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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.