Thursday, March 15, 2018
Helping Hand from OC for UC
Public universities in our nation, very much including the massive “land grant” institutions of the Midwest and then the West, were 19th-century America’s great good gift to both general knowledge and economic progress in the world. If the Oxfords and Sorbonnes of the Old Word were nominally public places, they were in reality for the most part bastions of upper-class privilege.
Our pluralistic society would allow the quality of our public universities to fall at our peril. And yet that’s exactly what is happening right here.
Reviewing a book of essays by the great novelist Marilynne Robinson, who teaches at the University of Iowa — a place that, as she notes, democratizes privilege — Donovan Hohn writes: “Between 1980 and 2017, the combined tuition and fees at four-year public colleges increased on average 319 percent. Between 2007 and 2016, meanwhile, state spending per student declined nationwide by 18 percent. To compensate for these austerities, students and their families have taken on more debt, and public institutions have had to entice more out-of-state and international students able to pay full fare. In the name of anti-elitism and economic populism, legislatures have helped make state colleges and universities more exclusive, not less.”
The University of California system, long considered the strongest and deepest of America’s public universities, is very much subject to these national woes. But there are deeper problems here.
An international survey released last month that included nine of the UC campuses and more than three dozen majors showed that rankings of individual departments against their peers around the world dropped in 80 categories and improved in just 24.
As the Los Angeles Times reported, UC Berkeley and UCLA still were ranked in the top 10 universities in the world, which in this survey, by QS Quacquarelli Symonds, included both public and private schools.
The good news is that UC Berkeley is still tied with Harvard for third and that UCLA, the most-applied-to university anywhere, is still in seventh place.
But the alarming news is that the biggest declines in department rankings also came at those two campuses, which have long been at the top of the University of California heap. UCLA saw its rankings go down in 22 subjects and improve in four while Berkeley went down in 15 areas and up in just two. In the economically crucial fields of civil and structural engineering, UCLA’s ranking went down from 40th to 51st and Berkeley’s from second to fifth.
“There has been a steady, sustained disinvestment in the UC and this is the inevitable result,” Shane White, chairman of the UC Academic Senate, told the Times. “This is probably the tip of the iceberg.”
It is impossible to overstate the economic and cultural impact the University of California has had on our state. If we don’t continue to invest both public monies and crank up the private fundraising each campus must now do on its own, we risk losing a very important Golden State asset for us all.