Responding to the Governor

WHAT DO WE (UC faculty) DO NOW?

Charles Schwartz, UC Berkeley

Rather than just waiting for delivery of the Governor’s proposed increase in funding for higher education, the University should engage in some needed fiscal reforms to convince the rest of the state that their reinvestment will be well spent. Foremost is a need to clean up some bad habits of the UC administration; and such reform is unlikely to come from the top. So here is a worthy campaign for the faculty to take on.


The new (January 6, 2010) educational initiative announced by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger – to put funding for higher education above funding for prisons – surprised many of us. (Not all were surprised, since we also saw a rapid deluge of favorable press releases coming from the leaders of UC.)

The Governor has proposed a Constitutional Amendment that would set state funding for UC (University of California) and CSU (California State Universities) at a minimum of 10 percent of the state General Fund budget while limiting the state’s prison budget to a maximum of 7% of that General Fund. (In recent years the funding of those two sectors has been roughly in the reverse proportions.)

What does this mean for those of us who have been engaged in the ongoing struggle to save UC from the twin perils (Scylla and Charybdis) of mediocrity and privatization?

First we note the letter issued by Berkeley’s Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, in which he claims credit for this bonanza:

We commend Governor Schwarzenegger for taking this strong stance in response to the efforts of UCOP leadership to restore funding for the university.  Across the UC campuses, including our own, we have all been working hard to convince Sacramento of the critical importance to our State of investment in public higher education.

But it is also worth noting this report (in The New York Times, January 7, 2010)

“Those protests on the U. C. campuses were the tipping point,” the governor’s chief of staff, Susan Kennedy, said in an interview after the speech. “Our university system is going to get the support it deserves.”

And most of us on this campus know what a distance there has been between the Chancellor and the protestors.

So, now, what do we think of this? Do we just sit back and wait for new money to flow in, solving all our troubles?  Or is there some clear direction that we may undertake to help assure that desirable outcome?

None of us knows the future but we can use our minds to try to glimpse alternative possibilities.  Below are my own thoughts.

In the short term, I see Schwarzenegger’s initiative as helpful in avoiding the rush to decision-making.  The Regents’ Commission on the Future seemed to me as nothing more than a fig leaf to cover the push for faster privatization of UC. The discourse at the regents meeting in July 2009 seemed to say: One Year is all the time we have to solve the problem of unreliable state funding, before top quality research faculty abandon UC for greener (academic) pastures. Now the Governor has placed a new option on the table that allows us all to say, Wait, Let’s try to make this work.

What are the likely oppositions to Schwarzenegger’s plan?

To answer that, we can start by acknowledging some other plans that have attracted much attention throughout the University. There is George Lakoff’s plan, an initiative for the November 2010 ballot that seeks to restore “majority rule” in California by eliminating the requirement of 2/3 vote in the Legislature for any tax or budget measures (See http://www.californiansfordemocracy.com/ ). There is also Stan Glantz’s calculation that it will require only $4.6 Billion in additional annual funding to restore UC and CSU to their good level of state funding as last seen in 2001 (See http://keepcaliforniaspromise.org/?p=553 ). Both of those proposals, as well as the Governor’s will face opposition from that sector of the California population (and their elected officials) who have a strong aversion to more taxes, more state spending, especially when they see that spending as wasteful in one way or another.

What is significant about all three proposals mentioned above (Schwarzenegger, Lakoff, Glantz) is that each one of them simply asks for more public money to be given to the University without requiring anything in return, other than more of the same.

Now, California’s system of higher education has done a wonderful job of serving California citizens since the inauguration of the Master Plan in 1960. So, “more of the same” has a lot going for it. But we are also well aware that there have been substantial problems (bad management and bad public relations) in the way that UC has handled its financial matters.

Mark Baldassare, President of the Public Policy Institute of California made a presentation to the regents’ Commission on the Future on November 12 in which he reported on their recent survey of public opinion regarding higher education in this state. (See http://ucfuture.universityofcalifornia.edu/presentations/ ) When asked to summarize his findings and give his advice to the Commission, Baldassare said,

The majority of Californians, and large proportions in every political and demographic group, say that they believe that major changes are needed in our public colleges and universities; and they believe that the approach to that is a combination of spending money wisely and increasing taxes.  So I really think it is important, particularly at a time when people are looking for accountability from their public institutions, that some combination of what we might refer to as efficiency or effectiveness, responsiveness, plus revenues, taxing, and accountability has to be in that package.

That leads me to suggest this general plan:

We, the UC Faculty, should undertake a bold initiative to reform the mistaken financial priorities and practices of our own University administration – and this effort should be part of any campaign to restore adequate state funding for our multiple missions of teaching, research and public service.

Here is a tentative list of specific critiques and proposed remedies.

Changes for the UC Administration

I. Cap executive compensation as recommended by the Berkeley Division in 1992.

II. Justify or remove excess management that has been documented.

III. Tell the truth about UC’s average cost for providing undergraduate education.

IV. Provide transparent accounting for how student fees are spent.

V. Provide annual disclosure of how all discretionary funds are allocated.

Changes for the Board of Regents

I. Recognize and repair the harm done by excessive intrusion of big business values into the academic community.

II. Consider some basic democratization, in order to make The Regents more accountable to the California public, whose university this is.

(For some background on these issues, see my recent posting, http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~schwrtz/ToTheCommission.pdf ).

This list is not meant to be definitive but only an opening suggestion. Let all interested faculty members engage in open debate about what to add, what to change, how best to formulate this set of proposals and how best to assemble a large consensus of faculty support for this plan.

As for process, I would not advocate asking the Academic Senate to undertake this study and debate. That institution, especially at its higher levels, is closely tied in with the existing administrative apparatus; and so it is unlikely that they would have the freedom to be as critical of those same top executives as may need to be done.  When this work is completed, as an independent, grassroots faculty initiative, it may then be brought forward to the Academic Senate asking for a formal endorsement by the full membership.

5 Comments

  1. Patricia A. Small said,

    January 12, 2010 @ 2:17 pm

    The Governor, or any Governor should stop saying __% of the budget as a minimun or a cap. That is how the State has gotten into out budget mess.

    A budget should be priorities, accountability and some review of growth rates and inflation rates.

    The UC system will not improve with more money or a guarantee. The university will improve with better educated kids coming in (where the real education problem resides) along with accounatbility of its cost structure versus revenues.
    Good luck!

  2. Bob Samuels said,

    January 13, 2010 @ 8:05 am

    As I have written on my blog, http://changinguniversities.blogspot.com/2009/11/how-regents-sold-university-down-river.html, Alberto Torrico’s bill on taxing oil extraction is a great start to accomplish many of these important goals. The bill creates an oversight committee to see if the additional money going to the UC is actually spent on instruction and research and not on administration. The unions are also asking the state to audit the UC’s budget and to look at such things as which funds are really restricted, how state funds are spent, what happens to research overhead, and how administrative salaries are funded. If the faculty would undertake their audit that would be a great help.

  3. Jessea Greenman said,

    January 19, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

    Hi. I’ve worked as nonacademic staff at UC Berkeley since 1989. It’s WONDERFUL to see that Patricia A. Small, former UC Treasurer, has posted! A serious concern for me and for UC should also be that the Governor’s proposed budget “gives” UC $313M more than last year while cutting social services. Many of us cannot feel ok about getting money basically taken from seniors, the disabled, people on food stamps, etc. Yudof’s comment about this tradeoff is particularly revealing: he basically acknowledged that, for UC to get more money from the state, other things must be cut [since no one is talking about raising taxes] and says that’s ok because we are the economic engine of the state.

  4. Brighton Earley said,

    February 3, 2010 @ 1:59 am

    Let your representatives know of your qualms using UCs own letter writing campaign – just send out a modified version of their standard letter: http://www.ucforcalifornia.org/uc4ca/home/

    For example:

    “I write to you today as an advocate for the University of California and to encourage you to support full funding for UC in the 2010-11 fiscal year. UC is a powerful engine of economic growth and social advancement and will be essential in the knowledge economy of the future. Money spent on the University should not be viewed as a cost but as an investment in the future of California.

    However, particularly at a time when people are looking for accountability from their public institutions, it is equally important that this short-term action goes hand in hand with a long-term investment in accountability and transparency on the part of the University of California. Therefore I also urge you to, at the same time, support a State audit of the financial priorities and practices of the UC administration.

    The University is requesting that $913 million be restored to its budget in order to sustain its commitment to students and families and all the residents of California. It is vital that the State reinvest in the University of California! It is equally vital that the University of California be refashioned so that it can employ those funds to the maximum benefit of its students and to maintain its excellence in research and teaching.

    In addition to addressing the University’s short-term budget shortfall, I urge you to engage in serious discussions around the Governor’s proposal to enact a constitutional amendment for public higher education that would guarantee UC and the California State University system at a minimum of 10 percent of the State’s General Fund budget, and to support a State audit of the financial priorities and practices of the UC administration.

    I thank you for your time and attention and appreciate your consideration of my views.”

  5. Michael Smith said,

    March 11, 2010 @ 6:27 am

    As a parent of a UC student and UC-bound student, I support my children’s quest for higher education financially though I am of limited financial means. I was recently made aware of Professor Charles Schwartz’ effort to address UC accountability by my daughter who is now of age as an independent and who will bear the brunt of the increased financial burden imposed by the UC system herself. This coming year, I will struggle to financially support my son’s transition to a UC school from the community college system.

    Like many citizens, I have maintained a sense of ignorance and subjugation of the UC system believing that I am powerless to its monolithic hegemony over higher public education in California.

    I have been asked by my children to take action toward the cause of accountability of the UC/CSU system. To that end, I am contacting my assemblyman, state senator, the governor (including prospective gubernatorial candidates) and the press to investigate and resolve the issue of UC/CSU expenditures and accountability. Though I am of limited financial means, I am duty bound by my parental obligation to my children to stand up and take an activist role for their benefit.

    Many thanks to Professor Schwartz and others who are leading the charge in this most important crusade. Working together, we can make our voices heard by our elected representatives and seek the fiscal prudence and justice that California’s populace deserves; a UC/CSU system with a focus on its core mission – to provide higher education to all students who wish to achieve a post-secondary degree.

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