Saturday, February 12, 2011

Columnist Peter Schrag on Privatization at UC

Berkeley: A privatized public university? (excerpts)

Sacramento Bee, Feb. 12, 2011

Peter Schrag

A year ago, when the University of California announced sharp boosts in tuition, staff furloughs and other measures to cope with declining state funding, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis and other UC campuses seethed with protests.

Among the loudest complaints from students was that the higher costs would make it financially impossible for them to continue at UC. The most common refrain was the call to protect what the demonstrators called "our university."

But this summer and fall, after Berkeley included some 900 fewer California residents in its entering class – a cut of roughly 20 percent from last year – and admitted some 600 additional out-of-state Americans and foreign students paying much higher tuition, there was nary a peep. UCLA, while not cutting the admission of Californians to its freshman class, still more than doubled the number of entering foreign students. UC San Diego also nearly doubled its foreign student admissions.

Even though there are few complaints, the shift in admission policies has significant implications – political, academic and social. As the state's share of support continues its steep decline, Berkeley – and maybe UCLA and San Diego – is slowly going private. What "our university" is becomes an ever-more difficult question...

However, what Berkeley can do, most of the other UC campuses can't. The other campuses don't have the national and international market that would allow them to get outstanding nonresident students willing to pay the additional tuition. That in itself challenges the myth, if not the declared belief, that all UC campuses are created equal. It also puts even more pressure on the have-not campuses, in part because the higher tuition that Berkeley can charge provides still more cover for budget cutters in Sacramento.

Executives at all campuses, UC Davis among them, are devoting an increasing share of their time and energy in raising money from corporations, foundations and other private sources to offset the cuts in state funding.

"The era of heavy state investment in higher education is behind us," UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi wrote in an opinion piece in the Huffington Post on Wednesday. "The funding levels of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s will not return, and the budgeting philosophy of those days is behind us as well." She lets people know that, as one put it, "she spends one day out of five shaking down potential donors." Davis is in the middle of a campaign to raise $1 billion from those donors. But private donations probably won't close the gap.

...UC President Mark Yudof has talked bravely about UC avoiding the road to privatization that public institutions, such as the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia, have already taken. But if California wants to preserve the international reputation for excellence that Berkeley especially represents, there may be no other road.

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