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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Viral Recriminations at Berkeley

Cal COVID crisis: Audio recording of parent meeting reveals frustration with university, Berkeley health officials

The Bears were 99% vaccinated but had two games impacted 

By Jon Wilner | Bay Area News Group | Mercury News

November 29, 2021 | UPDATED: November 30, 2021 

As the COVID crisis threatened to derail Cal’s season in early November, confusion soared within the football program. Why had a handful of cases prompted mass testing of players and staff? Why had a program with strict safety protocols been called out publicly by the City of Berkeley’s health officials, supposedly causing the players to be shamed on campus? And most of all, why had a program with a 99% vaccination rate become the only team in major college football to have a game rescheduled because of the virus?

Coach Justin Wilcox was measured in his public comments throughout the two-week crisis. But privately, Wilcox and others were deeply frustrated with the handling of the situation by the university, according to a recording of a virtual meeting between team parents, Wilcox and Cal medical officials that was obtained by this news organization.*

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*Editorial Note: It is generally illegal in California to record someone in a non-public situation without permission. This news report does not indicate whether permission was given. Typically, Zoom-type meetings in which a recording is made include an announcement and the recording includes video. The recording in this case is described in the headline as audio. It is unclear whether the "call" included video. But even ordinary phone conversations cannot be legally recorded without permission by participants.

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Midway through the hour-long meeting, the topic turned to the statement issued by Berkeley Public Health, which included previously unpublished case data and criticized the Bears for “ongoing” failures to follow public health protocols. During a tense exchange, Wilcox asked assistant vice chancellor Guy Nicolette, who oversees University Health Services, if the statement constituted a violation of player privacy. Nicolette explained that he disagreed with the tone of the statement — “I did not find that helpful” — but he declined to offer an opinion on the privacy issue, referring the matter to the university’s legal team. Wilcox was not satisfied. “Who’s fighting for us?” Wilcox asked in a passionate but controlled voice, according to the audio recording. “I took the high road,” he continued. “We are taking the high road, as to not get into a public dispute with a city agency. So whose role is that? … Everybody’s wondering.” Indeed, there are many unanswered questions about the crisis that blindsided the Bears for two weeks — all of them rooted in two fundamental but seemingly incongruous facts:

1. Why Cal?

There have been approximately 800 major college football games played this season, but only two are known to have been deeply impacted by COVID: Cal’s visit to Arizona, in which the Bears had a bare-bones roster, and Cal’s subsequent date with USC, which had to be rescheduled for Dec. 4 because so many players were in COVID protocol. It was a striking development for a program that’s 99% vaccinated and, according to Wilcox, adheres to the COVID protocols recommended by Berkeley Public Health and the university. (The health department’s statement accusing the team of breaking protocol cited no specific instances.)

2. How did the crisis happen?

According to information obtained by this news organization, the university tested 172 members of the football program, including players (approximately 100), coaches, staff and volunteers. The results revealed 46 positive cases, of which 31 were symptomatic, according to the university. It is not known how many of those cases — symptomatic or otherwise — were among players, rather than others in the program.

The exchange between Wilcox and Nicolette, the head of University Health Services, underscores the frustration inside the football program over the handling of the situation. Asked days later about the criticisms from Berkeley Public Health, Wilcox told reporters:

“Is everybody perfect in following every protocol? I don’t know that I could say that. We do the best that we can. I have never had a meeting about the egregious non-compliance of our players. I haven’t had that meeting.

“Do we have to remind people from time to time to put their mask on? Have I been told that? Yeah, absolutely. And I would also think maybe there’s folks in the city of Berkeley walking down the street or going to church or dinner or whatever, maybe students on campus, that might fall into the same category.”

He was not nearly as dispassionate during the virtual meeting with university health officials and team parents. According to sources, approximately 100 people were on the call. Most were team parents. Some were football staffers. A few were members of Cal’s medical team. And then there was Steve Etter, who played two roles. Etter is a longtime lecturer in the Haas School of Business and teaches a course on financial management for athletes. (His former students include quarterback Jared Goff, NBA star Jaylen Brown and Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin.) He’s also a former Cal trustee. And he’s the parent of a current player, long-snapper Daniel Etter.

Not only did Etter listen to the virtual meeting, he was an active participant and repeatedly pressed the medical experts for answers. In fact, Etter asked the toughest questions of all — particularly when it came to the lack of public support for the football program. “The question is, who’s advocating for us?” Etter demanded of Nicolette. “Will anyone advocate? Or is that just no, no one’s going to advocate?”

In response to a request for comment by Nicolette, university spokesperson Janet Gilmore offered the following statement:

“Your questions are related to a conversation among (University Health Services) doctors, student-athletes and their parents about the health of the athletes. Consequently, we are not going to discuss the particulars of that meeting.

“Regarding the larger question related to the Berkeley Public Health statement, campus leaders have been and continue to be focused on mitigating the spread of COVID-19 by working in a productive manner with colleagues on and off campus — not engaging in a public back and forth. Further, please keep in mind that the campus is an employer and an educator, not a health department.

“The university cannot comment publicly on the substance of the BPH statement because we are not allowed to comment on information derived from medical records. The university did not have the opportunity to clear the BPH statement before it was released.” ...

Full story at https://www.mercurynews.com/2021/11/29/audio-recording-of-cal-football-parent-meeting-during-covid-crisis-reveals-frustration-with-university-berkeley-health-officials/.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Aftermath of the UC Lecturer's Almost Strike

The LA Times ran an editorial yesterday largely inspired by the strike of UC lecturers that was settled at the last minute with a strike looming. Excerpts:

The era of college courses taught mostly by tenured professors, who spend time on research and scholarly pursuits in addition to teaching, has been fading fast. Increasingly, the work of instructing students now rests with lecturers or adjuncts — non-tenure-track faculty, almost always working part time for less money and with almost no job security. In California, they’re often known as “freeway fliers” because they drive from one campus to another in order to patch together a mediocre full-time salary teaching one or two courses at several colleges and/or universities, usually without benefits...

This is good neither for the instructor nor the student. But the recent tentative agreement between the University of California and unionized lecturers — who teach close to a third of the classes — points out the inherent irony that could change what’s been an exploitative situation for far too long. As higher education hires more adjuncts, it also relies on them more. Colleges and universities can’t fulfill their teaching mission without them — which gives part-timers more power, if they choose to use it... 

No wonder so many University of California adjunct faculty leave each year. Some are pushed out, but others leave on their own volition, according to a CalMatters report that found about a quarter of UC’s adjunct faculty turn over every year... This kind of churn is common among contingent part-time instructors and results in a faculty that may lack institutional knowledge and teaching experience.

Perhaps even more problematic in the overreliance on part-time instructors is the diminishment of academic freedom. Most adjuncts know that they can be let go for any reason and may avoid saying anything remotely controversial to students. Even their personal social media accounts could become fodder for student complaints...

The tentative UC agreement — which provides new benefits for lecturers such as family leave as well as a new measure of job security based on performance evaluations — has awakened a sense of the possible in adjunct faculty nationwide... and should be seen by higher education as a warning shot. Only about 20% of non-tenure-track faculty are unionized, a number that probably will rise now. Whether it does or not, colleges and universities have been placed on notice: They can’t operate without adjuncts, so for the benefit of their students, academic freedom and instructional stability, they should pay and treat these instructors fairly.

Full editorial at https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-11-28/editorial-colleges-overreliance-on-adjunct-faculty-is-bad-for-students-instructors-and-academic-freedom.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

An Aspect of the Columbia Grad Student Strike

The NY Times carries a lengthy article about the ongoing Columbia University grad student strike. It reviews the various union demands. Some of the demands are traditional "economic" ones dealing with pay. But the articles notes there is a demand for neutral arbitration and the right to consult outside legal counsel in cases involving sexual harassment. The union has phrased the demand as a right to be afforded to student/employees who make accusations against faculty. But presumably, were such a system to be established, it would also apply in cases where a student/employee was the accused (defendant) rather than the accuser (plaintiff) under Title IX. That is, you might have a case in which a TA is accused of harassment by a student and is thus subject to university discipline. In such a case, if the TA denied the accusation, the union would typically file a grievance on the TA's behalf.

Here is the relevant excerpt:

Why is neutral arbitration a big issue?

One of the union’s biggest priorities is getting more third-party protections for students making discrimination and harassment claims — also known as neutral arbitration.

Neutral arbitration would allow students claiming they experienced harassment or discrimination to hire investigators or lawyers who are not affiliated with Columbia, outside of the university’s internal review process for complaints.

Graduate student workers are the only campus workers without the option of third-party arbitration for discrimination and harassment. Union members have argued that confining discrimination and harassment complaints to an internal review process overseen by the university creates an inherent conflict of interest when evaluating a student’s case against faculty members or advisers.

The administration has resisted this demand, although it has said it would be open to more negotiations about its policy during mediation.

Full article at https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/24/nyregion/columbia-grad-student-strike.html.

We have long argued in this blog that complaints about lack of sufficient due process under Title IX could be addressed at UC by using the same grievance/neutral-arbitration process in such cases as UC provides to workers under union agreements.*

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*http://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2019/08/again-if-there-is-to-be-due-process.html.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Broxton


From the BruinWestwood leaders are working to transform Broxton Avenue into a pedestrian-only plaza for community gatherings and events. In 2018, the board of directors of the Westwood Village Improvement Association approved a plan to apply for People St, a municipal program that would allow Broxton Avenue to be converted into a pedestrian-only plaza.

Under the plan, a portion of the street would be blocked off to vehicular traffic and be converted into a space for pedestrians to walk around, sit at tables and chairs, and enjoy community events. The space is already reserved weekly on Thursdays for the Westwood Village Farmers’ Market, providing an example of how this plaza could be utilized...

Businesses along Broxton Avenue expressed excitement at the prospect of the plaza...

Full story at https://dailybruin.com/2021/11/22/westwood-leaders-await-approval-to-turn-broxton-avenue-into-pedestrian-only-plaza.

Friday, November 26, 2021

We can give thanks for that

A little bit of a drop last week in new California claims for unemployment benefits, so we can give thanks for that. Still, we are not back to normal - there is a way to go. We will continue to track this indicator of labor market and general economic performance in the state.

As always, the latest claims data are at https://www.dol.gov/ui/data.pdf.

Ogbonnia

(We'll follow yesterday's post on Stong - basketball - with another on Ogbonnia - football.)

How defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia became UCLA’s top chef

Thuc Nhi Nguyen, LA Times, 11-24-21

Otito Ogbonnia’s hands, beaten up from years of striking blocking sleds and fighting off offensive linemen, drop delicate pools of fresh strawberry puree into a creamy white batter. Relative to the UCLA defensive lineman’s massive hands, the spoon Ogbonnia is holding looks like something used to feed babies. He drags it through the red puddles, gently swirling them to create a whimsical pattern. Ogbonnia pauses to inspect his work.

When Ogbonnia is not mauling offensive linemen, he’s here, leaning over the kitchen counter of his studio apartment in a UCLA graduate student housing complex or peering into the half-sized oven to check on his latest culinary creation. The senior nose tackle is UCLA’s top chef.

What started as youthful curiosity is now a deep passion for Ogbonnia. He orders spices from Indonesia to master cinnamon rolls, writes and rewrites his own recipes in his quest for perfection, then delivers his dishes to teammates, coaches and trainers at UCLA to unite the team through a language 300-pound men speak and understand even more fluently than football: food. The day teammates savor the most is Thanksgiving, when Ogbonnia supplies a home-cooked meal for players who can’t return home for the holiday. Talk of the dinners elicit bright-eyed expressions and salivating mouths. Roasted duck. Cornbread with a sage honey butter glaze. Ham. Ribs. Stuffing. No store-bought mixes on this table.

“Probably the best Thanksgiving meal I’ve ever had, to be honest,” said running back Ethan Fernea, who called Ogbonnia’s macaroni and cheese “out of this world.”

This culinary tradition like no other continues Thursday, two days before the Bruins (7-4, 5-4 Pac-12) finish their regular-season schedule, against California at the Rose Bowl. This year’s menu was not finalized as of Monday, but offensive lineman Atonio Mafi, who had the honor of choosing the food, requested bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin. The delectable dish was smoked on Ogbonnia’s balcony at his former apartment and served at last year’s dinner.

Ogbonnia, the Houston-raised son of Nigerian parents, and former roommate Jon Gaines II, an offensive lineman from Milwaukee, didn’t anticipate that their shared interest in food would turn into a team tradition. As sophomores, they just wanted to cook good food and didn’t want to burden any of their local teammates’ families with an extra mouth to feed. Ogbonnia responded by making 10 different desserts, including pies, cobblers and cakes. Gaines, who specializes in soul food, came with such classics as fried chicken, mashed potatoes and ribs. They borrowed quarterback Chase Griffin’s kitchen for extra cooking space to make enough food for about 30 teammates.

Everyone came to Ogbonnia and Gaines’ apartment — which they shared with defensive lineman Odua Isibor and linebacker Adam Cohen — grabbed a plate and dug in. One big football family. “It helps bring the team together and make it a real family,” Ogbonnia said as the sweet smell of strawberry cheesecake filled his apartment. “Anytime you eat with your teammates, it really helps you make a deeper connection.”

Ogbonnia is a quiet giant. By his own admission, he’s not very social, but perks up when discussing anything related to cooking. He’ll make almost anything his teammates request, even if it feels like a burden. Last year, when Gaines spent Thanksgiving with his girlfriend, Ogbonnia didn’t want to repeat the feast solo. He was set on just taking a nap after practice. Until receiver Kyle Philips insisted.

The trouble of picking through half-stocked grocery store shelves to meet a same-day request dissipated once he saw the smiles on his teammates’ faces as they returned for seconds and thirds. He loves making others happy through food. “The family unit that we have here, that’s how he shows he loves his guys as a leader,” Gaines said.

On the field, Ogbonnia is one of UCLA’s most experienced players. The lineman who signed with Chip Kelly‘s first recruiting class has not missed a game for UCLA, appearing in 42 straight contests. For his first two years at UCLA, the dual-sport athlete split time between football and track, where he excelled in the shot put. Ogbonnia placed 10th in the NCAA championships as a freshman and won the Pan American U20 championships. But bouncing between fall football and the spring track season made it difficult to perfect either sport. He chose football and the results are showing with 19 straight starts. Along with five tackles for loss and two sacks this year, Ogbonnia’s 29 tackles are the most among UCLA defensive linemen.

Becoming a consistent force for the Bruins, who will play in their first bowl game since 2017, didn’t come easily for Ogbonnia. As a freshman, he got chewed out by former defensive line coach Vince Oghobaase when another assistant coach noticed Ogbonnia skipped a drill. Now Ogbonnia is leading each drill. Ogbonnia, whose introverted, hard-working nature probably led him to the kitchen as a child in the first place, doesn’t speak often, but earns the attention of his teammates when he does. “He wants to be great in everything he does; he wants to be great in the classroom, he wants to be great on the football field, he wants to be great in the kitchen,” Kelly said. “You watch his work ethic, his attention to detail, especially out here at practice sessions, it rubs off.”

Ogbonnia learned his work ethic from his parents, who maintained high standards for their four children. His father held traditional Nigerian values about gender roles, so Ogbonnia’s two sisters were expected to do house chores like cooking while he and his brother did yard work, and all four were expected to excel academically. But when his father was working and his mother was resting, Ogbonnia snuck into the kitchen to cook eggs or simple pasta dishes. He watched his mom cook and showed her what he could do. Slowly, he started taking control of the kitchen and cooked dinners for his family by freshman year of high school. His mother made traditional Nigerian dishes that his father loved, Ogbonnia made lasagnas, crab cakes and burgers. “Little things that I thought were easy and were fun to make,” he said.

To feed his passion, Ogbonnia took basic classes that sparked his interest in baking that has now become his main culinary focus. Though Ogbonnia can use his strength to plow through opponents on the field, he appreciates the elegance and dexterity of baking. Gaines, who will work with Ogbonnia on the Thanksiving feast this year, loves Ogbonnia’s strawberry cheesecake the most. The version Ogbonnia prepared in his apartment recently was light and creamy with a spiced graham cracker crust he made with a mini-food processor. Although the budding chef bucked tradition by baking the cheesecake without a water bath, the cake stayed soft and fluffy thanks to his method of cooking at a relatively low 300 degrees.

Making a cheesecake is comparatively simple, Ogbonnia said. After 10 tries and at least five different types of cinnamon, he recently perfected his cinnamon roll recipe. Next, he hopes to ascend to croissants and other French pastries where elite chefs can show their talents through delicate techniques. The same way he practiced pass-rush maneuvers and run-stuffing tactics, Ogbonnia wants to perfect how to laminate croissant dough and pipe perfect choux pastry. “Anything that’s meticulous, monotonous, those are the types of baking styles I like,” he said. “Things that require complexities, things that are extremely detailed, I think I’m kind of like that on the field.”

Ogbonnia is eager to eat his way through the world and study cuisines from France, Italy, Brazil and Japan. He’s determined to fit the travels between any future NFL opportunities. The 6-foot-4, 320-pound lineman has an NFL body but hasn’t generated significant 2022 draft interest yet. Enrolled in UCLA’s graduate transformative leadership and coaching program, Ogbonnia could return for another year with additional pandemic eligibility, so he’s not hanging his helmet up for a full-time chef’s hat just yet.

Source: https://www.latimes.com/sports/ucla/story/2021-11-24/how-defensive-lineman-otito-ogbonnia-became-uclas-top-chef.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Stong

Meet UCLA’s most beloved player. He’s a walk-on who has made one basket in four years

Bill Plaschke, LA Times, 11-25-21

The chant first appeared at Pauley Pavilion two weeks ago, in UCLA’s season opener against Cal State Bakersfield, sweeping down from the student section like a prayer. “We want Rus-sell! We want Rus-sell!”

The Bruin basketball team is filled with some of the sport’s most colorful players, prominent personalities who have captured the city with breathtaking shots. The chant is for a kid who has made one basket in four years. “We want Rus-sell! We want Rus-sell.”

The celebrated Bruins basketball team is led by celebrity athletes participating with full scholarships and marketing deals and a real chance at big NBA money. The chant is for the kid who is paying to play. “We want Rus-sell! We want Rus-sell.”

And thus, in this year’s Bruins basketball bible, the last shall be loudest. Arguably the most beloved player on one of America’s most popular teams sits at the end of the bench, plays only at the end of the games, and marvels that anybody even knows his name, much less chants it at the end of blowouts.

“I was like, ‘Are they really cheering for me?” recalled senior walk-on Russell Stong of the first time he heard the rallying cry. “I was in shock. Nobody warned me. I was taken aback. It’s the most amazing thing.”

In a world where big-time college athletics has sprinted beyond the reach of most regular college students, it’s the most perfect thing. Stong has a 3.86 GPA while studying mechanical engineering and business economics, his parents pay around $40,000 a year in tuition and he races around campus on a motorized scooter while constantly juggling classes and labs and tests. Yet for four years he’s also played on the basketball team, an everyman among superstars, a kid who brings schoolwork on road trips and takes tests in locker rooms and shoots by himself at 11 p.m. because that’s the only time he can breathe, his journey so difficult yet delightful that people are now publicly demanding he get into the games.

“I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t dreamed about being in crunch time and shooting buzzer beaters for the win. But my biggest dream is just to be a part of this team.”

Happy Thanksgiving from this most warm and wonderful of shadows.

”He’s ‘The Man,’” said coach Mick Cronin. On his wrist, Stong wears a silver bracelet engraved with his lifelong motto, “Dream. Believe. Achieve.” So far in his young 21 years, he’s checked every box. “He’s a hot commodity,” said teammate Jaime Jaquez Jr. “He’s loved throughout UCLA like no other.”

The 6-foot-3 guard is loved even though he has played a total of 24 minutes in four years, never more than three minutes in one game. “I’ve got great courtside seats,” he said with a smile. The Crespi graduate is loved even though in four years he has taken a total of four shots, with his only basket coming two years ago against San Jose State.

He is asked if he remembers it. Dumb question. “I caught the ball on the left wing, pump-faked the three, drove to my right, the defender reached, I spun back to my left hand and shot a left-handed layup,” he said. “That play is definitely ingrained in my mind.”

Not to mention, written on his shoes. He was so excited by his bucket that he immediately inscribed the event on the side of his sneakers and placed them on a makeshift trophy case in his Northridge home. There are several other pairs of UCLA-supplied shoes in the same case, the first shoes he was given, the first shoes that got into a game, a veritable rack of gratitude. Clearly, while nobody has played less than this guy, nobody is happier to be here.

“Sometimes I have a reality shock,” Stong said. “It’s like, ‘I’m really on [the] UCLA basketball team!’ When I have a second to breathe and think about what I’m doing and where I am, it’s amazing, I’m blessed, I’m the happiest person in the world.”

His happiness can be seen throughout the game, from his end of the bench, as he loudly celebrates his teammates’ every big play. His happiness can also be seen during his brief moments playing, as he refuses to immediately gun the ball like some opportunistic benchwarmer, instead playing as soundly as if the score were tied.

“He always does the right thing,” said Cronin. “There’s no better nonscholarship player you can have for your program, his teamwork, his academics, his character, he’s a great positive for us.” When Stong approached Cronin with the idea that he would take advantage of the NCAA’s COVID redshirt rules and stick around for a fifth season next year, the coaches answer was telling. “I’m like, ‘You can stay for 10 years,’” said Cronin.

Stong initially wasn’t even given 10 minutes. While he played for two state championship teams at Crespi, he wasn’t seriously recruited anywhere. He decided to attend UCLA for the academics while crazily dreaming he could just show up and join the basketball team. “He point-blank looked at me and said, ‘Don’t worry Mom, I will be playing basketball,’’’ said his mother, Candice. “What Russell brings is hope … don’t let anybody say you’re not good enough ... there’s always a place for you.”

He initially made a connection with Steve Alford’s staff through then-Crespi coach Russell White, but he couldn’t even wrangle a preferred walk-on spot. It took several months of constant e-mails and texts and visits for Alford’s folks to even recognize him. But injuries happened and a space opened and on a November day that Stong will never forget, his study session in Powell Library was interrupted with a phone call. “It was the basketball team,” he remembered. “They said they needed me. I said I’ll be there.”

He’s been there ever since, even as it has stretched and strained his academic pursuits, even though he received nothing monetary in return, working off his passion, living off the love. “He’s definitely reached cult hero status. I’m worried it’s going to get so bad, we’ll be up eight with 2:20 to play and I have to put him in.”

“It must be a hard thing to do, to work all those hours in the classroom, be constantly in the gym, working harder than anyone on the team and never getting any minutes,” said his childhood friend Brendon Harrington. “But the bottom line is, he really loves doing this. He knows how cool it is. He’s UCLA’s No. 1 fan.”

He’ll be late for practice because he can’t rearrange his difficult schedule like others and because he refuses to miss class. He once took one midterm test in a Stanford locker room before a walk-through, and another midterm test in the same locker room before a game. When the books finally go down, the basketball goes up in late night solo shooting sessions at the Mo Ostin practice court, where he is accompanied only by his smartphone blaring Lil Baby.

His current schedule during the most important UCLA basketball season in many years? He’s taking micro-economic theory, statistics for economists, a manufacturing processes lab and a bio mechanical research class. “I personally don’t know how he does it,” said his mother. “But he does it.”

Turns out, he does it so well, he was the only Bruin to record a victory in last year’s Final Four. He won the NCAA’s Elite 90 Award for having the highest GPA of any player among the four teams. “What Russ does is inspiring to all of us,” said Jaquez. “He makes us all want to be better.” Jaquez admitted that in recent games, he’s joined the crowd in chanting, “We Want Rus-sell.”

Cronin laughingly acknowledged that the more he hears the chant, the more he feels the pressure.

“He’s definitely reached cult-hero status,” Cronin said. “I’m worried it’s going to get so bad, we’ll be up eight with 2:20 to play and I have to put him in.”

Sure, Stong is human. Yes, he has dreams. Certainly, he wonders what would happen if, just once, Cronin would look down the bench at him before the final minutes of a rout and give him an earlier chance in a close game. “I’m not going to lie and say I haven’t dreamed about being in crunch time and shooting buzzer -beaters for the win,” Stong said, pausing, smiling. “But my biggest dream is just to be a part of this team.”

Ironically, the most compelling aspect of Russell Stong’s chanted name occurs when folks get it wrong. Before many games, Alex Timiraos, UCLA’s basketball communications director, will frequently have to correct opposing radio broadcasters and public address announcers. “They will have already stuck in the ‘r’ in his last name, thinking it’s ‘Strong,’” Timiraos said. “We’re always quick to remind people, it’s not ‘Strong,’ it’s ‘Stong.’”

Turns out, they’re both right.

Story at https://www.latimes.com/sports/ucla/story/2021-11-25/meet-ucla-most-beloved-player-walk-on-russell-stong.

Then and Now


The way we were vs. the way we live now. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

More on UC Overenrollment

What’s it like to study from a hotel? As UC housing crunch worsens, these students are finding out

Ryan Loyola and Sindhu Avanthavel, Updated 11-23-21, CalMatters

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IN SUMMARY

At least four UC campuses have resorted to hotels to house students this fall. The option provided temporary relief to hundreds of students. But the financial support campuses offered varied. And for many students, finding more permanent, affordable housing remains elusive, even as the end of fall quarter nears.

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Zarai Saldana expected to kick off her senior year at UC Merced from a brand-new apartment where she’d already signed a lease. Instead, the transfer student spent the first two weeks of the school year shuttling from hotel to hotel. Construction delays had held up the opening of Merced Station, the private student apartment complex where she’d planned to live, leaving more than 500 of UC Merced’s 9,000-plus students without housing. 

In hotel rooms paid for by the university, Saldana and her roommate took turns studying or eating on the one desk. With no kitchen, she couldn’t prepare food. And because the hotels had to make room for non-student guests who already had reservations, she said, the university assigned her to three different hotels in a span of 11 days. The constant moving affected her studies. “I didn’t start off as well as I hoped I would,” she said. “I started falling behind.”

Saldana eventually found a room to rent off campus. But her experience reflects that of thousands of students across the UC system who were eager to return to campus life this fall after a year of online learning during the pandemic and found themselves scrambling to find housing. Unable to secure dorm rooms or afford pricey off-campus apartments, some ended up in unconventional housing — local hotel rooms. At least four UC campuses offered a hotel option, providing temporary relief to hundreds of students. But the financial support that went along with them varied from campus to campus. And for many students, finding more permanent, affordable housing remains elusive, even as the end of fall quarter nears.

Affordable housing has long been an issue for California’s public universities. In 2020, 16% of UC students lived in hotels, transitional housing or outdoor locations because they didn’t have permanent housing, according to a report from the state’s Legislative Analyst Office. Though the UC system has added about 20,000 more beds across its 10 campuses since the 2015-16 school year, there were still more than 7,500 students on waitlists to get on campus housing during Fall 2021, the LAO found. 

The pandemic exacerbated UC’s housing crunch. Administrators said uncertainty around whether instruction would be in person or online created a last-minute rush of students applying for housing after those decisions were made. To keep campuses COVID safe, some set aside beds for quarantining students who become infected and lowered density in dorms, meaning fewer beds were available. And in coastal cities like Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara, students found themselves facing housing markets that were transformed by the pandemic. Besides camping out in hotels, some resorted to other extreme measures to counter the high cost of living, including couchsurfing and commuting long distances. 

The UC Merced students who were living in hotels have since moved into apartments or on-campus housing, said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Charles Nies. But UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz have also turned to hotels to house students. As of Nov. 16, there were 280 UC Santa Barbara students staying across 10 different hotels contracted by the university, Mario Muñoz, associate director of Residential and Community Living, said during a Nov. 16 town hall meeting. That’s down from roughly 350 earlier in the quarter after some students were able to secure housing elsewhere. University officials said that students in hotels are paying $26 per day, the equivalent of a double-occupancy space in university-owned apartments, and the school is covering the remaining $175 per day...

Full story at https://calmatters.org/education/higher-education/college-beat-higher-education/2021/11/uc-housing-crisis-students-hotels/.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Another Possible Strike

From the Daily Cal: More than 10,000 UC student researchers, or SRs, voted in favor of authorizing a strike in the fight for recognition of their union, Student Researchers United-UAW, or SRU-UAW. Despite SRU-UAW being certified as a union by the California Public Employment Relations Board in August, the university has yet to recognize the union. The delay in recognition means SRs cannot engage in collective bargaining with the university, which would otherwise allow them to negotiate improvements in their working environment, according to the SRU-UAW website...

UC Office of the President spokesperson Ryan King said in an email they support including university-employed graduate SRs in a bargaining unit but dispute the inclusion of other SRs who have “no employment relationship with the University.” Such SRs include fellows and trainees who receive funding to participate in research that will help them toward their graduate or professional program of study or those who receive academic credit, King added in the email...

The strike authorization vote followed a Nov. 18 letter of support for the union signed by 49 California state legislators to UC President Michael Drake. Led by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, legislators urged the university to recognize the SRU-UAW. The letter cited SB 201, a law passed in 2017 that extended collective bargaining rights to all UC SRs*...

Full story at https://www.dailycal.org/2021/11/22/10k-uc-student-researchers-authorize-a-strike-to-recognize-their-union/.

SB 201 can be found at:

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB201.

Santa Monica College Again #1 in Transfers to UC

From the Santa Monica LookoutSanta Monica College (SMC) has been the number one transfer college to the University of California (UC) system since a gallon of gas in Los Angeles was $1.14. That was 31 years ago and Motorola had just released the first "flip" phone.

To keep the streak intact, SMC sent 1,186 students to UC campuses -- 240 more than the second-ranked feeder college, according to 2020-2021 transfer data recently released the UC Information Center. The school also continued to lead in minority transfers, sending 58 Black and 228 Latino students to the UC system, school officials said...

Full story at:

https://santamonicalookout.com/ssm_site/the_lookout/news/News-2021/November-2021/11_22_2021_SMC_Extends_Transfer_Streak_to_31_Years.html.

A UCLA Architect's View of the UC-Santa Barbara Munger Building Plan

The Charlie Munger windowless dorm is the building of our moment

Dana Cuff | 18 November 2021 | Dezeen

Dana Cuff is an architect, director of City Lab and a professor at the Department of Architecture and Urban Design University of California Los Angeles.

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The controversial Munger Hall at University of California Santa Barbara represents the university's capitulation to "the whims of old white men" and will lead to another Greta Thunberg moment, argues UCLA architecture professor and City Lab director Dana Cuff.

Architecture has the capacity to coalesce historical eras by reflecting society at a key moment in time, telling us the story of our shared existence. In 1981, an uproar sprang from the winning competition entry for the Vietnam War Memorial by Maya Lin, a young Asian woman still a graduate student.

In the early 1970s, the demolition of nearly 3,000 units of public housing at Pruitt-Igoe designed by Minoru Yamasaki symbolized the end of modernist utopian aspirations, and with them, the idea of warehousing poor families of color. One step further back, when public housing programs were advanced by the federal government in the 1930s and '40s, public debate raged. In each of these moments, social and political conditions reached a flashpoint that was clarified by architecture.

A building or monument mirrors back to architects and the general public an intelligible translation of swirling complexities otherwise hard to grasp. When that happens, the debate around the architecture is a debate about our shared existence. Alas, the Charlie Munger windowless dorm at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) is attracting so much attention because it is the building of our moment.

What was confusing or invisible now seems apparent, and what we see is surely not the world we want to live in but one we seem resigned to accept. Despite all our contemporary divisiveness, from political partisanship to architecture’s incoherent response to climate change and homelessness, the UCSB-Munger building is bringing us all back together. The real question is: in response, will we collectively rise up or give up?

The grossly scaled, concrete, semi-classically decorated, Costco-capped, 4,500-bed dormitory architecturally captures, all at once, the grim realities of our impoverished public sphere, the bloated powers of industry kings and the punishing inequities that face students even in the best public university in the nation.

Repercussions from California’s taxpayer revolt of 1978 mean only 8.3 per cent of the UC budget now comes from the state. In 2012, rising student tuition exceeded the state contribution for the first time in history. Even further cuts to the state budget are sending UC to look for revenues like out-of-state tuition, but also income from residential services, including dormitory rents.

So the university capitulates to the whims of old white men like Munger, the Berkshire Hathaway billionaire who promises $200 million toward the $1.5 billion estimated cost and dictates the architecture in which a full 20 per cent of undergraduate students' lives will be lived, with no guarantees of affordability. Small rooms, each holding a bed and desk, are organized around a common room, and none of these spaces has any natural light or ventilation.

Prisons and lower ship decks use exactly this model – think of the UCSB-Munger solution as bringing steerage class and San Quentin to campus. Maybe that’s unfair to the Department of Justice, which recommends natural light throughout their facilities.

On top of that, the 11-story windowless building goes against UC’s 2020 Sustainable Practices Policy. Without windows, the building requires electrification and mechanical systems where daylight and natural ventilation would have pleasurably sufficed, and the huge embodied carbon in its concrete construction is environmentally indefensible.

Even though the university will have to find the other $1.3 billion, it capitulated to Munger’s donation and to the further privatization of the world’s best public university system. We can see the results of industry titans evading taxes, and then "donating" far less than they owed in taxes to get the next write-off. We shouldn’t be too surprised when Munger offers to build a business school so long as he can shape the curriculum.

According to knowledgeable sources, the building is further developed than published schematic plans might imply, which is surprising given the apparent indifference to code requirements tied to bedrooms without windows and lack of required egress. For sleeping rooms that exit into another room rather than the outside, there must be a safe evacuation passage in case of fire or earthquake. To get to an exterior wall from inside UCSB-Munger, inevitably long corridors between cell blocks will be part of a life-safety system, generating the need for all that concrete and "communal spaces" overwhelmed by safety requirements.

Building code renders the common good through setting minimum standards to protect the public health, safety, and welfare, but that doesn’t absolve the architects, Van Tilburg Banvard and Soderbergh, or UCSB for that matter, from abandoning the intent of the code.

As an architecture professor at University of California Los Angeles, and director of the design research center cityLAB, my students and I have been working for the past five years to understand student housing insecurity and come up with dignified, creative solutions. Nationwide, in 2020, 15 per cent of students at four-year colleges experienced homelessness and over 40 per cent had some kind of significant housing challenge.

When I asked my students their opinion about the UCSB-Munger building, their sanguine reaction surprised me but it shouldn’t have. Besides dorm rooms, students look for every avenue to affordably sleep near campus from overcrowded apartments to couch-surfing. Captive for four years, a housing crisis can generate a residential version of Stockholm Syndrome among students who rationalize unacceptable conditions.

After tuition, housing is the second largest expense for UC students so it is no wonder they have been advocating for the cheapest solution they can imagine: safe parking. Students consider the UCSB-Munger building in relation to available grim alternatives: better than a car or a sardine can.

Our cityLAB studies found the most affordable housing available to students is living in a co-op, a group house where a few hours of weekly work serves to lower rents, or living at home often with crushing commutes. In response to commuter issues, cityLAB and UCLA created an on-campus lounge where these students can nap, study, or stay overnight for free.

This one small solution, along with a range of decent dormitories, co-ops, rooming houses, co-living arrangements, motel conversions, and even some safe parking would mirror students’ lives far more humanely than one giant concrete block.

But it looks like the grown-ups have lost their way: UCSB, Munger, VTBS Architects, have all abdicated their responsibility to the students as well as to the environment. Yet despite UCSB students living in vans, motel rooms, and on friends’ couches, the windowless dorm sparked a protest demanding humane housing solutions.

We are facing another Greta Thunberg moment when youth will have to show the way forward. It should be architecture students who envision creative new alternatives, along with UCSB students, students advocating for safe parking, students commuting hours each way to get an education, and all the others who are being offered lousy housing options. Remixing John Legend and Lennon, tomorrow’s starting now so if you’re out there: all together now.

Source: https://www.dezeen.com/2021/11/18/charlie-munger-windowless-dorm-dana-cuff-opinion/.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Watch the Regents Session of Nov. 18, 2021

Our prior post noted the announcement at the Regents meeting last Thursday, Nov. 18, that boosters would be required at UC. The full board meeting of that day is discussed below:

At the public comments session, remarks were delivered on staff pay, fossil fuel, labor issues, the transfer process, nurse staffing, student regent-designate voting, the Hawaiian telescope, request for a City of Riverside service fee, and UC-Riverside's long-range development plan. 

The Daily Cal describes the rest of the meeting below. Note that the discussion of not using an alternative test for admissions is at 1:29 (hour one; minute 29) to 2:03 (hour two; minute 3) in the bottom link on this posting:

Executive Vice President of UC Health Carrie Byington reported that 99.15% of UC students and 97.2% of UC employees are currently fully vaccinated, in compliance with the systemwide vaccine mandate. When asked about suggestions for students travelling during the upcoming Thanksgiving break, Byington advised campuses to strengthen testing infrastructure and ensure the testing of all students upon their return to campus.

The regents also discussed the findings of the Presidential Working Group on Artificial Intelligence, a group established to create responsible principles for and assess the potential risks of using AI in the university’s operations.

The university received a record number of applications this past year, leading to conversations about potentially using AI in the admissions process, according to Brandie Nonnecke, founding director of UC Berkeley’s CITRIS Policy Lab. However, Nonnecke provided a “cautionary tale,” in which an AI system used in the University of Texas at Austin admissions office was found to be discriminatory against applicants from underrepresented groups, as the algorithm based its decisions on historical datasets that had ingrained biases. The working group recommended a series of principles to be institutionalized, including transparency, reliability, nondiscrimination and shared benefit and prosperity.

The last discussion item in the regents’ morning session surrounded the elimination of the standardized testing requirement in UC admissions. In January 2021, President Drake requested that the Academic Senate investigate the potential use of the Smarter Balanced assessment in place of the ACT and SAT, which were used in previous years. The Academic Senate’s Smarter Balanced Study Group concluded it does not recommend the Smarter Balanced assessment to be used in the UC undergraduate admissions process, according to Mary Gauvain, co-chair of the group and chair of the UC Academic Senate. “Converting (the Smarter Balanced Assessment) from a low stakes to high stakes assessment would lead to the development of testing centers, which would exacerbate inequity,” Gauvain said during the meeting. President Drake noted the recent surge of applicants from more diverse backgrounds, which he attributed to the elimination of the standardized test requirement. Student Regent Alexis Atsilvsgi Zaragoza added that the UC is becoming a national leader and an example for other universities in terms of admission requirements.

At the following joint session of the Academic and Student Affairs Committee and the Finance and Capital Strategies Committee, UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood presented to the UC Board of Regents a detailed look at how the UCSF campus is aligning its long-term institutional goals with its financial plan. During the presentation, Hawgood highlighted the campus’ three major capital projects, its success in philanthropy, its community investment program and a new educational partnership with UC Merced. The presentation was part of a series in which the regents will look closely at one campus at a time. “I think there’s lots to celebrate and lots to look forward to,” Regent Lark Park said at the end of the meeting.

As always, we preserve the recording of the meeting since the Regents deletes their recordings after one year for no apparent reason. You can see the meeting at:

https://archive.org/details/regents-board-11-18-21.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

UC to Require Boosters

At last Thursday's Regents meeting, UC-EVP Carrie Byington said that booster shots will be required at UC. The timing of enforcement will be determined. You can hear her statement in response to questions at the link below at about 1:26 (One hour, 26 minutes) to 1:29 (one hour, 29 minutes):

https://archive.org/details/regents-board-11-18-21.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Same Old; Same Old

As we have been noting on a weekly basis, new weekly claims for unemployment insurance in California remain stuck at around 60,000 when normal would be around 40,000. Additionally, the official state unemployment rate remains well above the national average. Thus, there is a contrast between the state budget outlook, which we reviewed earlier this week,* and the underlying economy.

The latest new claims data are at https://www.dol.gov/ui/data.pdf.

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*http://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2021/11/state-budget-outlook.html.

Watch the Morning Meetings of the Regents: Nov. 17, 2021

In a prior post, we jumped ahead to the afternoon sessions of the Regents of last Wednesday. Here will fill in with the morning sessions:

The program began with public comments dealing with student research union recognition, Teamster negotiations issues, UC policing budget, affordable student housing, climate change, nurse working conditions, the UC-Santa Barbara proposed Munger dorm, and the Hawaiian telescope. The Daily Cal picks up the rest:

...UC President Michael Drake... addressed the meeting. He first congratulated the 2021 UC-affiliated Nobel Prize laureates — David Julius, UCLA alumnus Ardem Patapoutian, UC Berkeley economics professor David Card and UC Irvine alumnus David MacMillan. Next, Drake shared with the board that the university reached a tentative agreement with UC-AFT for “more job security and other important benefits.”

“This is a very positive development for our entire community, especially the students that we serve,” Drake said during the meeting. “This contract honors the vital role our lecturers play in supporting UC’s educational mission in delivering high-quality education.”

Drake then updated the Board on the Capacity Working Group, composed of himself and the 10 UC chancellors, which has set a goal of adding 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students by 2030. This increased enrollment will happen on campuses with the physical capacity to grow, Drake added.

During the Public Engagement and Development Committee meeting, the regents discussed efforts to increase financial assistance for students. The university and the UC Student Association have developed a campaign calling on Congress to double the Pell Grant by 2024-25, according to UC Associate Vice President for Federal Governmental Relations Chris Harrington. “Debt-free doesn’t mean free, but means that we give students the tools to have enough money for what they need and to graduate debt-free,” said Sen. John Laird during the meeting.

The Office of Ethics, Compliance and Audit Services, or ECAS, also presented its annual report to the regents. Notably, the overwhelming majority of complaints put forth by UC employees this year were made through the whistleblower hotline, which offers 24-hour service and optional anonymity, said Alexander Bustamante, chief compliance and audit officer for ECAS. The report also covered systemwide rates of completion for mandatory faculty and staff trainings regarding cybersecurity, sexual harassment and conflicts of interest in research. The cybersecurity awareness training, with a completion rate of 78%, was of particular interest to board member John Pérez. “Every time we have had significant cyber events, there were human deficiencies,” Pérez said during the meeting. He noted his interest in a report examining how successful UC has been in actually changing human behavior related to cybersecurity rather than simply measuring how many employees viewed the trainings.

At the meeting, the Academic and Student Affairs Committee discussed plans to increase participation in the Eligibility in the Local Context, or ELC, program among California high Schools. This program allows for high school students to be admitted to the UC system based on their performance relative to the students in their own school, rather than in comparison to students on a statewide scale. UC Provost Michael Brown described ELC as a “critical tool for the university to broaden its geographical diversity of the undergraduate entering class.”

According to Brown, in fall 2020, 40% of the university’s admitted class was admitted through the ELC program and 7% of the class was only eligible for admission due to ELC. The committee also discussed the UC initiative to ‘grow our own,’ which aims to increase and diversify the pathways available for UC students to go on to work in roles as researchers and professors within the UC system. “The University of California at this time has a generational opportunity to advance educational diversity,” Brown said during the meeting.

UC Merced Executive Vice Chancellor Gregg Camfield highlighted ways UC campuses can increase diversity in their programs, including mentorship programs and providing stipends for research. Camfield explained that low-income students are often left out of research opportunities as they are in need of money, while students from higher-income backgrounds are able to access unpaid research opportunities without the same stress or concerns of their peers...

Full story at https://www.dailycal.org/2021/11/17/uc-regents-approve-2022-2023-budget-discuss-diversity-initiatives/.

You can watch the meetings at the links below:

Morning session:

https://archive.org/details/regents-board-compliance-and-audit-committee-11-17-21

Board and Compliance and Audit:

https://archive.org/details/regents-board-compliance-and-audit-committee-11-17-21/Regents-Board%2C+Compliance+and+Audit+Committee+11-17-21.mp4

Public Engagement and Development:

https://archive.org/details/regents-board-compliance-and-audit-committee-11-17-21/Regents-Public+Engagement+and+Development+11-17-21.mp4

Friday, November 19, 2021

Watch the Regents Afternoon Meeting of Nov. 17, 2021 (and note the pension discussion)

We're going out of order in our coverage of the Regents meetings of earlier this week in the item below. We have already provided a summary and link to the Tuesday meeting.* We jump here to the afternoon of Wednesday because an important pension funding item was on the agenda, skipping over the morning session. Two committees met in the afternoon: Academic and Student Affairs and Finance and Capital Strategies. First we present a Daily Cal summary of the afternoon. Then we add some commentary on the pension funding matter which came up then. Then we provide links to the recordings of the afternoon sessions.

From the Daily Cal: ...The Academic and Student Affairs Committee discussed plans to increase participation in the Eligibility in the Local Context, or ELC, program among California high Schools. This program allows for high school students to be admitted to the UC system based on their performance relative to the students in their own school, rather than in comparison to students on a statewide scale. UC Provost Michael Brown described ELC as a “critical tool for the university to broaden its geographical diversity of the undergraduate entering class.”

According to Brown, in fall 2020, 40% of the university’s admitted class was admitted through the ELC program and 7% of the class was only eligible for admission due to ELC. The committee also discussed the UC initiative to ‘grow our own,’ which aims to increase and diversify the pathways available for UC students to go on to work in roles as researchers and professors within the UC system. “The University of California at this time has a generational opportunity to advance educational diversity,” Brown said during the meeting.

UC Merced Executive Vice Chancellor Gregg Camfield highlighted ways UC campuses can increase diversity in their programs, including mentorship programs and providing stipends for research. Camfield explained that low-income students are often left out of research opportunities as they are in need of money, while students from higher-income backgrounds are able to access unpaid research opportunities without the same stress or concerns of their peers.

...The Finance and Capital Strategies Committee discussed funding new capital projects, the upcoming UC system budget, the past year’s expenses and a proposed reduction in the employer contribution to the UC pension plan. “Despite the fiscal impact of COVID, the university’s financial position improved quite dramatically in 2021, and it was primarily driven by the strong performance in investments,” said Nathan Brostrom, the UC executive vice president and chief financial officer, during the meeting. The UC system saw a 30% return on its investments in 2021 and received federal financial assistance in the form of $456 million in CARES Act funding and $424 million in additional assistance to its medical centers. Its net financial position improved by $5 billion. The board unanimously approved the UC system’s 2021-2027 capital finance plan and 2022-2023 budget for current operations, as well as its financial statements for 2021.

The university’s budget plan passed with an amendment, requested by Drake, to increase the projected faculty pay scales for policy-covered faculty to account for the current spike in inflation. “This is a wonderful opportunity to really have the University of California grow and serve in the way that it was intended at its founding,” Drake said of the budget during the meeting. The committee also approved funding for three capital projects and long range development plans for UC Irvine and UC Riverside.

All items passed with unanimous consent from the board except for a proposal to reduce the employer contributions to the University of California Retirement Plan to provide budgetary relief to campuses. “This proposal makes me very nervous,” said board member Eloy Ortiz Oakley during the meeting, noting that it is easier to decrease contributions than increase contributions. The motion ultimately passed with three dissenting votes. “We’re not going to zero,” said Cecilia Estolano, chair of the board, before voting for the proposal during the meeting. “We have a need right now to benefit students.”

Full story at https://www.dailycal.org/2021/11/17/uc-regents-approve-2022-2023-budget-discuss-diversity-initiatives/.
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Comment on the Pension Funding Issue and the Regents' Action

The original pension proposal would have cut the employer pension contribution from 15% to 14% of payroll. The fifteen percent figure is a step in a multiyear plan with rising steps over time that already on the books. There would also be borrowing from STIP (the liquid cash account that earns very little because it is invested in short-term assets and because interest rates are near zero) with the borrowed money put in the pension for two years. The argument was made that in that initial period, the combined reduced 14% contribution plus the borrowing would in fact be a net benefit to the funding of the pension. But several Regents expressed discomfort with the cut to 14% and referred to the long contribution holiday to the pension that was so painful to fix. In the end, the Regents adopted an amended plan that made the cut to 14% for two years but then resumed the old schedule assuming no further changes were made after two years.

What caused the dissent was that effectively, the Regents were reacting to the upward blip in financial market returns during fiscal year 2021-22 which pushed the funding ratio on a market basis into the 90% range. If you cut contributions in response to a blip, i.e., whenever a positive blip comes along, you effectively don't have a long-range plan. At the end of the discussion, the committee chair - given what had occurred - asked the university actuary whether there was some "implication" for this behavior in terms of actuarial reporting. He got back a long and convoluted answer that seemed to imply there was no reporting implication. That response presumably was technically correct, but it did not change the fact that a regental action in response to a short term blip implies that the Regents' ability to stick to a plan in Good Times and Bad Times has been put into question. 

Apart from undermining the notion of a long-term commitment, the Regents - through mix of transactions - seem to be borrowing, albeit at a very low interest rate, to finance ongoing operations. There was talk that the money freed up should be used for "one-time" purposes. But the distinction between one-time and ongoing is often blurry. It appeared from what was said that the pressure to cut the pension contribution was coming largely from the health enterprise.

Finally, it is worth pointing out - as we have done at various times on this blog - that the realities of mortality being what they are, pension finance, although it may seem to be an issue for retirees and near retirees to worry about, is really a young person's issue, even if the young are oblivious to it. There is no way - short of an asteroid hitting the Earth - that anyone retired or near retirement is not going to get his/her pension. The long term financing of the pension is thus an issue that should be of interest to the young. 

The links to the Wednesday, Nov. 17, afternoon sessions are at:

Afternoon:
https://archive.org/details/regents-finance-and-capital-strategies-11-17-21pm

Academic and Student Affairs:
https://archive.org/details/regents-finance-and-capital-strategies-11-17-21pm/Regents-Academic+and+Student+Affairs+11-17-21pm.mp4

Finance and Capital Strategies:
https://archive.org/details/regents-finance-and-capital-strategies-11-17-21pm/Regents-Finance+and+Capital+Strategies+11-17-21pm.mp4

You will find the roughly one-hour pension funding discussion at about 1:36 (hour 1; minute 36) to 2:34 (hour 2; minute 34) in the link provided above to the Finance and Capital Strategies session.

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*http://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2021/11/listen-to-regents-meeting-of-nov-16-2021.html.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

State Budget Outlook

The Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) has produced its annual November budget outlook publication.* Essentially, this publication looks at what is sometimes called a workload budget, what the California state budget would look like absent changes that could be enacted by the legislature. It ostensibly aims at telling the legislature what amount is available to spend above and beyond that budget.

There are two problems with this premise, especially in the current period of high reserves. First, the legislature could spend more or less than the LAO says, depending on its (the legislature’s) target for total reserves, or for total reserves relative to expenditures. So, there is no magic number “available” to be spent. There is a wide range of alternatives. (The LAO now says there is a $31 billion “surplus,” an amount equal to the projected reserves in the general fund at the end of fiscal year 2022-23. Even that is arbitrary because the reserves in the general fund are in fact higher – but an arbitrary amount is listed as an encumbrance which the LAO subtracts to get the $31 billion figure.)

Second, LAO continues the unfortunate practice of loose definitions of fiscal terms. It terms what it thinks is “available” as a “surplus” as noted above. In fact, a surplus (or deficit) is a flow concept: the difference between inflows and outflows. That difference is also equivalent to the change in reserves over the fiscal year. However, there are reserves associated with the general fund beyond what is in the general fund: the BSA (budget stabilization account) and the Safety Net. (There is also a Public School reserve which LAO chooses to omit, although the governor typically includes it.) You need to look at the combined growth or decline of total reserves to calculate the surplus or deficit.

It might be noted that the LAO projects state spending on UC to drop from about $4.7 billion this year to $4.3 billion next year on a workload basis, a decrease of about 8%. There will surely be resistance from UC and the Regents to that outcome. In addition, LAO notes that the increase in revenue we have been experiencing is bringing the budget into collision with what is sometimes referred to as the Gann Limit. That limit is based on a formula enacted by voters in 1979 (Prop 4) and subsequently modified by voters. When the limit is hit, taxes can be reduced and/or money diverted into certain specified purposes. Thus, the Gann Limit this coming budget cycle will make budgeting more complicated than in the past.

We have rearranged the LAO’s figures in the table below. As can be seen, in 2020-21, when it was assumed that the pandemic would drastically cut revenue, expenditures were cut substantially below the actual revenue that did arrive. The result was that total reserves rose by over $22 billion. Expenditures were substantially raised when it turned out that revenue did not fall in the following fiscal year, i.e., the current 2021-22 fiscal year. The current fiscal year is projected to show a small surplus of $1.8 billion (revenue > expenditures). LAO’s workload budget has total reserves rising by well over $9 billion next year. So, that amount would be the “surplus” if the legislature makes no changes. Of course, it will make changes. The Dept. of Finance and the governor are looking at figures like these and will undoubtedly produce another Good Times budget proposal in January 2022 for the legislature to consider for fiscal 2022-23.

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*https://lao.ca.gov/reports/2021/4472/fiscal-outlook-111721.pdf.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Watch the Regents Meeting of Nov. 16, 2021

The Regents met yesterday, the first day of their November meetings, in hybrid format at UC-San Francisco. Some were in-person; others were on Zoom. Those who were in-person were largely unmasked despite the fact that the meeting was indoors. Staff people in the background were masked. Although public commenters could have appeared in person, in fact they used the phone option.

In the public comments period, there were statements on nonunion staff pay, nurse staffing, labor relations, contracting out, and the Hawaiian telescope.

The Investments Committee reviewed returns for the various university funds, including the pension. Basically, markets were flat in the third quarter of 2022 after large increases in the prior three quarters. CIO Jagdeep Baccher questioned the current strategy of picking real estate investments noting that an index fund would have produced better results. He toyed with the idea of focusing on real estate in the vicinity of UC campuses to aid in providing student housing and lab space. (It was not clear how this idea would work in practice.)

The National Labs committee looked at the Southern California Hub, an initiative to involve the campuses in southern California with the three Dept. of Energy labs. UC-Irvine was chosen to the be the center of the Hub.

As always, we preserve the recording of the meeting indefinitely since the Regents delete their recordings after one year, for no obvious reason. You can watch the meetings described above at:

https://archive.org/details/regents-board-investments-national-laboratories-11-16-21.

Strike News: No Strike

From ABC 7: A strike involving 6,000 lecturers at UC campuses has been called off. The union representing the lecturers tweeted the announcement Wednesday morning. Both parties have been negotiating for months. Lecturers had accused UC leaders of dishonest bargaining for paid family leave, higher pay, and online instruction compensation. UC officials denied those accusations. 

The tentative agreement averts a planned two-day walkout at nine undergraduate campuses. Classes are expected to be held as scheduled Wednesday, but there is potential for confusion because of the early morning timing of the deal. Union President Mia McIver says the 6,500 lecturers are being encouraged to teach as normal. The tentative deal would increase job security and increase pay by an average 30% over five years. The lecturers teach one-third of undergraduate classes in the UC system...

Full story at https://abc7.com/uc-lecturers-strike-called-off-campus-university-of-california-berkeley/11245986/.

CalPERS Rate of Return Assumption Drops: What About UCRP?

From the Sacramento Bee: Public employees in California will bear the brunt of an investment policy change the CalPERS board made Monday, contributing more toward their pensions while their employers enjoy a short-term reprieve thanks to last year’s stock market boom. 

The vote by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System Board of Administration concluded a once-every-four-years review of the pension fund’s assets, which were recently valued at $495 billion. The approved changes, including added flexibility to borrow money, are aimed at adapting the fund to a shifting financial landscape in which stock market expectations decline and traditionally “safe” investments such as treasuries and bonds no longer earn nearly enough money to keep up with increasing pension costs. The board adopted an annual investment return target of 6.8%, two-tenths of a percentage point lower than last year’s 7% target...

Will the Regents feel pressure also to lower their expected rate of return for their pension system - UCRP? It's unlikely at this time. First, the Regents have already lowered their rate to 6.75%, i.e., slightly below the new CalPERS assumption. Second, on a market basis, recent strong returns in financial markets pushed the UCRP funding ratio into the 90% range. So, although the recent strong results will not go on forever, there is no immediate pressure on the Regents.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

UC-Santa Barbara Giant Dorm Proposal Makes the New Yorker

Maybe these folks can help.
Although some say there is no such thing as bad publicity, the giant dorm proposed for UC-Santa Barbara seems to be a magnet for it. From the latest New Yorker:

Amateur Hour: Nightmare of the Windowless Dorm Room

Charlie Munger, a Warren Buffett crony, donated two hundred million dollars to a university for a gigantic new dorm. The catch: no windows. How did guinea pigs in a similar Munger housing experiment fare?

By Charles Bethea

November 13, 2021, New Yorker, November 22, 2021 Issue 

In 2016, Charlie Munger, the billionaire vice-chairman of Warren Buffett’s holding company, announced his intention to donate two hundred million dollars to the University of California, Santa Barbara, to be used to build a dormitory. There was “one huge catch,” as Munger, an amateur architect, put it: no windows.

“Our design is clever,” Munger assured skeptics. “Our buildings are going to be efficient.” In addition to cutting costs and foiling potential defenestrations, his design would force students out of their sleeping cubbies and into communal spaces—with real sunlight—where, he said, they would engage with one another.

Last month, Munger’s plan was formally accepted by U.C.S.B. without apparent alteration: a nearly two-million-square-foot structure, eleven stories tall, that will house around forty-five hundred students in a hive of tiny bedrooms—the vast majority of which will indeed be windowless. Instead of the real thing, there will be Disney-inspired fake windows, of which Munger has said, “We will give the students knobs, and they can have whatever light they want. Real windows don’t do that.” A consulting architect named Dennis McFadden subsequently announced his resignation from U.C.S.B.’s design-review committee. In a letter, which was later leaked, he wrote that “Charlie’s Vision” was “unsupportable from my perspective as an architect, a parent and a human being.”

McFadden called Munger’s U.C.S.B. building a “social and psychological experiment with an unknown impact on the lives and personal development of the undergraduates the university serves.” Having no natural light was a problem. So were stale air and tight spaces. McFadden noted that the structure had just two main exits and would qualify “as the eighth densest neighborhood in the world, falling just short of a portion of Dhaka, Bangladesh.” Nearly all of Yale’s undergrad population could fit inside.

Munger, who is now ninety-seven years old and lives in a house in Los Angeles with plenty of windows, was unfazed by McFadden’s critique. “When an ignorant man leaves, I regard it as a plus, not a minus,” Munger said. He called McFadden an “idiot” who did not “look at the building intelligently.” In a follow-up in Architectural Record, McFadden countered, “I understand the plans well and in detail.” He added that a famous architect had e-mailed him “about the horrors of the project and asked what he could do to help.” Munger, meanwhile, said that he expected the concrete structure, inspired by a Le Corbusier building in Marseille, to “last as long as the pyramids.”

Dormzilla, as the building has been nicknamed by the local papers, is not Munger’s first windowless lodging. A few years ago, he donated a hundred and ten million dollars to the University of Michigan, his alma mater, to build the Munger Graduate Residences, which opened in 2015. McFadden decried the “unknown impact” of windowless living on students, but thousands of students in Michigan have already been guinea pigs for several years.

Matthew Moreno, a computer scientist, joined his partner in the Munger Graduate Residences last March. It seemed nice at first. There were slate floors and fancy fixtures. The basement had massage chairs, along with a movie theatre that didn’t seem to play movies. A rooftop garden offered views of Ann Arbor, but when it rained water ran straight into two stairwells. Moreno said, “There was abundant seepage, along with tons of dead crickets.”

There were other technical problems: Errant fire alarms went off constantly. A trash-chute malfunction resulted in someone getting bombarded by falling waste. Moreno described poor ventilation and even poorer sleep. “Lots of talk of sunlamps and melatonin,” he said.

Some residents adapted. Wilson Chen, a former pharmacy student, said, “The windows thing was a big bummer, but after a year I kind of got used to it. It got super dark.” A few rooms had a single real window, but, Chen said, “you had to submit, like, a waiver stating your need for a window.”

Eventually, Moreno moved from his sleeping cubby into his suite’s communal area. (In another such area, he’d once watched a scantily clad fellow-resident train for a triathlon on a stationary bicycle set up over a tarp, to catch his sweat, as students played beer pong around him.)

After Moreno moved out, he tweeted a message to Munger. “If you think you can make people make friends with randos just because u didn’t put a window in their bedroom,” he wrote, “u are wrong my man.”

Chen, during four years without windows, never thought to question the philosophical underpinning of the design. “There was a window theory?” he said, of Munger’s notion. “Everyone I knew just kept to themselves.” 

Source: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/11/22/nightmare-of-the-windowless-dorm-room.

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Prior posts on this blog have covered this issue. The most recent is at:

https://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2021/11/more-on-overenrollment-munger-hallhell.html.