletics are catastrophic."  While there are differences around the UC system, she concluded, "it's not a question of not having budgetary duress on the campuses." (2'55" - 2'56")

The regents' responses made it clear that they do not know what Covid costs and losses plus state cuts are doing to the the campuses. At the end, Regent George Kieffer said, "if we maybe think about a working group, a smaller group, to understand how the process works within UCOP. . . [Formulas for campus allocations] are something I think that the regents have not understood--that I have not understood for most of my term."  Kieffer is the immediate past chair of the Board of Regents.  This admission suggests that the vast majority of the governing board has no real idea of how budgeting works or affects the campuses over which they have complete fiduciary responsibility and control. 

A remarkable summation of the board's competence came from Park, speaking between Wilcox and the other chancellors.

Chancellor Wilcox I appreciate your candor on this. I know it can't be easy. I am surprised to hear this news, but I guess maybe in some ways I shouldn't be. There was a speaker in public comment this morning who alluded to the per-pupil funding disparities. [At the presidential search town hall at Riverside], we did hear an earful from faculty at the time, about how they felt undervalued in terms of per-pupil funding.  I guess I'm kind of taken aback by this. It's kind of ironic because I remember a presentation you gave, this time last year even, we heard about all that Riverside has achieved. And if we could just tell the Riverside story and the Merced story, it would be tremendous and we'd just get so much state support--in terms of the kind of students we're trying to support. I'm really worried that we are doing a real disservice here. And it worries me--I think that rather than advancing our interests on equity we're actually impeding it when we let the disparity continue to exist. I guess I should look to myself too--I've heard this and I've seen the numbers, but it just hasn't struck me as much. I do know it's tough times across the board because of Covid. But just as we know that some populations are struggling more than others in the real world here, I think that if we don't come to grips with this, we're not serving the system well. I think we need to figure out whether our formula advantages the already advantaged, which is something that goes against a lot of principles we've stated in the last year when we've done away with SAT when we endorsed Prop 209  [sic]. I just think we need to go beyond this veneer, to get at what equity really means. . . . I appreciate your being candid with us and I appreciate the speaker who spoke in public comment. It reminded me of what we heard in Riverside.  I just would like to see this discussion continued in the very near future. I think we have to solve it. I think we have to decide that we want to do more than talk about equity, that we want to put our money where our mouth is. (2'47" - 2'50")

Of course Park is right: the regents have been giving lip service to racial equity and inclusion because they have never bothered to insure that equity was budgeted. They seem not to study before the meetings, nor do they appear to read widely and think independently about systemic issues, even those overlapping with their expertise in finance, construction, and the like. The information is widely available. The Senate's UCPB produced a version of the campus funding disparities chart (via UCSD professor Andrew Dickson) around 2006.  The Santa Cruz chancellor's office injected a similar chart into budget negotiations with UCOP in 2009-10. A state audit thoroughly investigated the situation in 2011, and here at the blog we did a detailed, two-part post on the racialized funding inequities (2011-12; Part 2).  The Riverside campus hosts leading scholars of US and educational racism, structural and otherwise; one of these is Dylan Rodriguez, current president of the American Studies Association and immediate past chair of Riverside's divisional senate. The immediate past chair of Riverside's Council for Planning and Budget, physics professor Harry Tom, could produce an eloquent, comprehensive campus budget summary with an hour's notice. A former president of the Council of UC Faculty Associations, Pat Morton, teaches at Riverside. The current systemwide Senate chair, Mary Gauvin, teaches at Riverside, and was at the regents' budget presentation. And so on.  The information is out there for the regents to find: it's just not found for them by UCOP.   Unfortunately, this "disengagement compact" at the top of UC has hurt 21st century UC students, particularly the very high share of disadvantaged students that are relegated to the poorest campuses.

Chair Pérez concluded item B4 by saying, "I did hear very clearly a desire from regents to dig down, and get a more granular view of the budget, so I will work with the president's office to figure out how we can achieve that."  The regents almost made it a full 50-minute hour on the UC budget proposal for 2020-21 (2'15"-3'03"). With some collective effort, it could be a turning point.

3. The Story

Here are some key elements of the better budget narrative that UC and other public universities desperately need.

A. Big picture context: In contrast to current practice, each budget proposal must be compared to the previous regental request (November 2020 to November 2019).  (November 2019's B4 was a better presentation because it included metrics that nearly touched the third rail of UC politics: budget-driven quality declines.)  The year-on-year pattern should then be put in historical context.  Here's an example from our "essential charts" post in May.

The state underfunds UC (red line) compared to the state personal income benchmark (blue line), and falls dramatically short of funding that tracked both income and enrollment growth (yellow line). State government has been saving money on the UC system for 20 years, and the regents can't see sub-standard campus resources without this context.  

In addition, the inadequate net revenues from past tuition hikes and the terrible effects of new unfunded costs need to be factored in to grasp net per-student funding. UCOP could produce a more authoritative version of this effort:

In the calculation, net educational revenues (green line) follow the clearly inadequate state funding (red line), not higher gross figures the regents see (details are at the post linked above). This is a very bad situation that is redefining the quality and nature of UC. It of course won't be fixed until it is faced.

B. Tie budgeting directly to its effects on policy priorities.  Today's board is rightly obsessed with racial equity and inclusion. It's fairly easy to show a prima facie racist correlation in state funding for UC (from our "First Black President" post).

This should be used to shame the legislature out of its practice of giving half the per-student funding to today's minority-majority UC that it gave to white UC. 

C. Clearly explain funding allocations to the campuses, including "rebenching." 

Here's a down payment on an explanation the regents need to have. Rebenching was UC's response to a state audit back in 2011. The audit identified funding inequities that it set forth as racialized ("Racial Patterns of Campus Budget Inequality").  Not only had UCOP allowed campuses to keep all their non-resident student tuition, which "advantaged the already advantaged," to cite Regent Park, but was giving less state general funding to the newer (and browner) campuses.  The plan was to increase the average per-student allocation to the highest level (UCLA's) with new money.  It took about six years, and here's the theory of what happened. 

Here UCOP has told the regents that the campuses now live in budgetary equality. So why was Riverside Chancellor Wilcox saying his campus gets the least money per student?  

Because of how rebenching actually worked.  Rebenching carved out some kinds of campus specific state earmarks and gave each campus a fixed base, so not all state funding was rebenched. Secondly, students were weighted by type, with doctoral students counting 2.5. For example, UC Berkeley had 41,891 students (headcount) at a census point in 2017-18. But it has a high share of doctoral students, so its "weighted" enrollment was 49,894. Berkeley gets the same rate of $6000 and odd per student, but for 8,003 students more than it physically has. Riverside moves from 23,279 unweighted to 26,338 weighted, or an increase of 3059. Berkeley's increase is 19 percent relative to its unweighted base; Riverside's is 13 percent.    This in keeping with the other features of the formula leads to "advantaging those already advantaged."

A final factor is that only a campus's enrollments at the start of the rebenching period were actually rebenched. (I am inferring this from the fact that I was not able to reproduce the UCOP chart above, and got an approximation only by holding enrollment constant.) Sometime during this period, UCOP decided to accept a "surge" of resident students to compensate for the political liability that high non-resident enrollments had created. New resident undergraduates were given whatever amount was cooked up in a Brown-Napolitano deal in a given year ($5000 one year, $0 in another, etc.). Here's actual (weighted) enrollments look like:

No convergence. Flat funding. And Riverside bumping along the bottom. (I assume UCSB did better because it grew less in this period.) The surge's underfunded resident undergrads were the price UC paid for rapid non-resident tuition growth, meaning that campuses like Riverside paid for NRST revenues at campuses like Berkeley.

Each campus experiences its educational quality through total available revenues. Adding tuition (including the non-resident tuition and for-profit masters programs (SSPs) at 3x resident rates to state funding looks like this:

This confirms Wilcox's claim that Riverside has the least revenues per student. UCOP in effect is sending poorer (and mostly URM) students to the poorest campus in defiance of UC's professed values, to say nothing of standards of educational and social effectiveness.   You can also see here the chronic problem of "Two UC Systems," separate and unequal, which the enrollment surge intensified.

D. Tell the budget stories from the bottom up.  Wilcox disrupted budget orthodoxy by talking about his campus for 105 seconds.  The other chancellors spoke for around 60 seconds each.  These vignettes changed the Board's budget perceptions, at least temporarily. They could and should be multiplied a thousand-fold and turned into coherent stories.  Faculty, staff, and students could create a different master narrative by laying out what is happening in classrooms, grad student cubicles, libraries, and laboratories. It would fundamentally change budget perceptions, and also, over time, public understanding and budget politics in a bewieldered state. 

Many other people need to tell their alternative budget stories. You other people. All kinds of campus people. Neither the regents nor UCOP can or will do this on their own.  They don't know enough, and they aren't correctly placed.  You actually do know enough.  This knowledge can overcome the current stumbling blocks: top-down governance, and the absence of a UC opposition party to put forth a New Budget platform for UC.  The Senate hasn't done it. CUCFA hasn't done it.  Even AFSCME, whose Claudia Preparata has done the best independent analysis of UC reserves, hasn't done it.  The pieces of alternatives are a good start but aren't enough. Individual work can always be marginalized in the time-honored UC tradition of shunning the messenger and ignoring the message.  (Even tenured faculty fear shunning, since it makes them feel devalued and also blocks the possibility of an administrative appointment that, during decades of sub-par salaries, is the main way to get a significant raise.) A complete rebuilding of a broken budget model is too important to keep delaying the day regular campus folks start pooling their experiences, saying the way things ought to be, building the story line, and detailing how to fund it.

Warmest congratulations for getting to the end of 2020.  Happy 2021 to one and all.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Stories may seem feeble compared to big data or political power.  This is a false impression. In reality, data and power operate through stories and their effects are determined by them. Your budget slides or whatever have to have the proper story.

The strongest stories in 2020 were abolitionist: abolish student debt, abolish college tuition, abolish grad student rent burden, abolish the police. Abolish the at-will firing of abolitionist scholars. These stories always get out in front of the means of achieving their goals. This is a feature not a bug. Their point is to imagine and concretize the goal itself, and rally people to figure out how to achieve it. The same goes for abolishing Covid-19. Full eradication of pestilence of all kinds is what makes people jump out of bed in the morning.

My approach is chronically materialist and institutionalist, so I chronically focus on finance and budget.  We don't have the same abolitionist power with these narratives, and generally haven't found narrative power in other forms. I'm going to look at the national budget picture here, and then, in Part 2, turn to a local university budget insurgency that should be put to use. 

The Covid relief bill arrived six month late, with fractional funding for higher ed and nothing for the states that fund it. Its support for the overall public is a shadow of the need. The failure of the federal government to meet the basic requirements of its population is a two-party creation. The Democratic contribution has been an unconvincing narrative grounded in a failed economic model.  The compromise deal emerged from moderates from both parties who share the disastrous "safety net" model of government, and who agree that government's collective action produces no real value, just remediation. The Democratic leadership had no better storyline of mass enablement or intelligence working in common, so politics is trapped in the Victorian logic of public assistance, and treats a raging pandemic with quarter measures.

The glaring example of narrative success is Ronald Reagan's hydra-headed narrative, for which the series title was, "government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem." Thousands of smaller stories fleshed out this master plot. They had a stock cast of characters that were themselves compressed political types, like "welfare queen."  The Reagan machine perfected this narrative with remarkable discipline for decades. It dismembered the New Deal, discredited the civil rights movement, and turned every public system into a remedial function, the very opposite of what created economic value and national greatness. Public education became a problem rather than an asset, and public colleges and universities did not escape.  Reagan's story was a fabrication. But it changed the course of U.S. history.

Barack Obama has been known to quote Martin Luther King quoting Theodore Parker that "though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends towards justice." It's more accurate to say, "the arc of the moral universe bends towards narrative."  

This week's example is the $900 billion relief finally passed by Congress, that is, allowed to pass by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (It is likely to survive Trump's possible veto, with still more delay.)  The deal offers important material relief, but it is also the vehicle for a Republican story, to be told in Georgia.  The story has a goal, which is to keep the Republican Senate majority by delivering both special election seats to the Republican candidates, so McConnell can remain our shadow POTUS. 

The story is this: "Republicans like Kelly and David offered a helping hand to regular Georgians struggling with the pandemic. The delay was (not because they were busy insider trading with confidential Senate public health testimony--that's fake news, but) because we had to fight Democrats who wanted to take your money to bail out failed blue states." The story has to convince a lot of voters that Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, two of the most plutocratic, anti-Black, self-dealing members of that body, really do care about them.

The secondary story is, "the moderates saved the stimulus." The press is obliging with articles about how Romney, Collins, Manchin, Warner et al. produced a "road-map" for governing under Biden. Sanders, Warren et al failed to get a deal: the future is the bi-partisan center.  Unfortunately, moderation means no money for states and one-fifth of the economic stimulus envisioned by the "liberal" Pelosi in May.

What could help people buy these stories? The lack of a radically different and compelling alternative. That lack is being constructed as I write. For example, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is NOT authoring a narrative saying this: 

Senate Republicans gave you half a CARES act for a quadrupled pandemic. Mitch McConnell gave you that fraction of a loaf. The bill is crap compared to actual need, and crap compared to what the American people deserve, and it's crap entirely because Mitch McConnell controls the Senate, not me. Let me describe the great version the Democrats wanted that will rebuild the country, and if you want it you need to get Kelly and David the heck out of the Senate.

Republican values, Schumer could explain in the LP version, dictate mistreatment of regular people, because they oppose government, which is the only way to treat everyone fairly when we all need the same thing. In reality, Schumer reframes it as an "emergency survival bill" and promises to fight again next year. But that's not a story. That's an adaptation to defeat.  

Most people in this country are in trouble--unfed, sick, evicted, unemployed, lied to, and about to be further abandoned by their bankrupt states.  In building the true and motivating story out of this one, it's worth bearing in mind how tired people are of half-measures and excuses. Take the half-stimulus check.  $1200 (the CARES Act level) may have meant that you could pay a month's rent and focus entirely on your 12 other major problems.  $600, the new version, means you can pay half your rent, and have to keep "rent" on the top of your list of 13 things while you find the other half, who knows how. If you find it, you don't thank the Democrats for fighting for a new stimulus since May: you thank yourself, for scrambling for the other half.  

People are engaged in a continuous low-level resistance to weak support. Democrats don't seem to get this, and they are walking into an ambush in Georgia.

There are countless books and papers on narratology, like Paul Waldman's on politics; there's a whole discipline that studies narrative and affective engagements-- my home field of literary criticism. One general lesson is that it's essential to critique the false story, but critique is just the start.

First, the critiques, which are widely available: David Dayen drills into details and pronounces the stimulus to be not enough. It is, after all, about a fifth of the $4.3 trillion HEROES Act the House passed in May. The one-time stimulus check is half of the CARES Act's ($600 per person); extended unemployment is cut from 16 weeks to 11; the eviction moratorium extends only to the end of January. Jessica Haberkorn describes other ornaments on the Christmas tree.  

Eric Kelderman does the drilling for the higher ed elements: colleges and universities get $25 billion of a $125 billion need. The student debt moratorium, already running through January 31st, was not extended, leaving that up in the air at least through Joe Biden's inauguration.  Since the bill has no money at all for states and local governments, they will struggle to avoid more cuts to K-12 and higher ed. By undermining government employment and spending like they did after 2010, Congress is priming the country for Great Recession 2.0.

Some good things do happen: the ridiculous FASFA form for financial aid applications is greatly simplified, some loans to HCBUs are forgiven, and the bill finally extends Pell eligibility to formerly incarcerated students. There's more--but only a drop in the money bucket. On this point, Kelderman cites Ted Mitchell, president of the higher ed advocacy group, the American Council on Education: “The money provided in this bill will provide some limited relief, which is welcome news to struggling students and institutions. . . . But it is not going to be nearly enough in the long run or even the medium term.”

These are fundamentally important critiques and need to be widely circulated.  But they don't generate an alternative story.

A true counter story would have a feature that the UC Berkeley linguist George Lakoff, prolific author on the Democrats' inadequate framing and narrating, calls the "truth sandwich." You set out your own view, you then critique the false or opposing view in the context of your framework, and then state your truth or vision again. 

I started to illustrate this with Schumer above, though I had it a bit backwards: Schumer should start with the glories of the House's HEROES Act, and all the problems it would solve, then blast Mitch's phony, bail out-a-Republican Senator plan, then describe the better future of Builder Biden working with strong progressive Congressional support. 

The more radical and inspiring narrative won't come from above. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were exceptions at the national level, but they too had to devote themselves to counterpunching the Washington establishment.  Sanders is in fine form denouncing McConnell's fake Covid medicine, but of course this isn't a left alternative. It's missing the compelling social philosophy that has to do to bipartisan Reaganism what Reaganism did to the Great Society and anti-racism movements.

Abolitionism reminds us yet again that narratives of a new society are going to come from us--not from above but from below.  Sanders did enormous good putting free college and student debt cancellation on the political map, but he did this by advancing concepts developed by scholars (like UCSB's Bob Samuels early on) and activists. This bottom-up process works, but it needs a fully engaged and activated base, in real numbers, to work at the required speed. 

Where is that base?  I'll turn to a current university example in Part 2.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thursday, November 26, 2020

by Cathy Gere and Adam Aron,  professors at UC San Diego

Much has been written about the problem of denial of climate change science. But the University of California exemplifies another, possibly much tougher, problem: How do you go from acceptance of the science to action? 

The UC is a leader in climate change research and policy. And yet, its ten campuses emit more than a million metric tons of CO2 every year from burning natural gas, a fossil fuel, to provide heating, cooling and electricity. Many in the current generation of UC students -- increasingly aware of the extent to which global heating poses an existential threat to their futures -- are asking themselves why a university that has done so much to raise the alarm about greenhouse gases has done so little to curb its own emissions.

In 2013, then-UC-president Janet Napolitano launched the ‘Carbon Neutrality Initiative.’ This unfunded mandate, handed down from the Office of the President to the individual campuses, promised that the university would go ‘carbon neutral’ by 2025. 

In the first few years, the focus was on energy efficiency measures, such as better insulation, and lights that turned on with movement sensors. These efforts were successful in reducing emissions, but those savings have now been erased with a dramatic new building plan at the UCs. While the efficiency gains were an achievement, the low-hanging efficiency fruit are now all picked, and the emissions goals set by President Napolitano are still way out of reach.

Three quarters of the university’s energy is supplied by natural gas, a fossil fuel, obtained by highly toxic hydraulic fracturing methods that emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The UC looked into replacing fossil natural gas with biofuels, but that is, at best, a limited solution: there are serious problems with price, scale, and supply. 

A group of experts concluded that the only path to genuine decarbonization lay with electrification of the campus energy systems, but that was rejected as too expensive. Meanwhile, billions of dollars were found for new buildings.

So, with minimal investment in genuinely decarbonizing the university’s energy systems, the Carbon Neutrality Initiative is planning to make up the shortfall with inexpensive "carbon offsets." These are schemes to which institutions and individuals contribute, to try to "make good" on their own greenhouse gas emissions: for example, UC continues to burn natural gas while paying for forest preservation somewhere else. These carbon offsets have been called ‘licenses to pollute’ and likened to the ‘indulgences’ of the Catholic church (a pay-for-prayer scam). Thus, for the UC, ‘carbon neutrality’ does not mean reducing its emissions; it means paying people elsewhere (generally in low-income countries) to reduce their emissions while we go about business-as-usual.

Along with many members of the wider climate action and climate justice movement, we object to offset in principle and in practice.

First, we object to offsets in principle. The idea that we can pay someone in a poor part of the globe to reduce their emissions so that people in the richest country in the world can continue to burn fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases is morally bankrupt. Even if it works exactly as promised (which we very much doubt), all that ‘carbon neutrality’ achieves is the maintenance of the status quo. The IPCC 2018, backed by the world's governments, was very clear: we need to reduce emissions by about 50% by 2030 from 2010 levels to have a chance of keeping global heating to only 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. So the UC must stop burning natural gas. It can also, at the same time, support reforestation projects. The latter is no substitute for the former.

Second, we object to offsets in practice. To take just one example of an offset program that the University has already mooted, indigenous reforestation in Ecuador, this can hardly be computed in terms of sequestered tonnes of CO2. 

For such a scheme to work, trees have to be planted across an enormous area and reach maturity. Wildcat logging, mining and agricultural encroachment have to be held at bay. Political agreements have to be honored without corruption. How likely is it that all these things will hold true at a time when the climate emergency is accelerating and countries are experiencing increased instability as a result?

The UC is currently soliciting feedback about the carbon offset program from members of the university community. We are urging the administration to abandon the offsets program publicly, and to redirect the resources set aside for it into planning for electrification of the campus energy systems. 

Any path to stopping global heating must pass through genuine decarbonization of our infrastructure. Investing in a false accounting of ‘carbon neutrality’ is a form of climate denial: it denies the reality of our emissions and our responsibility to curb them. The UC prides itself on being a climate leader; we want the university to lead the world in real solutions, not in greenwashing.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Monday, November 16, 2020

As soon as the Biden-Harris victory was confirmed, the media pivoted to a ritual rediscovery of "Democratic Divergence" between their moderate and progressive wings. This very obvious fact about a coalitional party, visible to all by1968, shouldn't distract us from the 2020 reality that the lifelong moderate Joe Biden campaigned for president as a progressive, and that every kind of Democrat gave him and Kamala Harris the largest popular vote in U.S. history. I note this as a reason not to be complacent.

There's a silver lining in the mixed results overall. Democrats lost part of their majority in the House and failed to flip seats in competitive Senate races in Iowa, Maine, Montana, North Carolina, and South Carolina. If they don't win both Georgia run-offs on January 5th, then Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell will continue to function as Washington's co-president, elected by 1.23 million voters in Kentucky, where he will control judicial appointments, environmental investment and fiscal policy, like his non-existent Covid-19 stimulus.

The silver lining?  Democrats have the chance to dig beneath their manifest differences to rebuild their intellectual foundations for the 2020s.  My goal for them is that they hold power as a center-left party that can protect more radical movements from the wholly toxic and destructive Republicans. But they can't do this unless they get the intellectual act together.

On the terrain covered by this blog, I noted last time that higher ed has internal contradictions and a weak overall narrative that, if not fixed, will keep it on the sidelines of the Biden Administration. The same is true for the Democrats on higher ed.  Their power is limited by the close election and Republican dominance in a majority of states, where public college funding is controlled. Longer term, their intellectual scope is limited, and not up to steering the economic and social forces currently in play. Though most of the great thinking being done about education is being done by people who at least vote Democrat, the Democrats as a party don't have a strong or even coherent tale about what higher education does. 

This might be okay.  The party itself may not be so relevant to a "scene that is irreducibly multiple," as Amanda Armstrong-Price reminds us about U.S. politics more broadly. But the major higher ed movements of the decade--student debt cancellation and free college--came about as partnerships (or collisions) between activists and national Democratic politicians.  This kind of synergy is useful and probably necessary in a country as dispersed and divided as the U.S. But real synergy will require intellectual transformation.


Taking him as he is, we can see Joe Biden doing a lot for higher ed with the executive branch. He can soon replace Betsy de Vos with someone much better (like former teacher-of-the-year, Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT), pictured above).  Most of Trump's damage to higher ed can be undone with executive actions (see the WaPo's good roundup of the coming "series of reversals" in K-12 and postsecondary federal policy; and also Michael Vasquez's overview of the higher ed portion in CHE). Biden can also do significant student debt reduction with executive actions. Congressional Democrats can push towards the version of free college that Biden supports.  Hope has been placed in the fact that the incoming First Lady, Jill Biden, is a working community college professor who was teased by Michelle Obama for grading papers on diplomatic trips.

And yet the Democrats' underlying narrative about higher ed isn't good.  It has allowed the party, over the decades, to participate fully in creating the student debt crisis, the student food and housing insecurity crisis, the faculty adjuncting crisis, and the crisis in core educational funding. I'll review a bit of this weakness as an example of what is required to enable Biden's effectiveness--and winning real Congressional power in 2022.

On the debt crisis, the government professor Suzanne Mettler showed that Democrats helped the Republicans erode the value of Pell grants as far back as the 1980s.

The compromises between [Democrats and Republicans] did not decimate the grants, but they took the entitlement option off the table and left benefit rates dwindling in real terms and falling well behind average tuition costs. Politicians in both parties found common ground instead on the expansion of student loans because that only required them to lift borrowing limits and waive restrictions on who could borrow. (Degrees of Inequality, 199)

35 years later, Biden has proposed the doubling of Pell grant ceilings that his party had previously managed only to tweak. But the deeper intellectual problem remains. The Democrats gave up "the entitlement option" that tied them to their only meaningful conceptual paradigm of the 20th century, in which people accessed relatively equivalent public goods like education with no reference to their personal market power.  The systemic racism built into the New Deal and Great Society programs starkly violated the universal entitlement, and in contrast built a legacy of white entitlement which damaged Black and brown lives and also U.S. democracy. But social rather than market allocation of essential goods remained a  distinctive conceptual lineage, one that the Democratic accommodation with Reaganism buried within the party. The parliamentary Democrats (elected officials and their managerial and financial apparatus) helped push ideas like free college out of its status as an established norm and widespread practice in the postwar period to a Left insurgency on the party fringes, from which it was rescued largely by Bernie Sanders in 2015. 

My point here is that non-market, rights-based allocation of educational goods isn't an inherently progressive position to be contrasted, as the media does, with centrist positions. It was the mainstream party position when the Democrats were in power, and it formed its only distinctive--and popular--conceptual frame.  (Its Dixiecrat segregationist base was popular but not distinctive.)

Democrats thought they'd invented a winning new paradigm after Bill Clinton's victory in 1992, but that helped create the problems we're facing now, starting with wholly unresolved white racism, inadequate public health systems, and economically dysfunctional, ethically indefensible economic inequality.  The New Democrat paradigm rested on attempts to get public benefits via the private sector, with the privatization of public revenue streams as the mechanism. A continuous side effect was the combination of higher costs and reduced and/or unequal services, that is, cuts in quantity and quality, usually both.  Democrats endlessly agonized over the legitimacy of health and welfare programs that did basic things like reduce childhood hunger, mostly because Republicans categorically denied it.

The private insurance-based health system is the most famous result of this ongoing history of cutting the private sector in as a provider, gatekeeper, and market allocator of public goods. It was preserved with Obamacare, improving an unpopular and exclusionary system in the classic New Democrat way--with higher government subsidies funneled through private firms so that the results of an unchanged system are more humane.

Putting their confused private--public good narrative into practice as standard Democratic coalitional compromise policy, the party got a reputation for not really solving the public problem at hand. As Biden's victory became more assured, Tressie McMillan Cottom and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote powerful analyses of the damage these policies have generally done to racial justice and to the public fabric of society.  Cottom demanded full accountability for Republican damage--not bipartisanship--which would include restoring the status of professional analysis. Taylor recounted the damage that Democratic management has done to Black communities, among others.  The Democrats, she writes, must deal with

the depth of the bipartisan failure to address the tangled roots of racism, poverty, and inequality. . . . [T]he overwhelming majority of Black voters backed Biden, but the fact is that millions of African-Americans experience the daily failures of Democratic officials to respond to the poor conditions of their public schools, the lack of affordable housing, rampant police harassment and brutality, and usurious loans. The answer to these legitimate grievances can’t simply be to say that they are Republican talking points.

What Taylor correctly describes as chronic policy failure is also intellectual failure. Both follow from corruption in more than one sense.  Focusing on the aggression of the progressive wing against the center (or vice versa) is a total diversion from the intellectual condition of the Democrats as a whole.  


A good place to study the thinking of this coalitional Democratic party is California, where it effectively rules as a one-party state.  The Democrats have a nearly 2:1 voter registration advantage over Republicans, who have fallen from a third to a quarter of registered voters over the past 20 years.  Both legislative houses have for years been near or above a 2:1 Democratic supermajority (the Assembly is currently 3:1).  This month, Biden-Harris beat Trump-Pence by a nearly 2:1 margin. The same ratio appeared, this time within the Democrats, in the 2020 presidential primary. Sanders and Warren together got about half the votes, and Biden about a quarter (with Bloomberg picking up another 12 percent). Okay there goes the 2:1 margin, but progressives by any measure are a majority of California Democrats. Color-coding in this Wikipedia chart nicely captures the extent of Democratic control.

This is the same period in which California became the fourth most unequal state by income (after New York, Connecticut, and Louisiana), acquired the highest poverty rate (geographically adjusted), and made housing unaffordability a permanent problem. By 2000, the California Democratic party had embraced the low-tax Proposition 13 framework and focused on deficit reduction and safety net programs that left business alone.  Parliamentary Democrats accepted that, beyond safety-net maintenance that the private sector won't touch, public goods would be defined and shaped (though decreasingly funded) by the private sector.

In the domain we follow here, higher education, the Democrats allowed the most diverse college student population in U.S. history to suffer a massive decline in real per-student public funding.  Here's the UC case, explained in detail in this post.

As the white share of UC undergrad enrollment fell, state investment fell in lockstep.  For ten years, Democrats said, "well, if we send you less tax money your studnets can pay you more tuition," then felt political heat for that, so they froze tuition, but without restoring the lost state funds.  In short, after two decades of liberal Democratic control of state government, UC has between 40 and 60 percent of the total per-student net revenues that it began the century with.  

As a result of Democratic underfunding, the state university systems encountered the Covid-19 pandemic without enough funds to operate absent new debt (UC took on another $1.5 billion in the summer, on top of overall institutional debt that has doubled in the past ten years). Neither Cal State nor UC could afford to open safely, even for a partial student body. 

There were two more reminders of the constant grinding shortfalls last week. The Legislative Analyst's Office reported that most campuses in both systems have enough uncommitted reserves to cover only a week or two of operations.  And materials for the upcoming UC regents meeting identify $25 billion in facilities needs through 2026 that have no identified funding source.


There's one more Democrat policy area I want to discuss, where the economy and higher education meet.  The Democrats wholly committed themselves to human capital theory, which among other things defined bachelor's degrees and their student debt through the wage return on a financial investment. Non-monetary and social benefits were downgraded or completely ignored.  Human capital theory was always flawed. I wrote about this in The Great Mistake (Stage 8), and will have more to say elsewhere (this week I'm reading what looks like a major intervention, The Death of Human Capital?, as part of ongoing research on a new political economy for education.) 

Though it sounds odd to say, human capital theory entails the privatization of work itself.  It treats individual capabilities as a private good rather than as something that is created through social processes and is always interpersonal; it sets wages and working conditions with no regard for their political and social conditions or effects.  (See Wendy Brown's Undoing the Demos for a definitive analysis of these.) Executive pay and founders' fortunes reflect, in reality, their beneficiaries' institutional and social power, not an objective valuation of a true contribution.  

Human capital theory has had many practical effects. One is that Democrats agree with Republicans on seeing capital gains, real estate, and very high net worth as entirely private goods, which makes them very hard to tax, even at the rate of wage labor. Another is that Democrats have participated in converting employees, entitled to benefits and legal protections, into contractors, without these benefits and protections. In this model, contractors voluntarily enter into private contracts as entrepreneurs of their human capital.

This Democratic confusion played out in several propositions up for a vote on the California ballot. There were three notable anti-progressive outcomes in the midst of a 2:1 Democratic majority vote, all of which implicate the university.

Proposition 15: Taxing commercial property at its market price.  This was another unsuccessful attempt to qualify Prop 13 from 1978, which tied property tax assessments on all property, commercial and residential, to the original purchase price and capped the tax rate at 1 percent of that value (plus a 2% annual increase).  California property owners keep the full value of the difference between purchase and sale price (doubling and tripling is not unusual if you stay put for a while), and don't have to share those gains with the state on an annual basis, though schools and other infrastructure, which must be funded annually, contribute to the property's value).  In the residential market, tying today's taxes to the prices of yesterday benefits the old over the young, who are doubly penalized by paying the newer, inflated purchase prices, which subsidize the capped taxes of the old.  Older homeowners are whiter, so racial injustice is also unofficial state tax policy. The artificially-lowered property tax dopes property values, letting asset price inflation sustain a housing crisis.  The situation with commercial property is even more irrational, and Prop 15 focused only on that, but it lost anyway. I've heard lots of tales of why--the hypocrisy and individualist selfishness of Californians is always a popular one. My candidate is the limit to Democratic thought that I've been discussing, which prevents it from advocating a public-investment model of private property that would allow proper taxation. 

Proposition 16 (to restore affirmative action).  This measure came from legislative Democrats, was oddly worded, appeared late, and had little money behind it, so faced an uphill battle (such was the KQED Forum verdict). I'd also point out that Democrats were unable to move from what I'd call the Level 1 justification for affirmative action to Level 2. Level 1 is that affirmative action is needed to breach an exclusionary white majority lock on an institution.  But in California, the most visible sites of contestation over race-conscious affirmative action--college admissions---now have minority-white student bodies (see the chart above). Voters might assume that on the goal of racial diversity, it is mission accomplished. The Level 2 justification for affirmative action is the persistence of both racism and racial inequality, very much including graduation gaps, student debt gaps, wealth gaps, and income gaps.  But these are issues that human capital theory (and the neoliberalism that rests on it) place in the private realm, as not a matter of public policy. Thus it's been decades since Democrats in any numbers espoused racial equality of outcome (proportionate admissions, income and wealth parity, etc.) as a vital goal. So party members would have no reason to turn out in force for affirmative action.

Proposition 22. (excepting some tech companies' contractors from re-conversion to employees via Assembly Bill 5). This was put on the ballot by a few Silicon Valley transportation companies, including Uber and Lyft.  AB 5 had been an example of parliamentary Democrats deciding in effect to rein in human capital theory, which was allowing some wealthy companies to evade labor law and force drivers to bear the structural costs of their employment privately.  Prop 22's passage (reverting drivers to contractors) exposed yet again the issue of whether the Valley will be allowed to use tech to force workers to negotiate the value of their  individual capital with huge platforms, whose size will allow the latter always to win the argument.  Prop 22 succeeded in part because of the tech plutocracy's access to customers' apps and their $200 million ad spend. But it also succeeded because the Democratic party has no clear intellectual critique of the political economy of the "independent" contractor. 

For example, on a Forum discussion of the proposition, a caller named Nick from San Rafael said this:

I voted to allow workers to stay independent--I voted for 22. I did it with mixed emotions. I just fundamentally believe that AB 5 is bad law. The most charitable description is that it has so many carve-outs for anybody who had friends in Sacramento that it doesn't have any teeth. but the practical effect has been really devastating to a lot of my friends. I'm over forty and I work in marketing, and if you're over 40 and you work in marketing you're probably a free-lancer. And if you're a freelancer in California, you didn't get any work this year. It's been a bad year for everybody. So I felt, not why shouldn't these Uber drivers be independent: I thought why shouldn't everyone? And it really frustrated me the way the conversation has been framed  as these big bad tech companies are trying to get away with it, when the reality is,  it's so hard to do business in California.  And trust me, it's easy to hire freelancers and contractors in other states. My downside to Prop 22 passing is now there's no muscle to fight AB 5 in Sacramento. . . . it's a classic story of posturing politicians, and I'm worried about my friends who don't have the money to fund a Prop 23 for themselves.

Nick's logic is a bit death drivey--California contractors had no work this year, so everyone should be contractors.  And AB 5 shouldn't prevent them from underbidding competitors in lower-cost states, so they can't afford to live in California.  Sam Harnett, KQED's Silicon Valley reporter, shot back, "why isn't [Nick] an employee with benefits and protections"? This didn't seem to cross Nick's mind. Nick's comment about "mixed emotions" makes me think he's a Democrat, which is also why he has no systemic critique of contracting. 

Marketing is one of the major career paths of non-STEM college grads, which puts universities in the position of enacting a human capital theory that makes the precarity of their (usually indebted) graduates that much more likely.  Even the people who go to college for personal development rather than marketable skills expect the degree to lead to relatively secure work. That is no longer happening,  and yet graduates of any age cannot turn to the Democrats for a worked-out conceptual alternative to white-collar precarity.  Nick in fact directed his wrath at Democrats rather than at the tech companies the Dems were trying for once to corral.  One likely reason is that he didn't see an underlying intellectual case. 

Universities are damaged by all three of these trends. Majorities want to keep state-suppressed property tax rates, which makes housing unaffordable for most university employees and students. Majorities don't support the strong forms of racial equality that should be a core public benefit of higher education. Majorities don't support secure employment for either non-college or college workers--and many of the latter don't either.

The common theme of these failures is the Democrats' tendency to hop on and off and on the Republican bandwagon of low taxes, racial laissez-faire, and business sovereignty over employees. They share a human capital theory until it gets a little too cruel. The immediate problem isn't the gap between the Democratic party's center and left, but that the party as a whole has not, for many years, narrated a clear alternative to the Republican paradigm.

Democrats now have to explain that government isn't a safety net. It's a coordinator, creator, orchestrator of collective effort--both builder and purchaser of goods in common (health, knowledge, transit, safety, justice, collective change). Democrats have to teach everyone in reach that public spending cannot be replaced by private spending for a wide range of fundamental public goods. That includes private tuition for university degrees. 

Nothing is going to get better in the coming era without more collective construction of common systems. The systems we have now, dominated by the self-interest of various firms and sectors (Uber, etc), are inefficient and unjust. We need structures that can transform climate change, warfare, poverty, migration, and human ignorance into better forms.  The current policy mashup, hatched in the 1990s, won't work. Really sophisticated governments will be essential.  Anti-masker individualism is finished as positive force: it can only generate a long series of national setbacks.  Democrats need a real story line about all this.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Trump will declare victory in the presidential election this week, but he will be lying, and after a ludicrous amount of maneuvering and some high-stakes drama in our McConnell-packed Federalist Society courts, Joe Biden will assume the battered office. Trump's infantile Rightism will be out of the White House, though not off the airwaves or the streets.

A long struggle of rebuilding will (re)start next year. The function of Democrats in my lifetime has been to clean up each Republican mess (Obama did mild financial re-regulation while paying down the Bush deficit) and get the country back to the starting gate.  We've had just two Democratic presidents in the last forty years, and the Republicans treated neither of them as legitimate. There was Whitewater and impeachment for Bill, and birtherism and blockage for Barack. Joe Biden can expect the same. 

His administration will need to work on twenty issues at once, and higher education will be about 18th, if it makes the list at all. Biden has a lot of social justice to do. He will also have to deal with a model of capitalism that's at the end of its functional life.

For higher ed, there's likely to be some immediate good news in a new stimulus bill in a Democrat-majority Senate.  Last spring, colleges got $14 billion from CARES (on a $50 billion request), only $7 billion of which could go to operations.  The later House bill that the Senate ignored (the HEROES Act) had $27 billion for higher ed. The American Council on Education has estimated the base need of colleges and universities to be $120 billion (for operating losses and increased Covid costs).  Even the full amount would just get colleges and universities back to square one. But getting some large percentage of a new $120 billion would stabilize the situation for the current academic year.

On the national flashpoints of high tuition and student debt, Biden, unless there's popular pressure, will stick with damage control. (Paul Basken has a good overview.) He has campaigned on a diluted version of the Sanders-Warren positions. He proposes free community college, free 4-year college for people from families earning under $125,000, and a cap on loan repayments at 5 percent of discretionary income for 20 years, after which both balance and interest are "forgiven."  In their valuable new report on free college, Georgetown's Center for Education and the Workforce has priced Biden's plan at about $50 billion in the first year, which would be a more than 25 percent increase in government support for  higher ed.  It's a pretty good "first dollar" plan that would offer better support for poor students and students of color. Biden should actually do this, right away. (It would help him hold the Senate in 2022 . . . )

However, the university is not actually the subject of Biden's proposal. The plan is "for education beyond high school."  It is very much about workforce training for mid-skill and middle-income jobs.  Free college and debt relief are way down the webpage, requiring repeated scrolling to find.  Biden notes that his wife is a community college professor, and that there are 30 million jobs paying around $55,000 that require education beyond high school but not a college degree.  

Community colleges are great, but Biden has no vision of educational effects or transformative powers. He doesn't quite have a 1990s New Economy human capital argument about the value of complex  cognitive powers through bachelors' degrees.  Obama was the same, seeing college as workforce development, with an emphasis on the kinds of jobs New Democrats helped Republicans ship overseas.  The model is patronizing and outdated.  It will have little economic benefit. And it won't do nearly enough for today's precarious students, who need full college and not the cut-rate version.

Higher ed is clinging to its individual monetary impacts after decades of lowering it with tuition hikes and student debt, and at the moment when capitalism is facing the death of human capital as we know it. It has tried to pivot to "social mobility," but this is the same thing--private pecuniary gain--measured differently. Colleges and universities need to redefine their roles in society. The Biden Administration will offer an stage, but all the dancing and singing will have to be done by social movements and by the people in universities.

There's this problem of not yet being back in the starting gate. Colleges and universities are fairly busted up inside. Their various constituencies have been set against each other. Here are the main fractures that need to be addressed.

1. Student Debt. Present and former students have had to address this crisis with little help and much opposition from universities. The white tax-revolt backlash that started in the 1970s always required high tuition, which in turned entailed high student debt. Nothing has damaged the public status of higher ed like high tuition and high debt have done, but administrators and most faculty continue to look to tuition hikes as their main fiscal strategy. Debt Collective's Can't Pay Won't Pay has just come out, as a leading example of a movement that universities need to join if they are going to regain public credibility.

2. Funding Cuts.  This is happening again under Covid.  When all is said and done, regular public funding cuts represent the deliberate forcing into mediocrity of the popular, public side of a higher ed system so it can't increase social equality.  Cuts are a classic example of systemic racism: the halving of per-student state support in California exactly tracks the declining share of whites in UC's student population. We're facing a new round of program closures plus a number of suspended PhD programs, particularly in the social sciences and humanities.  Universities and their godawful governing boards haven't attacked this crisis systematically, made a huge fuss, named names, denounced their political enemies, and figured out how to make them lose.  Universities don't care enough, because it's the students who pick up the tab in the form of higher tuition and lowered educational quality. Colleges have supported this extractive model.

3. Social Injustice. The current funding model has made college an engine of inequality: Black and brown students are most likely to go to the colleges with the fewest resources that reliability produce the lowest graduation rates.  The same is true for first generation and working-class students. Many are now being pushed by Covid back into for-profit debt mills because these have pre-existing proficiency with fully online ed.  Governments are doing nothing. The role of highly selective colleges has become completely absurd--they function as rejection factories that are to confer special title on the survivors.  As the new wave of critiques of meritocracy shows, they are protecting stratification rather than fighting it.  Even people who don't care about racial justice hate the renewed Stanfordization of the entire college system, where exclusivity is the sign of quality.  As they embrace individual social mobility as their major social benefit, they are staked to preserve economic inequality as the backdrop.  This is a total crisis for college's social mission, and a cauldron of hatred for the sector that goes well beyond the proverbial Trump lover.

4. Dreadful Governance. There's of course UC's self-serving regents, but they are fairly typical of boards that subject universities to external forces rather than cultivating their campuses by finding them resources and supporting their independence.  An important Chronicle of Higher Education study of governing boards showed that only 1 in 5 members go through a "meaningful bipartisan check."  Republican boards try to impose their political views directly onto faculty and students, while Democratic boards try to impose permanent austerity. Neither group knows much or cares about actual research and teaching, though both are preoccupied with increasing their direct control.  Both parties reliably give Black and brown students less money than their white forebears, though they talk differently about that. In short, cultures in which authority exceeds knowledge do not thrive over time. University boards present a classic organizational problem, and the divisions among major constituencies sown by their unaccountability  has undermined the entire sector.

5. Faculty Withdrawal.  In the major conflicts of the past thirty years, most tenured faculty have been  absent. A fairly small group works on important institutional issues they know well-- police abolition, admissions equity, faculty diversification, grad student unionization, among others.  Meanwhile, the majority of tenure-track faculty are completely silent on budgeting, administrative accountability, pseud-integration, and other major policy questions. Faculty senates work hard to prevent the worst, but they are 99 percent on the defensive. The AAUP and unions have done excellent emergency work, but are generally too busy putting out fires to rebuild the garden shed, to say nothing of the actual house. Rank and file TT folks have not developed an alternative to the austerity university for colored children or fought persistently over resources.  They have not fought obsessively against the adjunctification of the majority of their own ranks. This fracturing of TT from NTT faculty, and faculty from staff and students, is at the root of higher ed's status as a political basket case.

So there are some problems. 

There are also many many signs of academic mobilization. Just to stick with faculty: there has been good organization against anti-Black racism and campus police, for a New Deal for Higher Education, development of groups like Tenure for the Common Good, not to mention union campaigns against adjunct layoffs at CUNY, Ohio University, and many other places. The disaster has galvanized a broad counter-response.

One huge thing that must happen now is the writing of new stories for higher ed. Universities desperately need narratives about who they really are and what they really do. Such narratives are usually written for them. This is the most fundamental activity today of governing boards--to capture and define the story of the university for business, society, and the university itself.

With this in mind, I was happy to find the statement that the Berkeley Faculty Association wrote a couple of weeks ago. Called The University We Are For, it insists that higher ed admin should actively endorse the campaign to re-invest in public universities, noting that the “Keep California’s Promise” Campaign (or “the $66 fix,” for the $66 it would cost the median California taxpayer annually) would restore state funding of all sectors of California public higher education to their 2000 levels." 

At a time when Black Lives Matter movements are working to challenge systemic racism, the Berkeley Faculty Association insists that public higher education should not rise in cost and fall in quality at the moment that the historically excluded are at the university gates. . . . Social justice requires a bolder approach: one that sees California public higher education as an instrument of reparations for the historically excluded; one that seeks to renew its promise now, when it is most necessary.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Friday, October 9, 2020

Neither major party has one, for higher ed or for anything else. Higher ed boards and presidents don't either. (Pictured at left: UC Regents Gareth Elliott, John Pérez, and Sherry Lansing.)  Rebuilding this system is pretty much up to us.

I say this because however universities' operations people struggle to hold fall term together, the larger policy response has lost its grip on the unfolding disaster.  The most vulnerable students are disproportionately dropping out, academic programs are being closed, doctoral programs are being suspended, early-career women faculty's academic futures are put in jeopardy, student enrollments have been further destabilized, and testing and tracing regimes are too uneven to assure general reopening in spring.

There's also higher ed employment. At the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dan Bauman pulled together data on the worst higher ed employment collapse since modern statistics began. Since March 2020, the sector has lost seven percent of its workforce.  Here's the gruesome chart.

The rising employment trend you see largely tracked student enrollment growing by about 25 percent in this period. When Covid hit, most universities hadn't fully recovered from the Great Recession.  Employment during that downturn merely went sideways, rather than going off a cliff.   Now it is going off a cliff.

The minds of policymakers and governing boards have been dulled by promises of a V-shaped recession. Everything is supposed to bounce back when dorms and classrooms re-open.  You can see a small bounce above.

A bounceback in employment requires both political will and money. The two are linked.  In Bauman's other chart, note where the bouncing is not happening.

In spite of all the rhetoric about access and inclusion, politicians are not allocating money to the institutions--largely public--that offer those.  Everyone is concerned about the diversity of the academic pipeline.  Collapsing higher ed employment, much in various kinds of student services, squeezes the pipeline at its most diverse point.   (Private colleges both wealthy and reputable are also suffering: Ithaca College has announced a plan to cut 25 percent of its faculty.)

Lying behind this is the negative role now adopted by state governments. They applied austerity and helped deepen the Great Recession. They are playing the same destructive role againRepublican state governments are cutting higher ed. But Democratic state governments do the same, with New York and California in the forefront.  In spite of what you hear around UC, the Democratic legislature gave UC's general fund a 12.2 percent cut (details here).

Legislators and governors blame a Covid crash in tax receipts. States are having a terrible tax revenue year:  some expect to lose a fifth or even a third of their budgets (CBPP's State Budget Watch has an appalling chart of estimates state by state.)  But this problem is partially self-inflected. States can raise revenues by raising taxes on people and business that have wealth and income. Covid has been bad for labor and good for capital; bad for lower incomes and okay for higher.  Legislators could pass a solidarity income tax surcharge on high earners. They could pass a Facebook tax, a Google tax, an Apple tax, a Microsoft tax, and especially an Oracle tax; in New York they could pass a Goldman Sachs tax, etc. These would be taxes on the very wealthy and currently prosperous individuals and sectors these companies represent.  But today's Democrats are no more likely to pass even temporary taxes than are Republicans.

What about governing boards?  They are fiduciary authorities, and their job is to maintain the revenues that allow for the full functioning of their institutions.  In California, that means money to pay for non-commodity learning and (always) money-losing research while minimizing the debt of students emerging from a population with Deep South levels of economic inequality and the nation's number one poverty rate (corrected for cost of living), while dealing with Covid losses and added expenses. Instead of taking a $500 million cut, the regents should be pounding the table for a $1-2 billion raise.

(The same goes for senior people in public health, fire fighting, forest and other environmental remediation, disaster relief, housing and community rebuilding--all leading to using the full rainy day fund, raising taxes now to meet actual urgent needs, hiring unemployed people to do all the work of reconstruction, which would massively stimulate economic activity, tax receipts, etc.  Keynes did live and write his books, and he and his heirs are still correct. )

Given the need and the possibility, what happened at the UC Regents meeting? After the budgetary vaguenesses of their July meeting, board chair John Pérez demanded real data in September.  In September, there were if anything fewer data than in July.  UCOP presented a lesson on the 2009 furloughs.  The one bright spot was that it was interpreted to mean that furloughs aren't a magic bullet. The discussion gave the regents the chance to favor steep progressivity in the furloughs that they said they didn't want to impose, and also to oppose layoffs of frontline staff.

Fine, but there was no plan, and also very little data. For example:

There are no numbers attached to any of these very significant problems.  How bad is the total problem?  No one really asked, and UCOP folks didn't really say.  UCOP works to demobilize the regents, and vice versa, and anyone who wants to rally for the cause of proper Covid funding is cast outside the pale.

The low moment in the charade of deep uncertainty was the refusal to admit that the federal bailout is not going to happen, and getting proactive about the fact that the Democratic cut of 12.2% will start in the current year.  I noted in my last budget post that this is really at 20% cut from the regents' fairly modest request of November 2019.  But not a word about the problems this will present to campuses, faculty, staff, and students.

Rather than saying the feds won't save us, pushing the regents to demand a new deal from the state, UCOP continued to suggest the money will come. Dan Mitchell reports that in an October 6th meeting, a regental committee was told that even if they miss the October 15th deadline (a dead certainty), the state may get money later from a Biden administration and pass some on mid-year to UC.  This isn't planning but wishful thinking, and a commercial investor would dump the stock.

In one case, the slide title belied the data.

In fact, August losses increased again. Given the state's erratic Covid suppression, medical center losses may continue to increase.  The regents' asked no questions about this.  The routine is pretty well established: every regents meeting features UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood mechanically intoning that UCSF isn't really losing money after all--it has a "positive EBITA." Nobody asks him, given $850 million in med center revenue losses, what the hell he's talking about.  But the effect is to create enough uncertainty to dull the sense of urgency. 

Discussion of borrowing capacity has the same effect. UCOP's Nathan Brostrom noted new bond revenues of $1.5 billion over the summer, plus $10 B in available liquidity in STIP, and, in passing, identified another $5-6 billion in further borrowing capacity.  So UCOP makes the regents feel that cash flow is in very good shape.  Regent Lark Park observed at some length that the legislature has too many problems to give UC more money.  Regent Pérez said that the goal is smoothing losses so that they are spread out over several years.  Between the regents's desire to protect the legislative Democrats from the University, and their desire to avoid responsibility for layoffs, they will support further borrowing and campus cuts spread out over 2-5 years.  UCOP and the Board are locking in years of campus cuts where there is already nothing left to cut, but without ever actually saying so.

Earlier, new president Drake gave a short introductory talk that mentioned good things like rising awareness of systemic racism while never mentioning the budget.  His lack of affect and vague formulations said "caretaker president." I hope I misheard, since pressure tactics are required.

New Senate chair Mary Gauvin committed the Senate to supporting the Green New Deal project developed by UCSD faculty, and said good things about the need for greater mutual support during the pandemic.  She also said nothing about the budget-- or about the shared governance crisis.  All these good projects require money. But nobody would talk about the money.

The effect is a denial of the size of the budget problem.  In August, I detailed the possibility of a 16.6% reduction in 2020-21 revenues from January projections. What data in the September meeting refuted this? There is some good news, like resident student enrollments holding up. But UCOP offered no specific data that could dismantle a middle scenario like mine, much as I would like that to happen. 

Groups like UCOP and the Board of Regents can't fend off the worst because they won't openly plan for it, or even mention it. They can't negotiate a no-cuts budget with the legislature because they don't explain why it's necessary. Much of the damage to public universities after 2008 was self-inflicted.  We are watching the same exact internal leadership failure happening again.  Its first victims will be the lower-income employees and most vulnerable students that Democratic governing boards want to protect. 

The current board--presidential system hasn't worked well for a while. In my next post, I'll suggest a distributed governing system that would do better.