Saturday, May 31, 2014

Diversity Course Requirement

From the Daily Bruin:

A governing faculty committee voted unanimously Friday to approve a proposal for a new diversity requirement.  The vote was the first of a series of formal reviews the proposal must pass for the university to implement it. At the College of Letters and Science Faculty Executive Committee’s meeting on Friday, faculty members approved the proposal under the condition that some smaller changes would be made to its wording, said Christina Palmer, the chair of the College Faculty Executive Committee and a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences.  Though the wording of the proposal has not been finalized, it is set to create a requirement that would have students in the College take one course that is a minimum of four units at UCLA to fulfill, she said...

College of Letters and Science faculty members are expected to vote on the proposal in the fall. The College faculty have voted down diversity-related requirement proposals twice before, once in 2012 and once in 2004. The university also attempted to establish a diversity-related requirement back in 1987...

Full story at

Can of Worms

Yours truly has blogged recently about the fossil fuel divestment issue.  A bit of Googling suggests that the Regents are opening a can of worms here which could ultimately damage the university.  Apart from the financial issues, there is a general question of how much the university wants to be dragged into an ongoing political controversy.  The university's action - which so far amount to no more than creating a subcommittee to look at the topic - has already attracted conservative media (negative) attention:
The fossil fuel divestment issue has also become a concern of certain Jewish groups that fear that oil/coal/gas divestment will lead to anti-Israel divestment:
Whether UC needs to be in the middle of such debates is something the Regents need to consider. 

Make it big

Those who have ever had grants, travel expenses, or the like know that UC accounting systems can be bureaucratic.  But every once in awhile, someone gets away with something big.  The latest such event involves embezzling at UC-Berkeley:

A former UC Berkeley research administrator with a prior embezzlement conviction has been charged with stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the university to help pay for her children's private-school tuition, make catering orders and pay other expenses, authorities said Friday... 

Full story at

So how does it happen that endless time can be spent haggling over a few dollars of lunch expenses while overt stealing - as above - on a larger scale is possible?  The answer has to be that university accounting systems are designed to prevent you from stealing less than $50.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Reminder: Big Donations Don't Have to Go to Demolitions and Construction

UCLA Media Release

Philanthropist Steve Tisch, co-owner of the New York Giants and an Academy Award–winning film producer, has pledged $10 million to the department of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA for the BrainSPORT Program, which has been renamed the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program
Due to be announced by President Obama Thursday at a White House summit on youth and sports concussions, the new funding — the single largest gift from an individual to a medical center for a concussion-related initiative — will enable UCLA to create the first U.S. fellowship program to train pediatric neurologists who specialize in sports concussions, and establish the world’s most sophisticated research, prevention, diagnosis and treatment program for concussions and brain injuries, with a particular emphasis on young athletes...

You can even get good PR without building anything:

So the next time someone comes up with a bright idea like the UCLA Grand Hotel, just say no. (Or, as in that case, don't suggest it to the donor.)  And think about alternatives that go into research, scholarships, and teaching.

Big Loser

Blog readers will know of yours truly's skepticism about the value of long-term care policies.  Basically, you are expecting some insurance entity, possibly years from now when you are not in condition to deal with bureaucracy, to act in good faith on your policy.  That is an optimistic expectation.  Of course, you could say the same about life insurance.  However, life insurance is simple.  You are either dead or you aren't.  What you should get from long-term care depends on someone's decision about what you need.  Those who bought from CalPERS (UC employees were eligible) undoubtedly thought that a state public agency would treat them right.  It didn't happen that way.

Judge hands CalPERS 1st-round loss in long-term care lawsuit


Jon Ortiz, State Worker blog of Sacramento Bee:

CalPERS can be sued for allegedly mishandling its privately-funded long-term care insurance program, a Los Angeles court has tentatively ruled, clearing the way for a trial.  Judge Jane Johnson turned aside CalPERS request to throw out the case, which contends that the fund’s board members violated their personal duty to watch out for members’ best interests. The fund also breeched policy contracts and dealt unfairly with policyholders, according the the lawsuit.

The Los Angeles Superior Court complaint, if granted class-action status, would represent about 150,000 CalPERS members who purchased long-term care insurance between 1995 and 2004 to cover convalescent care, in-home living assistance and similar services. Nearly all the policies guaranteed inflation-adjusted payments for the life of the policyholders, many of whom believed their premiums would never be increased.

CalPERS stopped selling the so-called “lifetime, inflation-protected” policies a decade ago. It incrementally raised premiums on existing policyholders because  the program was going broke. Officials have blamed under-performing investments, underpriced policies and higher-than-expected payouts for the trouble. Private-sector insurance carriers have had the same experience long-term-care coverage. Many have exited the business. 

Lawyers got involved, however, when CalPERS announced it would hike premiums 85 percent for the most lucrative plans starting next year. Members who had purchased policies and paid premiums for nearly a decade or more were outraged. CalPERS asked the court to throw out the case for a variety of reasons, but Johnson ruled that none were valid. The tentative ruling isn’t yet final, however such decisions are rarely overturned...

Full story at

Right now both CalPERS - and its customers for long-term care - are both big losers.

Who is in the senate?

An earlier senate
According to Inside Higher Ed, that other university downtown has elected a non-ladder faculty as head of its Academic Senate.  Note that as in the USC case, UCLA has many academics with clinical titles in the medical enterprise and equivalents elsewhere.

Faculty members at the University of Southern California have elected Ginger Clark, associate professor of clinical education in the university's Rossier School of Education, as president-elect of the Academic Senate. That means she will automatically become president, which is significant because Clark is off the tenure track.

A case of shoot-first/ask-questions-later?

As the Regents mount the slippery slope in the divestment area, the Daily Bruin carries this story:

More than 13,000 people have signed a petition urging the University of California to divest from gun manufacturers, following last week’s shooting near UC Santa Barbara.  The petition was created Wednesday on by Campaign to Unload, one of the leaders of a divestment movement against gun manufacturers.

The UC already divested from all gun manufacturers following the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, said Brooke Converse, a UC spokeswoman...

Full story at

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Listen to the Regents Committee on Investments, May 22, 2014

The previously-nonworking Regents recording of its May 22 meeting of the Committee on Investments seems now to be functioning again.  As we (often) have noted in the past, the Regents "archive" their meetings for one year only.  So we record them in real time to preserve them indefinitely.

In this meeting, the Committee on Investments mainly reviewed investment returns of the various funds handled at the systemwide level plus the campus-level foundation endowments.  However, apparently the Committee also set up its task force on fossil fuel divestment.  The word "apparently" is used because whatever the Committee did on that issue must have occurred during the closed part of the meeting.

There was one public comment speaker on fossil fuel divestment.  She indicated in her remarks that a coal-only approach - which the governor seemed to look kindly on - wasn't enough.  Oil and gas would have to be included.  The notion of omitting the pension plan was not mentioned.  As we have noted in prior posts, both the governor and the legislature seem reluctant to touch the oil industry which is significant in California and might provide tax revenue.  Coal doesn't exist in the state so it doesn't raise political and revenue issues.  In short, by creating its task force, the Regents may have delayed, but not avoided, an eventual clash.

Apart from UC funds, the Committee gets routine reports on campus-level foundations and their investments and returns.  Riverside stands out because, unlike the others, its foundation is 87% invested in equities (much of it foreign) - odd for a fund that is supposed to be more like a savings bank than a speculation. Regents debated what to do.  Riverside in recent times has done well because the market has done well.  But it doesn't seem like a model of prudence.

You can hear the meeting at the link below.  The coal-won't-be-enough comment comes around minute 3.

No privacy in emails

From Inside Higher Ed comes (yet another) tale of a group that doesn't like a professor's work on a fishing expedition for emails.  As we have noted umpteen times, such requests come only about faculty at public universities.  Private universities are not covered by state equivalents of the Freedom of Information Act.  (Note, however, that an email from a private university faculty member to another at a public university might get swept into such requests.)

Although such requests in the past have come from conservative groups, in this case the request to a U of Virginia law prof seems to have come from what might be seen as the left. It is unlikely in this case that the request will be honored because of a prior court decision in Virginia.  But what happens there doesn't govern what might happen in other states including California. And each case is unique

The moral: Don't say anything in emails that you might not want to see in public.  Even if you use an outside provider such as gmail or Yahoo, an email you sent to someone at a public university could be targeted.

The specifics of this particular tale can be found at

Moving up a tier

Some faculty and staff will get an improvement in their retiree health coverage:

To simplify administration and respond to employee concerns, UC is changing the eligibility rules for retiree health benefits.

In an email letter to faculty and staff, Dwaine Duckett, vice president of human resources, announced that policy-covered employees eligible for UCRP on June 30, 2013, will be subject to the eligibility rules that were in place as of that date.

This means that those employees who previously had been moved to the new 2013 eligibility rules because they were not vested in UCRP on June 30, 2013 or because their age plus years of UCRP service was less than 50 at that time will no longer be subject to the eligibility rules that went into effect on July 1, 2013.

“Many of our employees who were close to meeting the criteria for the grandfathering provision were understandably concerned about the rule of 50,” Duckett said. This keeps people under the rules that were in place when they were hired as long as they stay at UC.

The change also simplifies administration of retirement benefits and is clearer to employees, Duckett said...

Full UC announcement at

Still, even if you're in a better tier, it's best not to get sick, as yours truly can attest based on recent experience:

What the headline could be

The Sacramento Bee headline reads: "Fracking moratorium dies in state Senate."  It could alternatively read, "Legislature concurs with governor: Divesting the UC portfolio from coal is fine but don't touch oil."  Of course, there is no coal in California - and the article doesn't mention it.  So there is no local coal industry or group of workers to protest coal divestment by the Regents at UC.  On the other hand, California is a major oil producer so there would be protests and push-back for a state fracking ban.  Even with the much-diminished estimates of economically-feasible fracking production in the state, the oil industry remains significant here.  Oil could be a source of extraction tax revenue - not in the current election year - but in the future when the temporary Prop 30 taxes expire and when the next economic downturn occurs.  Anyway, being against coal is a costless way for California politicos to defend themselves from complaints by environmentalists concerning fracking.  Et tu, governor?

[The article in the Bee is at]

Hypocrisy is not new to Sacramento.  The Regents can't entirely keep politics away from UC.  After all, some Regents, the ex-officio politicos on the Board, are politicians.  But it will be interesting to see what the Regents do with the coal vs. all-fossil-fuel issue.

In the meantime, we can all get another day older and deeper in debt:

TA Petition

Office of Instructional Development TA training program registration
From the Daily Bruin: More than 400 faculty members at the University of California have signed on to a petition calling for UC officials to negotiate fairly and sincerely with teaching assistants and other student academic workers who plan to strike during finals week.  The petition, sponsored by the UC Santa Cruz Faculty Association and started about a week ago, calls for UC President Janet Napolitano to negotiate in good faith with student academic workers who recently threatened to strike if they do not reach a new contract with the UC. The United Auto Workers Local 2865, a union representing teaching assistants and other academic workers, is demanding smaller class sizes, equal access for undocumented workers and higher wages.

Brooke Converse, a UC spokeswoman, said she thinks the University has offered teaching assistants a substantial financial package. She added that it is prohibited under federal law for universities to hire undocumented workers.

Tobias Higbie, an associate professor of history at UCLA who signed the petition, said he is mostly concerned that the quality of teaching at the UC may decline during the strike because teaching assistants help instruct students and work closely with them on coursework...

Full story at 

UPDATE: "UC academic service workers announce second strike" is at  [This article predates the one above but has additional information.]

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

That's a nice garden. Say, wasn't there another one?

UCLA's other garden
Real estate developer and philanthropist Morton La Kretz gave a $5 million donation to the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden.  The gift is the largest in the garden’s 85-year history.  The donation will be used to construct the La Kretz Garden Pavilion that will house a welcome center and classroom. It will also be used to start an endowment. The pavilion is scheduled to open at the end of 2016.  Last year, La Kretz, a UCLA alumnus, donated $1 million to create a new entrance for the garden. The university has scheduled a grand opening celebration for noon on Monday. The new entrance is located at the corner of Tiverton Avenue and Charles E. Young Drive...

Full story at

As blog readers will know, UCLA has been trying to rid itself of the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden in Bel Air and gotten enmeshed in litigation which blocked the sale.  Yours truly once served on a university committee with Mildred Mathias and is happy to see her garden enhanced.  Maybe with the new university interest in gardens, some better resolution than court decisions can be found for the "other" garden.


UCLA vigil for UC-Santa Barbara killings
From the Huffington Post:

Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, insisted the deaths of innocent people "don't trump" his constitutional rights in an open letter to the families of victims in Friday's shooting rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara.  Wurzelbacher's letter was published on Barbwire Monday, days after one shooting victim's father blamed "craven, irresponsible politicians" and the National Rifle Association for his son's death...

Full story at 

The plumber who can't pipe down