google-site-verification: googlea33552291e834fff.html Education: Wild Day at the UC Regents: The Stakes of the Tuition Wars

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Wild Day at the UC Regents: The Stakes of the Tuition Wars

Finally it wasn't about the money today but about the decline in quality.  And it was the students who explained the core issue as getting affordable quality in their education.   

Left: Felicia Garcia, Julian Mariano, and Kimmy Tran at UC Davis. Photo credit: Paul Kitagaki, Jr, AP).

One such student was Melvin Singh, AS VP for External Affairs at UCSB, who said students struggle to get into classes, to meet with TAs, to get academic help.  His counterpart at Berkeley, Caitlin Quinn, told KCRW's Warren Olney that money worries are "a huge factor in how you do in school" (13').  She said,
Students don't see the benefit of so many administrative positions.  At UC Berkeley it seems like there's a new vice-chancellor of something-or-other every week. . . . I think students are fed up with what they see as administrative bloat. They aren't seeing this supposed quality education. I've been here for three years and ever since I've been here students have been struggling to see the value of a UC education. We're in huge classes. I've been in classes as big as 800 people. I don't think there's more than one or two professors who know me by name. (16'00" - 16'28'')
The regents seemed to hear the quality message loud and clear.  The problem is that almost no one thinks UC would direct new state money straight to education, as opposed to another new business scheme.  When the Regents' Committee on Long-Range Planning voted 7-2 to forward the 5-year, 5 percent annual tuition hike proposal to the full Board of Regents, they faced stone opposition from the elected officials and the students in the room.

The only good outcome in the renewed UC Tuition Wars will be a state buyout of the planned tuition increase (Stability Plan here). That would mean the planned 4 percent increase in state funding plus the proposed 5 percent in tuition.  This works out roughly to a 9 percent increase in state funding (figures here), and another year of frozen tuition.  But Gov. Jerry Brown made pretty clear that he won't go for both. And his Deputy Director of Finance, D.J. Palmer, confirmed that the tuition hike could void the 4 percent state hike, leaving a net 1 percent increase in UC revenues for next year.

This evening, UCOP's EVP for Business Operations Nathan Brostrom said that discussions will continue.  Earlier in the day, the Speaker Toni Atkins proposed a version of a tuition buyout with a lower state increase and many conditions.  When Gov. Jerry Brown announced in committee that he would vote against the tuition hike, he also requested a selected committee to consider a five-point plan for fixing UC, which involve three-year degrees, a "wide range of online courses enrolling large numbers of students far beyond the capacity of any seat-based classroom," and program consolidation among the campuses. In effect, Gov. Brown restarted parts of the UC Commission on the Future, and negotiations on those issue would go on for years.

Then the non-gov regents started firing back.  I have never heard them so frustrated and openly disgusted with the state.  When Regent-designate P�rez called the tuition hike proposal a kind of hostage-taking of students, he produced remarkable denunciations of state policy from Regent Reiss and of leadership defaults from student Regent Saifuddin.  My storify record is here--it's been the best Regents TV in quite some time, and is getting closer to the real issue of how public universities under incessant austerity are supposed to support their historic mission of mass quality.

So: why a 9 percent increase? Because it's closer to what UC actually needs to close its structural deficit. UCOP's estimates have varied and the situation continues to change, but the clearest quantification of the remedy was in a March 2011 budget presentation in which UCOP estimated it needed many years of 12.4 percent per year from the state just to close the deficit that had been created by the massive Schwarzenegger-Brown cuts (Display 46).  Here's the graphic, measuring impact on the deficit not the amount of increase.



This suggests a need for 16 percent annual increases when tuition and state funds are combined. Alternative C is more or less the Gov. Brown plan -- 4 percent state increases with frozen tuition.  The situation today, three and a half years later, has gotten worse.    On KQED's Forum, Mr. Palmer, agreed that the governor's plan in effect restored about half of the recession's billion dollar cut over a four year period. 9 percent is better than 1, 4, or 5 percent, but it still isn't enough for solvency, much less "greatness."

UC constituents have unfortunately failed to endorse a funding reboot of the needed size. Academic Senate chair Mary Gilly signed on to the tuition hikes but not to a full restoration, and as far as I can tell neither the Associated Students nor various unions are calling for full  state funding either.  

A major exception is the UC Council of Faculty Associations (CUCFA), which is recommending a complete reset of UC and CSU funding to 2000-01 levels.  This would put state funding and tuition back to trend ($4,717 for UC). Professor James Vernon, the co-chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association, made the case in the Sacramento Bee, which is based on a straightforward calculation.  One of the authors of the calculation, UCSF professor of medicine Stanton Glantz, appeared at the regents' meeting to call for the reset. He declared, "You should not be arguing how much to raise tuition, but how to mobilize the public support to restore the California Master plan of low cost high quality higher education for all."


The reset is cheap-- $50 a year for the median taxpayer, or $384.30 extra for someone making between $100,000 and $150,000 and whose child will be borrowing fifteen times that figure each year they are at UC.  Given their desperate money worries, why wouldn't UCOP endorse a version of the reset? Why wouldn't everybody else at UC?  All the energy is going into blocking tuition hikes rather than into setting specific funding goals for Sacramento.

Some of the problem is a kind collective fatigue, if not depression.  UC leaders don't think the reset is politically realistic, which is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  On the other hand, few people think the governor, the legislature, UCOP, the regents, or the public are ever going to make things right.  Most of us who work at  UC, CSU and the CCC have become unconsciously resigned to doing crisis management for the rest of our lives in semi-distraction from our higher-level work.   Some of the problem is that the campuses don't like or trust UCOP any more than Sacramento does.  UCOP has become a kind of "third force," as UCI professor Rei Terada put it at Reclaim UC.  It didn't help itself with what many people, from student leaders to the Lt. Governor of the state, described as a secretive process. During a particularly good four-way discussion on KQED's Forum earlier this week, Mr. Palmer and Associated Students president Kevin Sabo shared identical complaints about UCOP's failure to develop the tuition proposals in partnership with them (Mr. Sabo at 18'; Mr. Palmer at 26').  Mr. Palmer said UC had failed to comply with the provisions of AB 970, which requires public notice and consolation around tuition increases.  UCOP is apparently resisting the calculation of undergraduate degree costs as required by AB 94, whose deadline was missed.  Throw in general resentment about executive compensation and recent increases of over 20 percent in some chancellors' salaries, and everyone has a reason to cut off their UCOP nose to spite their budgetary face.   

Although the budgetary discussion went nowhere, everyone seems now to see how serious the basic threat has become.  Under the epic title "A Battle for UC's Soul," the LA Times editorial board identified the long-term stakes for UC and other public research universities:
At issue is whether the 10-campus system will continue to rank among the nation's premier research universities, drawing top students and the best professors from throughout the world, or whether it will slowly shrink its ambitions, becoming a more utilitarian institution that concentrates narrowly on moving students to their bachelor's degrees and into the workforce quickly and efficiently.    
What state leaders should be figuring out is not how to diminish UC's role, but how to preserve UC as a national example of great public higher education.
That is not what state leaders are doing.  Regent-designate Oakley spoke at a recent forum about PPIC's ongoing concerns about workforce shortages, and the whole event suggested the focus of the state's establishment to be workforce training.  Lt. Gov. Newsom called for a fuller integration of the three segments in a way that would facilitate this, and Gov. Brown's proposals aim at the same thing.  Five years of five-percent tuition increases will merely make UC a more expensive pipeline segment.   The main effect of the new tuition wars will more shrinking not so much of ambition, which is obviously alive and well in UC students, but of the financial means of achieving them.

We're in year six of the official mediocrity threat, so it's not to soon for this to get everyone's undivided attention.  

We did get confirmation today on at least two of the preconditions for any real movement that Michael identified last week. One is the full re-engagement of the faculty, tenure track and non-tenure track, in defining and explaining the academic functions of the university.   What does research do for undergraduates? Why do graduate students do? What is research? Why does it cost so much? Why, really, do we need it? What, concretely, are the activities involved in being a "premier research university." UCOP and the regents can't answer these kinds of questions. But if faculty don't answer them now, the funding situation will never change, and the workforce mission will take over.

Second, UCOP will need to comply with AB 94, and account for the costs of undergraduate teaching, graduate education, various kinds of research, and administration. EVP Brostrom excused the delay again tonight, but Sacramento obviously isn't going to budge unless it gets real answers on costs that most political leaders believe are still way too high.  

Tearing off the band-aids wasn't pleasant, but at least now everyone sees the wounds.

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