Saturday, May 2, 2015

On the one hand...

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins wrote an op ed on the UC budget in the Sacramento Bee which you can read at:
However, here is a multi-handed summary of the op ed courtesy of yours truly:

UC is currently meeting the Master Plan notion of admitting the top 12.5% of high school students. But on the other hand, many of those admitted don’t actually attend. On the other hand, UC is admitting more out of state students which makes sense from a budgetary viewpoint because they pay more tuition and thus subsidize Californians. On the other hand, the Californians who are admitted are increasingly channeled to UC-Merced where they don’t want to go. On the other hand, that diversion makes sense since Merced is the newest campus. But on the other hand, the legislature isn’t happy about the diversion and about high executive pay. So the legislature will engage in zero-based budgeting.   

To which we can add one more hand: If the legislature really gave UC a zero budget, the system would end up totally privatized with high tuition and still fewer Californians.

We can be sympathetic with Speaker Atkins’ attempt to insert herself more fully into the process. After all, it is the legislature that enacts the state budget. But here is the real problem. The current UC tuition/budget dispute, and for that matter the longstanding debate about UC funding, has been handled in an uncoordinated fashion. There is the discussion with the governor via the Committee of Two. There are separate legislative hearings in which complaints are aired by legislators and defenses are mounted by UC reps. The Regents debate the issue with limited faculty and student input.

A better result would occur if the various interests could be put together in a forum in which the various options were laid out. It would be a slow and painful process since “interests” include not just the governor, legislature, Regents, faculty, and students, but also include such groups as business and labor that matter in this state’s political decisions. For such a forum to be created, however, there would need to be support from the governor. The current Committee of Two arrangement actually is the product of a proposal by the governor at a Regents meeting. So at this point, he clearly favors a very narrow forum which he tightly controls. The Committee of Two format might “work” for this year’s budget decision – and even that result is not assured. But it won’t produce a long-term accord. It won’t produce anything like the Master Plan.

It’s interesting that we are still talking about the 1960 Master Plan (which expired in 1975). The reason that old Plan still has life is that the governor’s dad, Gov. Pat Brown, did not insist that he and then UC president Clark Kerr would work things out all by themselves. The Master Plan was produced through a messy political process with the governor certainly prodding, but not insisting on total control. The elder governor Brown also didn’t have the personal agenda with regard to UC that his son seems to have. He didn’t need to show in public that he had a more profound view of how academia (and the world in general) should work than anyone else in the room. The elder Brown basically wanted to bring some order to the state’s higher ed agenda, i.e., good administration. But he ended by establishing a true legacy. It seems unlikely, in contrast, that 55 years from now, folks in California will be talking about the Committee of Two.

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