Save UC

With the latest cuts, the state of California spending per student enrolled at the University of California is half what it was twenty years ago, even after adjusting for inflation. This year my full professor salary at U.C. Berkeley is about 5% less than my assistant professor salary in 2000 when I joined (after accounting for furloughs and adjusting for inflation). Meanwhile, student tuition keeps going up, and substantial further increases are expected in the next couple of years.

The distinction of UC Berkeley is to be a public and affordable university of quality comparable to any top private research university in the country. Neither the quality nor the affordability can survive indefinitely if the next twenty years are anything like the past twenty — or even if the next ten are like the past ten. The point is that every university is having a bad year this year, but, in the past ten years nearly every year has been, financially, what would be considered a disastrous year nearly everywhere else. This means that, when the economy recovers, we shall be back to having a merely disastrous financial situation, and we shall never be able to climb back from whatever hole we are digging ourselves into right now.

An organization of U.C. Berkeley faculty has been making these points and I completely agree.

Notably, the mission statement mentions the larger point of the California budget system and Proposition 13. In part, the University of California underfunding is a matter of priority; the legislators are not as interested in spending on higher education as they are in spending to incarcerate people after three petty offenses. But, in part, it is a reflection of the larger budget crisis of the state, and of the inconsistent mandates coming from popular initiatives.

7 thoughts on “Save UC

  1. While I can agree with *wanting* all the changes the saveuc program is asking for, I just don’t see how it can even be managed. I definitely sympathize with the cause but can’t bring myself to protest when nobody has offered a reasonable solution besides “make budgeting processes transparent.” Where will money to cover for the deficit come from?

    Regarding repairing prop 13, you have a better chance of finding a solution for the TSP in linear time than getting 2/3 of California to change its favorite amendment. Remember how Warren Buffet almost derailed the Schwarzenegger campaign with his call to fix prop 13 ( ?

    Sorry if I sound cynical, but at this point the strike feels like a bunch of humanities students are trying to be the next Mario Savio. I have heard a lot of passionate rhetoric, but have yet to see convincing numbers that address the problem.

  2. It would actually be enough to convince 1/2 of Californians: our quote-unquote “constitution” can be modified by a simple majority of voters — thus voiding, by the way, the whole point of having a constitution. But I agree that even convincing 1/2 of Californians is harder than a linear time algorithm for TSP.

    I see, however, a broader point to the protest. Over time, the legislature has cut spending on higher education, and on the University of California in particular, and yet the University has kept going anyways, with lower salaries, fewer administrators, and higher tuition, remaining the greatest public university system in the world.

    From the point of view of the legislature, it is then rational (in the economic sense) to further cut spending, not just in difficult years, but even in good ones, and this is in fact what will continue to happen unless there is a visible reaction. Today’s protests were covered by the New York Times and by most of the mainstream press, and the New York Times article had figures and historical context.

  3. This is a non-rhetorical question to which I do not know the answer.

    Is it possible that the twin goals of being “public and affordable” while “maintaining quality comparable to a top private research university” are simply incompatible, at least given the reality that states have plenty of other important things to spend money on also?

    I am all in favor of making education publicly available. But what is the argument for making “the best” education publicly available (rather than, say, “the median”)? It seems equivalent to saying that not only should the government provide shelter for the homeless, but it should also provide mansions.

  4. (I’ll follow-up my question by asking: if there is a compelling reason for making “the best” education publicly and cheaply available, then why should it be the case — and why has it been the case — that California is essentially the only state where this is true?)

  5. Hi Jon, your comment has been in the spam queue for the past week, I have no idea why WordPress flagged it. I answered your question in your post, but in case there is anybody who reads in theory but not your blog (shame on them!) I repeat my answer here:

    I am not aware of studies estimating the contribution of the UC system to the California economy and comparing it to the state subsidy, although such studies probably exist. A piece of data that I have seen (sorry that I can’t find the link) is that UC Berkeley brings in research grants worth six times the state subsidy. Since the University administration takes about 1/3 of the grants (our overhead rate is 52%), this means that the administration is subsidized by external grants at twice the rate it is from the state, or that the state investment in education is matched 2-to-1 by funds coming from outside the university (and, for the most part, form outside the state of California). If UC Berkeley were not a top school in Engineering and Biology, there would probably not be a similar multiplier effect on the state investment. (Although I realize that the amount of research funding correlates poorly with research quality.)

    On whether the investment is worth at all, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the biotech and IT industry in the Bay Area is close to UCSF and UC Berkeley. Obviously, Stanford has a huge claim on the existence of the Bay Area IT industry, but the availability of the very large number of high-quality Berkeley graduates means that as the companies grow the jobs can stay in California. (And, indeed, out-of-state companies are willing to open satellite operations in the Bay Area in order to tap into this talent pool.)

    All this is to say that supporting a top public university is an investment, which has a return, it’s not an extravagant way of spending money.

    Unfortunately the depth of the California fiscal crisis is such that there isn’t even money for vital spending (on health care, etc.), and so even a good investment might become a luxury that cannot be afforded.

  6. Why should all of the public pay for TCS? I don’t think the average student has much to gain from TCS. In fact, cutting TCS would help the saveuc program.

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