F is for Failure


to The Regents of the University of California, meeting July 14, 2010

by Charles Schwartz, Professor Emeritus of Physics, UC Berkeley

F is for Failure

It should be clear that the UC Commission on the Future has been a failure. Regent Gould and President Yudof have spent the last year rooting about in the underbrush of the University but have failed to come up with any plausible ideas on how to solve the long-term financial problem. The reason is simply that they never took the trouble to state openly and clearly what the problem is. It is not about funding for undergraduate education; it is about funding for the core research mission of the university.

The only path they offer will be a continued escalation of the tuition that you charge undergraduate students – although they are already paying for the entire cost of their own education – and that is how this great public university joins the club of private universities.

Let me show you another aspect of this same disease – the failure to provide a clear and truthful picture of how UC spends its money.  I’ll quote from a recent article published by Jon Coupal, the president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

“As California faces an unprecedented budget crisis, students at California colleges have been asked to pay a greater share of the total cost of their education, most of which is still borne by taxpayers. …taxpayers pay 60-70% of the cost of CSU and UC students’ education, without even counting financial aid.”

Those numbers are false; but they come right from here – from the Regents’ Budget, which is published by the UC President and his staff.

How can you hope to gain public support when you don’t tell the truth about where the money goes?  This is the main duty of the Board of Regents; and you are all failing to meet your public obligations.


for further related commentary, I recommend Chris Newfield’s latest post at


  1. Dan Stamper-Kurn said,

    July 15, 2010 @ 11:31 am

    Dear Chuck,

    I agree that the Commission on the Future seems not to have tackled the full depth of the funding problem at the University, providing only suggestions for trimming at the margins and a set of inconsequential affirmations of the University’s purported mission. I would have preferred a more focused presentation of scenarios along the lines of “If State support for the University drops permanently by another X billion dollars per year, the University must operate as follows.”

    I disagree with your premise that the costs of the teaching and research activities of the University need be separately identified and funded. It is plausible that the cost to students of a college education should match the value of that education, for example and crassly in terms of increased lifetime wages. In this light it may be argued that the research activities of the University add value to its educational offerings; certainly this is the pricing model for a private University. It is then up to the California taxpayer to decide whether this per-student cost should be borne by the society as a whole, in the form of State support, or by the student. The present political trend, in California and nationwide, is to place the burden more fully on the student who receives the value of a University education, rather than regarding education as contributing to the greater good. It is not up to the Commission for the Future or the UC faculty to make this political decision. Rather, it is our obligation to figure out how to operate once the politics are decided.

    Thanks for promoting such discussions,


  2. Charles Schwartz said,

    July 15, 2010 @ 12:40 pm


    Thanks for joining in the discussion. I think there are two questions related to the cost of undergraduate education. One is: What does UC now spend on undergraduate education (as reasonably separated from the cost of other worthy missions). And the other is: What should we charge undergraduates as a fair (or market driven) payment for the value of the education we provide?

    Private universities consider only the second question. We, as a public institution, have some obligation to provide an answer to the first. Indeed, I think answering the first question is a necessary precursor to any rational debate over the second question.

    At the outset, one should be aware of how absurd is the present method for calculating the cost of undergraduate education: ALL of the cost of professors’ academic year salary (plus departmental support staff) is counted as an expenditure for Instruction and is the basis for calculating the per-student cost of education. I agree that there is some contribution of faculty research to undergraduate teaching (and this is included in my analysis); but the accounting standard used by UC (and other research universities) implies that there is no other purpose for faculty research other than to enrich their teaching of undergraduates. That is nonsense, of course, but that is the official habit of accounting.

    This bloated accounting habit has definite negative impacts, as follows. When UC says that student fees cover only 30% or 40% of the cost of their education, that tells legislators (and other citizens, as recently noted in an article from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association) that those students are getting a 60% or 70% free ride at taxpayer expense – so let’s cut UC’s budget and have the students pay more of the cost for what benefits them personally.


  3. This Week In Ideas | ★Mobilize Berkeley★ said,

    July 31, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

    […] University Probe: F is for Failure It should be clear that the UC Commission on the Future has been a failure. […]

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