Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Other SAL

Sal, at the restaurant in the picture, regularly divides the pie. In 1979, voters adopted the "Gann Limit," a constraint on the state revenue pie also known as the State Appropriations Limit (SAL). It set a cap on how much revenue the state could collect based on a formula. If revenue exceeded the formula, rebates of the overage to taxpayers were required. In effect, under Gann, there is a limit on how big the pie can be.

Voters had earlier rejected an alternative limit proposed by Ronald Reagan in 1973 when he was governor. But in 1978, the political mood shifted with the passage of Prop 13, the property tax limitation, proposed by Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann. Gann was eclipsed in 1978 by the more colorful Jarvis and so he came back the following year with his separate proposition. The Gann Limit applies both to the state and to local governments separately.

Because of two back-to-back recessions that came along after the Gann Limit was enacted, revenue fell well under the Gann Limit until the late 1980s when rebates were issued due to revenue exceeding the limit. At that point, the K-14 educational establishment - school boards and teacher unions - which had become more dependent on the state thanks to Prop 13 put Prop 98 on the ballot earmarking revenue for the schools and community colleges by formula. Prop 98 was subsequently modified by Prop 111. The result was a softening of the Gann Limit. At the peak of the dot-com boom and the resultant revenue surge, the state came close to triggering the modified Gann Limit. But the dot-com bust and later the Great Recession again reduced Gann to a non-issue.

However, despite initial predictions that the pandemic-related recession of 2020 would drastically cut revenue, the projected cut didn't happen. Revenue has been surging reviving talk of exceeding the Gann Limit. That's why the governor regularly has been announcing new programs for this and that. Some of these programs - the latest being an idea of rebates tangentially linked to the rise in gasoline prices. Giving revenue back is a way of avoiding Gann.

The Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) has been raising concerns about the Gann Limit, particularly as it interacts with constitutionally-mandated spending, i.e., the formulas that control spending on K-14. Essentially, the K-14 spending formulas are geared to actual revenue. But the Gann Limit means that some of that revenue is not available and must be rebated to taxpayers and/or used in other prescribed ways. In fact, LAO's projections indicate that every dollar over the Gann Limit diverts $1.60 from discretionary spending. In short, if there is no recession, we are likely to hit the Gann Limit, triggering a budget crisis. If there is a recession, it would be of the conventional revenue-cutting type (not the pandemic type), triggering a budget crisis. 

From the UC perspective, Gann (or recession) can become a major problem - although not this year, but in the future. UC is one of the most discretionary areas of the budget and no compact with the governor or legislature can change that fact. Unlike, say, the state prisons, UC has an alternative source of revenue: tuition. The legislature knows that at the end of the day, it can cut the UC budget, decry the resulting tuition increases, and let the Regents get the blame for them. That was the scenario during the Great Recession.

The LAO is now warning about the Gann Limit and predicting that whether we have a recession or not, the current course of state spending and the governor's various program proposals are "unsustainable." That state's heavy dependence on the highly progressive state income tax is the key to why state revenue is growing rapidly. There are various gimmicks which the LAO points to by which the state can put off the inevitable for a year or so. But, it says, the inevitable is, well, inevitable. 

Below is a summary from a recent LAO publication on the Gann Limit. As blog readers will know, the LAO uses the word "surplus" very loosely and really means the various state reserves that have piled up in recent years. Of course, 2022 is a gubernatorial election year and even though the governor has a lock on another term, neither he nor the Democrats in the legislature are anxious to take drastic budgetary actions. Note that while the Democrats also have a lock on the legislature, individual legislative members could face reelection primary challenges.

From the LAO:


SAL Will Constrain the Legislature’s Choices This Year; State Likely to Face Challenges Balancing the Budget in the Next Couple Years. Based on recent tax revenue collection data, the state will face a significant state appropriations limit (SAL) requirement—possibly in the tens of billions of dollars—at the time of the May Revision. The Legislature and Governor can address that requirement with tax reductions and/or with more spending on specific purposes, such as capital outlay. This year, the surplus likely will be large enough to cover those requirements. In future years, however, it is very unlikely this would be the case, requiring the Legislature to make reductions to existing spending. Under our estimates, this could happen as soon as next year.

Under the Governor’s Budget, the State Is Very Likely to Face Future, Serious Budget Challenges. If the Legislature adopts the Governor’s budget proposals and the economy continues to grow, the state would not have surpluses large enough to pay for large and growing SAL requirements in future years. If the economy does not continue to grow, the state would face budget problems due to revenue shortfalls. For this analysis we examined 10,000 possible revenue and economic scenarios. In over 95 percent of scenarios, the state faces a budget problem by 2025‑26 either due to constitutional spending requirements or a recession. In these scenarios, the state would need to make cuts to existing services to bring the budget back into balance.

Options for Avoiding Budget Problems in Future Years. The Legislature has options to avoid budget problems from arising over the next few years. For example, the Legislature can delay paying SAL requirements (for up to two years), change the definition of subventions, and/or reject nearly $10 billion in Governor’s budget proposals and save those funds to meet future SAL requirements. In fact, we recommend all, or nearly all, of the Governor’s budget proposals that do not help the state meet SAL requirements be rejected. However, all of these options are short‑term remedies, not long‑term solutions. Over the long term, as long as the economy continues to grow, the Legislature has two choices: (1) reduce taxes in order to slow revenue growth or (2) request the voters change the SAL... [page 1]

The State Cannot “Grow Its Way Out” of Budget Problems. Higher revenues do not increase the state’s ability to meet SAL requirements. In fact, the opposite is true. ...Because of the state’s constitutional spending requirements—including that the SAL requires the state to dedicate all revenues above a certain threshold for SAL requirements, no matter how much revenues grow—higher revenue growth means each $1 collected results in $1.60 of spending requirements. This dynamic puts the state in an untenable fiscal situation. [page 5]

Full publication at



Wednesday, March 30, 2022

UCLA Saved by the Slap

We have been reviewing cases of recent good PR* and bad PR** that UCLA has recently received. Sometimes, however, what might have been bad PR is simply eclipsed by other events. It appears that UCLA was saved from some bad PR by the infamous Oscars slap incident which sucked the oxygen from lesser stories.*** 

Fox News reported that UCLA's director of race and equity Johnathan Perkins tweeted a seeming death wish about the then-hospitalized Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.**** "No one wants to openly admit [we all] hope Clarence Thomas dies. Whatever you need to tell yourselves..." (The Twitter account has since been made private but it was public at the time and screenshots were taken.) 

The Fox item, with an image of the tweet, began to spread on conservative news media. But just as it did, the Oscars slap arrived. Anna Spain Bradley, UCLA Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at UCLA said Perkins’ tweet "does not reflect my or UCLA EDI’s views." And the tweet story began to fade.

There is the usual lesson in this tale that everything you might be thinking may not need expression on Twitter. Or, if you have to do it, make sure there is a bigger news story out there - just in case.


* and



**** The full tweet screenshot is reproduced in this article.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

MIT Reinstates SAT/ACT: Cites Original UC Senate Study

A blog post from the MIT Admissions office announces the reinstatement of the SAT/ACT requirement (unlike UC). It cites the original UC Academic Senate study (footnote 4) as part of the rationale for using the tests. 

We are reinstating our SAT/ACT requirement for future admissions cycles in order to help us continue to build a diverse and talented MIT

March 28, 2022, MIT Admissions, Stu Schmill '86


At MIT Admissions, our mission is to recruit, select, and enroll a diverse and talented group of students who are a good match for MIT’s unique education and culture. Everything we do in our process is grounded by our goal to find and admit students who will succeed at MIT and serve the world afterward. 

After careful consideration, we have decided to reinstate our SAT/ACT requirement for future admissions cycles. Our research shows standardized tests help us better assess the academic preparedness of all applicants, and also help us identify socioeconomically disadvantaged students who lack access to advanced coursework or other enrichment opportunities that would otherwise demonstrate their readiness for MIT. We believe a requirement is more equitable and transparent than a test-optional policy. In the post below — and in a separate conversation with MIT News today — I explain more [⁠01] about how we think this decision helps us advance our mission. 

When we initially suspended our testing requirement due to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote: 

This was not a decision we made lightly. Our reliance on these tests is outcome-driven and applicant-oriented: we don’t value scores for their own sake, but only to the extent that they help us make better decisions for our students, which they do. We regularly research the outcomes of MIT students and our own admissions criteria to ensure we make good decisions for the right reasons, and we consistently find that considering performance on the SAT/ACT, particularly the math section, substantially improves the predictive validity of our decisions with respect to subsequent student success at the Institute.

Within our office, we have a dedicated research and analysis team that continuously studies our processes, outcomes, and criteria to make sure we remain mission-driven and student-centered. During the pandemic, we redoubled our efforts to understand how we can best evaluate academic readiness for all students, particularly those most impacted by its attendant disruptions. To briefly summarize a great deal of careful research:  

- our ability to accurately predict student academic success at MIT⁠ [02] is significantly improved by considering standardized testing — especially in mathematics — alongside other factors 

- some standardized exams besides the SAT/ACT can help us evaluate readiness, but access to these other exams is generally more socioeconomically restricted⁠ [03] relative to the SAT/ACT

- as a result, not having SATs/ACT scores to consider tends to raise socioeconomic barriers to demonstrating readiness for our education,⁠ [04] relative to having them, given these other inequalities

Our research can’t explain why these tests are so predictive of academic preparedness for MIT, but we believe it is likely related to the centrality of mathematics — and mathematics examinations — in our education. All MIT students, regardless of intended major, must pass two semesters of calculus, plus two semesters of calculus-based physics, as part of our General Institute Requirements.⁠[05] The substance and pace of these courses are both very demanding, and they culminate in long, challenging final exams that students must pass [⁠06] to proceed with their education.⁠ [07] In other words, there is no path through MIT that does not rest on a rigorous foundation in mathematics, and we need to be sure our students are ready for that as soon as they arrive.⁠[08]   

To be clear, performance on standardized tests is not the central focus of our holistic admissions process. We do not prefer people with perfect scores; indeed, despite what some people infer from our statistics, we do not consider an applicant’s scores at all beyond the point where preparedness has been established as part of a multifactor analysis. Nor are strong scores themselves sufficient: our research shows students also need to do well in high school and have a strong match for MIT, including the resilience to rebound from its challenges, and the initiative to make use of its resources. That’s why we don’t select students solely on how well they score on the tests, but only consider scores to the extent they help us feel more confident about an applicant’s preparedness⁠ [09] to not just to survive, but thrive, at MIT. 

At the same time, standardized tests also help us identify academically prepared, socioeconomically disadvantaged students who could not otherwise demonstrate readiness⁠ [10] because they do not attend schools that offer advanced coursework, cannot afford expensive enrichment opportunities, cannot expect lengthy letters of recommendation from their overburdened teachers, or are otherwise hampered by educational inequalities.⁠[11] By using the tests as a tool⁠ [12] in the service of our mission, we have helped  improve the diversity of our undergraduate population [⁠13] while student academic outcomes at MIT have gotten better,⁠[14] too; our strategic and purposeful use of testing has been crucial to doing both simultaneously.⁠[15]   

Like all of you, we had hoped that, by now, the pandemic would be behind us. It is not, nor is it clear if or when it will be. However, the availability of vaccines for adolescents⁠ [16] has reduced the health risks of in-person educational activities, while the expansion of the free in-school SAT,[⁠17] and the forthcoming Digital SAT, have increased opportunities to take the tests. Given the crucial role these tests play in our process, we have — after careful consideration within our office, and with the unanimous support of our student-faculty advisory committee — decided to reinstate our SAT/ACT requirement for the foreseeable future.⁠[18]

We are reinstating our requirement, rather than adopting a more flexible policy, to be transparent and equitable in our expectations. Our concern is that, without the compelling clarity of a requirement, some well-prepared applicants won’t take the tests, and we won’t have enough information to be confident in their academic readiness⁠19 when they apply. We believe it will be more equitable⁠ [20] if we require all applicants who take the tests to disclose their scores. 

So, if you are applying to MIT in the future, we will normally expect you to submit an SAT or ACT score. If you are unable to take the tests because of a disaster or disruption, because the SAT/ACTs are (still) unavailable or unsafe to take⁠ [21] in your region, or for another exceptional reason, we will give you space on the application to explain your circumstances, and we will still grant you a full and fair review. In such cases, we will not make any negative presumptions regarding your academic readiness based solely on the absence of SAT/ACT scores, but will instead draw upon the lessons we have learned during the pandemic to make the best, most informed decision we can by rigorously assessing other academic aspects of your application.[⁠22]   

I understand that this announcement may dismay some readers for whom the tests can be a source of stress. As someone whose daughters went through the college admissions process over the last few years, I saw firsthand [⁠23] the anxiety they can cause.[⁠24] I’ve heard from many applicants (and their parents) that requiring the tests can make it feel like we only care about a number, and not the person behind it. I also understand that our emphasis on academic preparedness in this post might make an applicant who does not score well feel inadequate, or like we think less of them as a student or a person. 

To those of you who feel this way I say: you are not your test scores, and for that matter, you are also not your MIT application, either. You are infinitely more than either of these narrow constructs could ever capture. When we talk about evaluating academic readiness for MIT, that doesn’t mean we are measuring your academic potential, or intrinsic worth as a human. It only means that we are confident you, at this specific moment in your educational trajectory, can do well in the kind of hard math and science tests demanded by our unusual education. Every year, we turn down [⁠25]many outstanding applicants — people we think are truly awesome — who go on to thrive elsewhere. Remember: your MIT decision is never about us passing judgment on you as a person, just about us contingently selecting a particular team of people, at a particular point in time, to take on the challenge of MIT, together. 

We are announcing this decision now to give the prospective Class of 2027 (and beyond) time to prepare for their exams and otherwise make their college application plans. In the meantime, we will continue to welcome the newly admitted Class of 2026 —  especially at our first in-person Campus Preview Weekend since 2019 next week —  and wish all of you a healthy and happy 2022.



(1) [We use footnotes] in case readers want to learn more than we could reasonably fit into the main body of text while still keeping it comprehensible.
(2) Our research shows this predictive validity holds even when you control for socioeconomic factors that correlate with testing. It also shows that good grades in high school do not themselves necessarily translate to academic success at MIT if you cannot account for testing. Of course, we can never be fully certain how any given applicant will do: we're predicting the development of people, not the movement of planets, and people always surprise you. However, our research does help us establish bands of confidence that hold true in the aggregate, while allowing us, as admissions officers, to exercise individual contextual discretion in each case. The word 'significantly' in this bullet point is accurate both statistically and idiomatically.
(3) Examples of these other exams include the AP/IB exams, international curricula like the IGCSEs, or the mathematical olympiads. However, access to these examinations generally depend on what is offered at your high school, and there are immense disparities between schools in this regard, and even within schools for certain students.
(4) Although our analysis is specific to MIT, our findings directionally align with a major study conducted by the University of California’s Standardized Testing Task Force, which found that including SAT/ACT scores predicted undergraduate performance better than grades alone, and also helped admissions officers identify well-prepared students from less-advantaged backgrounds. It is also consistent with independent research compiled by education researcher Susan Dynarski that shows standardized testing can be an effective way to identify talented disadvantaged students who would otherwise go unrecognized. Of course, there may be institutions for whom this research does not hold true, but the findings are very robust for MIT, and have been for many, many years.
(5) The GIRs are both a defining strength of the MIT education, and also the functional constraint on access to it. Because all MIT undergraduates, no matter their major, must pass challenging classes in calculus, physics, biology, and chemistry — as well as a rigorous humanistic and communication requirement — we believe we can only responsibly admit students who are prepared to do all of that work, across all of those fields, at their time of entry to MIT. It is perhaps worth noting that the GIRs are also the most basic point of entry in each of these fields: MIT does not offer any remedial math classes ‘below’ the level of single-variable calculus, for example, or physics courses ‘below’ classical mechanics, so students have to be ready to perform at that level and pace when they arrive.
(6) In addition to final exams in the GIRs, first-year students also usually take several other exams. Most students also must take a separate math diagnostic test for physics placement as soon as they arrive on campus, and placement out of MIT classes is mostly granted through our Advanced Standing Exams, rather than by AP or transfer credit. As a member of our faculty once observed to me, “the first year at MIT is often a series of high-stakes math tests.” Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that the SAT/ACT are predictive (indeed, it would be more surprising if they weren’t).
(7) The vast majority of MIT students will then go on to take many additional quantitative and analytical courses within their program of study, even if they are not majoring in science or engineering. For example, an economics degree at MIT requires at least one course in econometrics, and a philosophy degree at MIT usually entails courses in set theory, modal logic, and/or infinities and paradox). To a degree unlike almost any other institution, MIT is a place where every student will have to do a lot of math (and math tests).
(8) A reader might reasonably ask: well, can’t MIT do more to bring students up to speed? Why are you most focused on students who you think can already do well, and not those who could, if they had more help? To be clear, everyone will find MIT a challenge, no matter how well-prepared. And MIT does provide support for its students through its excellent tutoring programs, affinity networks, support services, alternative curricula, summer programs, and so on. However, our research shows there is a degree of preparation below which a student, even with those resources, is unlikely to be able to succeed. We feel it is our responsibility to make those difficult calls, and only admit a student to MIT if they are ready to undertake its education at this point in their educational development. Meanwhile, we continue to collaborate with our partners in K-12 education to try and help interrupt persistent, intergenerational inequality where and how we can.
(9) It is worth noting that since MIT opened in 1865, and until our public-health driven suspension in 2020, MIT has required some kind of entrance exam to demonstrate mastery of the material required to succeed in our education. As our blogger CJ has documented, at the founding, applicants were required to show competence in "arithmetic, algebra, geometry, English grammar, geography, and the rudiments of French" on an entrance examination designed and administered by the Institute. These exams allow applicants to show their ability to succeed at MIT regardless of what was available at the high school they may have attended, and eventually transitioned to similar exams offered by the College Board by the 1940s, which evolved over time into the simpler set of tests we have today. So there is a long history of MIT tailoring its admissions requirements to pragmatic assessments of what is required to do well at the Institute.
(10) This may seem like a counterintuitive claim to some, given the widespread understanding that performance on the SAT/ACT is correlated with socioeconomic status. Research indeed shows some correlation, but unfortunately, research also shows correlations hold for just about every other factor admissions officers can consider, including essays, grades, access to advanced coursework (as well as opportunities to actually take notionally available coursework), and letters of recommendations, among others. Meanwhile, research has shown widespread testing can identify subaltern students who would be missed by these other measures. Of course, this area of research is complex and contested, but the main point is that for every aspect of every application, we always have to adjust for context: as one of the papers I linked above notes, "college admission protocols should attend to how social class is...encoded in non-numerical components of applications." Meanwhile, the predictive validity of these tests for MIT, coupled with their ability to identify (some) students who would not otherwise be ‘picked up’ by other indicators, means that we are able to use them to help diversify our class more than if we did not consider them.
(11) In general, we think it is important that the MIT education does not simply and unthinkingly reproduce an educational elite who have already had ample access to resources. In our process, we do not give preference to legacies, nor weight to demonstrated interest, nor an advantage to those who apply through our (non-binding and non-restrictive) Early Action process, nor other things that subtly correlate with socioeconomic advantage but are unrelated to a student’s ability to do well at MIT. And when we review applications, we always strive to evaluate each student’s accomplishments in context: we don’t care as much about what a student has done as what they have done relative to what might have been expected, given their resources. According to research published in the New York Times a few years ago, there is more economic diversity and intergenerational mobility at MIT than at comparable institutions (although not quite as much as at some public institutions that deserve ample credit and recognition for their work); nearly 20 percent of our students are the first-generation in their family to attend college, as I was. We of course have room to do better, and we think the tests will help us continue to improve.
(12) We know they are imperfect tools, of course. Tests can’t measure everything that is important about an applicant’s creativity, curiosity, or drive. But because all of our tools are imperfect, we have to account for all of their imperfections in our process. This is what makes admissions something a skilled human does, and not something amenable to a simple algorithm crunching numbers. Given all these imperfections, might we someday have better tools at our disposal? I hope so. I have supported reform initiatives such as the Mastery Transcript, performance assessments, and certifications. For many years, we have allowed students to submit creative portfolios — including our Maker Portfolio for technical creativity —  to demonstrate unique interests and aptitudes not necessarily captured in their grades and scores. However, these alternative assessments are not yet widely available to students across the socioeconomic spectrum (relative to the SAT/ACT), and we do not yet have the research that would allow us to substitute them for the tests as a predictor of success at MIT even if they were. We will continue our advocacy and research in these areas, but for now, we find we still need to rely on conventional indicators like grades and scores, at least to some degree.
(13) What it means to "improve diversity" is a complex question. As we say in our diversity statement: "How much diversity is necessary to achieve our goals? Every student should feel that ‘there are people like me here’ and ‘there are people different from me here.’ No student should feel isolated; all students should come into contact with members of other groups and experience them as colleagues with valuable ideas and insights." For our purposes here, by "improving diversity" we mean we work to improve the recruitment and enrollment of well-matched and academically prepared students from a range of under-represented populations, including students of color, low-income students, and students who will be the first generation in their family to go to college.. We also value the diversity contributed by our many ‘New Americans’: a majority of MIT students are either immigrants themselves, or the child of at least one immigrant parent, and we believe their experiences and perspectives enhance MIT as well.
(14) For example, rising graduation rates across all demographic groups, and fewer students receiving fifth week flags or otherwise subjected to academic review, just in terms of things we can straightforwardly measure.
(15) In the past, we have publicly described this simultaneity —  more diverse, and doing better — as there being no necessary tradeoff between diversity and merit, as some unfortunately still seem to believe. Of course, in contemporary discussions of educational equity, the entire concept of "merit" — which appears as a keyword in our mission statement — has been critiqued as merely laundering intergenerational privilege. However, what we mean by "merit" in this context is something like: "someone who we think will do very well at MIT, and in the world afterward, based on what they have done with their opportunities, relative to what we would have expected given those resources." In other words, it is defined pragmatically and contextually for the specific needs of, and goals for, an MIT education, and is not intended to pass universal judgment of who "deserves" or has "earned" our education. Meanwhile, our research suggests the strategic use of testing can help us continue to improve both the diversity of our class and its collective success at MIT. The pandemic has only made this more clear, because classroom work and assessment have been just as disrupted as access to the tests, if not more so, and for longer periods of time, disproportionately affecting the most socioeconomically disadvantaged students. We know that the pandemic’s effects on grades and courses will linger for years, but the tests can give students a more recent opportunity to show that they have made up lost ground.
(16) Prospective MIT students should note that all faculty, staff, and enrolled students must be up to date with their Covid-19 vaccines, or have received an exemption from vaccination, in order to work, study, and/or live on campus. “Up to date” in this context means a person has received all recommended Covid-19 vaccines. Additionally, Covid-19 vaccine boosters are required of all eligible MIT employees, faculty, and enrolled students, as well as anyone else who studies, works, or lives on MIT’s campus or who regularly accesses MIT facilities. For more on MIT’s vaccination policies, click here.
(17) Which is how a majority of students in the United States now take the SAT.
(18) We know that this is cutting against the recent trend toward test-optional policies. However, for reasons I’ve explained above, the tests greatly help us in our efforts to enroll a diverse and talented class. I say "for the foreseeable future" because we believe this policy is the best way for us to meet our mission given the facts on the ground as they are now, but also to acknowledge —  as the pandemic has repeatedly taught us —  that sometimes those facts change. We will continue to research all of our practices and outcomes to make sure we remain centered on our mission, and not the tests themselves. For example, a few years ago we made the decision to stop considering the SAT Subject tests in our process. As I wrote at the time, we did this because our research showed the marginal additional benefit of the subject tests (in terms of predicting academic outcomes) was no longer worth the costs of access in terms of recruiting and enrolling our desired class (as long as we could still consider the SAT/ACT), because exogenous patterns of test-taking had changed. This hopefully helps explain how we think about our research informing our practice, guided by our values.
(19) Again, our research suggests this is most true for our most disadvantaged applicants, whose other educational opportunities have been most disrupted by the effects of the pandemic.
(20) By requiring everyone submit the tests, we reduce the socioeconomic advantage of students who have access to better advising about strategic score disclosure, while ensuring that students with less access to such advising are not left anxiously in the dark, wondering what they should do. This dynamic is why, when we stopped considering the SAT Subject Tests, we did not move to a test-optional policy, but instead adopted what is sometimes called a "test-free" policy, where we do not solicit them from applicants, and proactively remove them from view when self-reported.
(21) In addition to disruptions caused by natural disasters, political instability, and military conflicts, we know the pandemic continues, and not everyone around the world has been able to be vaccinated yet, or is able to mount an adequate immune response. Please do not endanger yourself or your family to sit for these exams. If you have to have to ask yourself whether or not you are in danger, exercise the precautionary principle and assume the answer is yes.
(22) Based on our research from the pandemic, the most important components to demonstrate academic readiness in the absence of SAT/ACT scores would be other standardized exams, such as the AP/IB/AICE exams in the United States, or (inter)national examinations such as the IGCSE, CAPE, WASSCE, KCSE, French Baccalaureate, Abitur, International Science Olympiads, and so on abroad.
(23) It was difficult enough for them, and they had a Dean of Admissions for a dad!
(24) Not only a stress but a burden —  another thing to study for, and schedule, and do. We try to remove barriers from applicants wherever we can, and think of the tests as a bridge for reasons I described above, but of course, infrastructures are relational: a bridge functions as a barrier if you can’t cross it. For that reason, we continue to work with the College Board, Khan Academy’s tutoring team, and other agencies and institutions to reduce burdens, and pave paths, as much as possible from our position.
(25) Sometimes we do not admit students because we are concerned about their academic preparation, or match for MIT; given the strength of our applicant pool, though, it is more often the case we think they can do the work, but we simply don't have the space to admit all the well-qualified and well-matched students who apply.

TMT Developments

From time to time, we look into the controversy surrounding proposed construction of the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii. UC is one of the institutions that would be involved in the TMT project. The issue comes up fairly regularly in public comment periods at the Regents.* 

Back in 2020, the Regents devoted an entire session to the TMT issue.** It appears from what can be found online that things are not going well for the plan in the Hawaii legislature, at least according to the latest item yours truly could find. See below:

U of Hawaii Official: Mauna Kea Management Bill Would Mean ‘An End To Astronomy’

The Senate Higher Education Committee is expected to decide Wednesday on a bill that would replace a recent management plan devised by the Board of Regents.

By Cassie Ordonio  / March 22, 2022 / Honolulu Civil Beat

University of Hawaii officials are worried about the fate of astronomy on Mauna Kea if a proposal that could ultimately remove the UH’s role in managing the summit passes the Legislature. House Bill 2024 calls for transferring the responsibility of the lands to a new governing body of mostly Native Hawaiians. The panel would be in charge of developing a plan on how to manage land use, recreational use, stewardship, education, research and the overall operation above the 6,500-foot mark of Mauna Kea. Though the university’s Board of Regents approved its new management plan for Mauna Kea earlier this year, the bill would largely scrap that plan.

The Senate Higher Education Committee heard testimony Tuesday on the bill. Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, who chairs the committee, said she expects the committee to vote on the measure Wednesday. She said she plans to pass the bill with amendments. The bill would need to pass one more committee before going to the full Senate. UH officials say they didn’t expect the bill to make it this far.

“The bill is currently crafted and projects an eventual return of the summit region to its natural state,” Greg Chun, executive director for UH Hilo’s Center for Maunakea Stewardship, said in an interview on Monday. “That means an end to astronomy with some undetermined future, and that’s a decision that has not been fully vetted in a conversation with all the people of Hawaii.”

Under a 65-year lease agreement, the university has managed most of the lands of the summit since 1968, but critics point to what they say is a long record of mismanagement of the mountain. The university’s current lease runs until 2033. In the university’s management plan, the number of telescopes would be reduced to nine from 13 after 2033. If HB 2024 becomes law, it would take three years to transfer management responsibilities from the university to the new governing group.

At Tuesday’s hearing, several astronomers and other supporters backed the university and want it to continue to manage Mauna Kea. Hawaii island resident Katherine Roseguo testified in opposition of the bill, saying that “Hawaiian culture and astronomy can work together harmoniously.” 

“It’s not desecration to use these instruments (telescopes) to find out more about ourselves,” she said.

Hilton Lewis, director of the W.M. Keck Observatory, suggested that the Legislature amend the bill to create a timeline that doesn’t interfere with leases, extend the transition period to the new governing authority from three to five years, require that the authority create a concrete financial plan, and assure Hawaii astronomy is represented in the panel’s decision making. “HB 2024 has opened a conversation in our community about a positive way forward for the future of Maunakea,” Lewis said in written testimony. “Whichever path our elected officials choose for the governance and management of Maunakea, the Maunakea Observatories seek a community model of astronomy in which astronomy continues beyond 2033 inclusive of native Hawaiian perspectives and built on collaborative, mutually respectful relationships with the local community.”

Along with Native Hawaiians on the panel, the bill provides for the University of Hawaii president or his representative to be included in the group. The bill envisions two advisory groups of astronomers and Native Hawaiians to be included when the management panel makes decisions. However, Noe Noe Wong-Wilson, who was part of the Mauna Kea working group created by House Speaker Scott Saiki, supported the bill and suggested the bill be amended to include the University of Hawaii Hilo chancellor as a member instead of the UH president. Lawmakers are still weighing whether the Mauna Kea Observatories should be a member of the panel.



*Our most recent prior blog post on this subject is at:


Monday, March 28, 2022

New CFO (Interim) Appointment

From an email circulated today:

Dear Bruin Community:

Following up on my recent message about the departure of Gregg Goldman, I am pleased to announce that Allison Baird-James, currently UCLA’s associate vice chancellor of business and finance solutions, has agreed to serve as our interim vice chancellor and chief financial officer. She will take up the position on April 4.  

Since joining UCLA in 2010, Allison has proven to be an extremely capable and versatile leader. As associate vice chancellor, she has been responsible for our campus’s financial management and reporting, as well as the many and varied functions within the business and finance solutions office. Among other accomplishments, she created the treasury function at UCLA, diversifying our revenues and generating over $1 billion in new unrestricted revenue from investments over the past decade. She has also led cross-organizational teams to continually improve financial services, and established and is chair of the Busting Bureaucracy Working Group, designed to bring greater efficiency and focus to our operations.  

Allison has spent much of her career working in higher education. Prior to UCLA, she served for nearly 14 years at Stanford University in the roles of interim controller, associate controller and associate director of internal audit. Before Stanford, she worked in the finance divisions of several medical institutions. She started her career in accounting at PricewaterhouseCoopers and earned her Certified Public Accountant certification.

Allison holds a B.S. degree in business administration from California State University, Chico. In addition, she is a graduate of UCLA Anderson’s executive program in management and women in governance program as well as Stanford’s leadership program. She is a fellow of the National Association of College and University Business Officers and serves as co-treasurer and a board member of the Organization of Women Executives.   

I deeply appreciate Allison’s willingness to serve as interim vice chancellor and chief financial officer during this time of transition. In the future, we will launch a national search for the next permanent head of the division — but in the meantime, given Allison’s long record of success, I have full confidence in her ability to keep UCLA on firm financial footing and to advance her division’s critical work and initiatives. 


Gene D. Block, Chancellor

Televising Classes

We noted in a previous posting of the recent Regents meetings that faculty representative Robert Horwitz devoted significant time to discussing the complications that would be involved in making all courses available in some type of online or hybrid format.* His remarks were triggered by demands from some student groups for such universal remote accessibility.

It might be noted that one UCLA school - the Anderson School of Management - has arranged for all of its classrooms to be equipped with that capability. A private service - Mediasite - is set up in each room which essentially involves a video camera with audio capability.** The camera turns on automatically timed with the schedule of each course. Instructors can live-stream the course, put the recording online, or - presumably - elect not to do either.

For all UCLA courses to have such options, cameras and audio equipment would have to be installed in all classrooms. Since it has been done at Anderson, it should be possible to estimate what costs would be involved. Beyond costs, Horwitz noted other complications apart from the technical issues in his remarks to the Regents such as issues of intellectual property and control of the use of recordings once they are on the web. Note that if there is significant student participation in the class, there are also some issues surrounding consent to be recorded.

These kinds of discussions at the Regents and elsewhere long predate the most recent meetings. We noted such discussions on this blog back in 2013.***





Sunday, March 27, 2022

UCLA's Contribution to the Academy Awards

Today is the day for the Academy Awards ceremony. A UCLA alumnus describes his contribution to the film "Don't Look Up" in an interview with the Bruin excerpted below.

If you saw the movie but are one of those folks who walk out of the theater or turn off your TV (or whatever device) when the closing credits roll, you would have missed the scene where 22,000+ years from now, the survivors emerge from hibernation on a new planet and Merryl Streep is eaten by a local creature.

Other-worldly visual effects take center stage in “Don’t Look Up.” Nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” follows the story of astronomy graduate student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) as they make the disturbing revelation that a planet-killer comet is headed toward Earth. Alumnus Eric Guaglione served as animation visual effects supervisor for the film and used visual effects to enhance numerous celestial scenes depicting space. The Daily Bruin’s Paria Honardoust spoke with Guaglione about the role of visual effects in “Don’t Look Up” as well as the facilitation of its technical aspects...

DB: For those who are unfamiliar with visual effects, could you briefly break down the visual effects processes of this film?

EG: I could use the very end sequence of the actors descending from the spacecraft and onto this planet (as an example). In there, some of the spacecraft was actually a prop that was built, but not the whole spacecraft. It’s pretty much the ladder where they’re walking down onto the planet surface, and so there was a very small area on stage that they could walk around on, but everything in the background was done as a blue screen. That way, we can later replace that blue area that was on screen with the environment of entire alien planets.

In the meantime, we wanted to create a place that felt like it was alive, so we have designs of alien birds flying and, of course, we had to animate those. The other teams put the details onto the characters like feathers, colors and the appropriate lighting. But it looks like a realistic image after it’s been activated. Then, of course, the more tricky things to do are when you would have, let’s say, this alien bird-like creature that attacks Meryl Streep’s character. There you would have something that’s pretty challenging because you have a human that is shot on set, and then all of a sudden, you have an alien that attacks that human. Well, you can’t really kill an actor on set – so you have to do that through digital means.

Full article at

If you are one of those folks who didn't wait for all the closing credits, fear not! The scene is at the link below: [Click on the arrow until it runs.]

Or direct to

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Holding in the Normal Range

Each week, we check in the with the data on new weekly California claims for unemployment insurance. And the good news is that they have been running in the 40,000 pre-pandemic range for several weeks, i.e., the normal range. The official unemployment rate in California has also been falling.

As always, the data source is

Good PR is Better - Part 2

UCLA dorm room back in the day
We continue our obvious point that Good PR is better than the bad PR that UCLA received for its seeming no-pay job,* by noting the good PR UCLA received for its housing guarantee.

...UCLA is the first University of California school to offer four years of housing for first-year students and two years of housing for transfer students. Thanks to the number of housing units that the school has built, 13,620 undergraduates will be able to live on campus in 17 residential buildings. The language of that “guarantee” is a bit more complex than it initially seems; students still have to pay for housing. The school claims the cost of its housing is nearly a third lower than comparable market-rate rents, but that doesn’t necessarily make it affordable in L.A.’s Wild West rental market. Still, the availability of campus housing provides students with options close to their classes, which saves on commute time (which is good for students and the city)...

Full story at

Note that there are roughly 31,000 undergraduates at UCLA so if all of them wanted to live on campus or in a UCLA-owned building, it would not be possible. So, the guarantee effectively assumes that some (many) students for various reasons will want to have other housing arrangements.



Friday, March 25, 2022

Good PR is Better

We noted a few days ago that UCLA has received some bad PR as a result of the posting of a job ad that seemed to include work for no pay.* On the other hand, it got some good PR for a implementing a new policy of providing menstrual products in campus restrooms. True, in doing so, the university was complying with a state law. However, the state law takes effect at a future date, and the university is implementing the law now.

 From the Bruin:

UCLA will provide free menstrual products in bathrooms across campus, becoming the first University of California campus to do so. Beginning April 4,** university restrooms will be supplied with complimentary menstrual products in an effort to improve the well-being of individuals on campus, according to a campuswide email sent Thursday. The California Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021, previously signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October, will require all state public universities to provide free menstrual products in restrooms beginning with the 2022-2023 school year...

Full story at



**As the photo above shows, some restrooms already have the products in place. (If you're wondering, the photo was taken by yours truly in a "gender-neutral" restroom.)

Thursday, March 24, 2022

The Big Bang Theory

Note: UC's connection with Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) goes back to the Manhattan Project and Berkeley Professor J. Robert Oppenheimer's appointment as research director of the Project. UC has continued under various arrangements to play a managerial role at LANL as well as Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley. 

There is much Hollywood buzz at present about a new Oppenheimer movie (partly filmed at UCLA) due out in summer 2023.* When Jerry Brown was governor in his first iteration, he raised concerns about UC's link to nuclear weapons at the Regents. But since then, the issue has largely been dormant. The combination of the new movie and the developments described below could change that situation.


With Russia at war in Ukraine, US ramps up nuclear-weapons mission at Los Alamos. Is it a 'real necessity'?

A multi-billion-dollar project to make plutonium cores at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico may be unsafe and unnecessary. But proponents say national security is worth the risks.

Annabella Farmer | USA Today | 3-23-22



  • The radioactive cores of nuclear weapons – known as pits – haven’t been mass-produced in the U.S. since the end of the Cold War.
  • The war in Ukraine has convinced some U.S. officials that the country must build up its nuclear weapons cache in the event of a showdown with Russia.
  • Opponents say Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico “was never designed for this purpose" and "may never be safe" for such production.


LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — Los Alamos began as an “instant city,” springing from the Pajarito Plateau in 1943 at the dawn of the Atomic Age. More than 8,000 people flocked here to work for Los Alamos National Laboratory and related industries during the last years of World War II. Now the city may be on the brink of another boom as the federal government moves forward with what could be the most expensive warhead modernization program in U.S. history. Under the proposed plan, LANL will become home to an industrial-scale plant for manufacturing the radioactive cores of nuclear weapons – hollow spheres of plutonium that act as triggers for nuclear explosions. The ripple effects are already being felt.

Roads are planned to be widened to accommodate 2,500 extra workers. New housing developments are
appearing, one of them about a mile from large white tents that house drums of radioactive waste. And these are just the signs visible to the public: Within the lab, workers are busy around the clock to get facilities ready to produce the first plutonium core next year. 

The cores – known as pits – haven’t been mass-produced since the end of the Cold War. But in 2018, under pressure from the Trump administration, the federal government called for at least 80 new pits to be manufactured each year, conservatively expected to cost $9 billion. After much infighting over the massive contract, plans call for Los Alamos to manufacture 30 pits annually and for the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to make the remaining 50.

The idea of implementing an immense nuclear program at Los Alamos has sparked outrage among citizens, nuclear watchdogs, scientists and arms control experts, who say the pit-production mission is neither safe nor necessary. Producing them at Los Alamos would force the lab into a role it isn’t equipped for – its plutonium facilities are too small, too old and lack important safety features, critics say. The lab has a long history of nuclear accidents that have killed, injured and endangered dozens if not scores of people. As recently as January, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the federal agency in charge of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, launched an investigation into a Jan. 7 leak at the lab that released radioactive material and contaminated six workers.

“We have a goal that’s not based in any real necessity, and that goal is leading to a rushed and therefore more expensive plan that’s more likely to fail,” said Stephen Young, an arms control and international security expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to use science to solve the world's most serious issues.

Criticism of the project has been so widespread, some believed – until as recently as last month – that it might even be tabled. But now, the war in Ukraine has put the project in the spotlight, prompting politicians and military leaders to say the U.S. must build up its nuclear weapons cache in the event of a showdown with Russia. “I would have said, pre-Ukraine, there was a chance it would have been shut down,” Young said.

The federal government, for its part, has long called the mission key to national security. For decades, multiple federal agencies have been trying to reestablish a large-scale program of pit production. In the backdrop, New Mexico politicians have fought hard for the billions of dollars and thousands of well-paying jobs the project is promised to bring. And the lab insists that manufacturing the pits will be safe and successful: “It’s a challenging milestone,” LANL spokesperson Jennifer Talhelm told Searchlight New Mexico. “But we are on track.”

Los Alamos National Laboratory produced the first plutonium pits as part of the Manhattan Project in 1945. One of these pits triggered the atomic bomb detonated at the Trinity Site in southern New Mexico, and one triggered the bomb called Fat Man that destroyed Nagasaki. 

Since the end of World War II, pit production at Los Alamos has been largely limited to research and design purposes: The greatest number the lab has ever produced in a single year is 11. Now the goal is to nearly triple that number. The project’s opponents say that industrial-scale pit production at Los Alamos would mean a drastic shift in the lab’s purpose, requiring it to become something it was never intended to be. “There’s a whole host of engineering reasons why making pits at Los Alamos is a bad idea,” said Greg Mello, one of the project’s most vociferous and influential critics.

Together with his wife, Trish Williams-Mello, he has been meticulously monitoring the lab for more than 30 years and has been opposing the pit project since its inception. Los Alamos, he contended, “was never designed for this purpose. It’s not yet been made safe and may never be safe.” 

Within LANL’s cramped, outdated facilities, pit production will require a huge influx of staff – some 2,500 technicians, security forces, facility operators, craft workers, engineers, scientists, professional staff and others – to perform what Mello describes as “a ballet of complexity,” working day and night to meet production goals. Indeed, last month, inspectors for the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board reported that renovations and other preparations for plutonium operations were underway seven days a week, 24 hours a day – an intensity that will “significantly ramp-up” in the long term, the board said.

Shift work is typical in the nuclear industry. But night shifts and the fatigue they cause can lead to “severe consequences to security, safety, production, and cost,” the Oak Ridge National Laboratory reported in 2020. The report pointed to shift work as a contributing factor in the 1979 reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island, the worst nuclear power plant accident in U.S. history. Federal reports, independent assessments, studies by the National Nuclear Security Administration and LANL itself offer a snapshot of the lab’s other shortcomings.

Among them:

In 2020, a withering report by the Government Accountability Office leveled a litany of criticisms at the plans to manufacture plutonium pits, noting that the NNSA – the agency that oversees LANL – has already spent billions of dollars and more than 20 years trying and failing to reestablish pit production. During that time, LANL twice had to suspend operations after the discovery of pervasive safety issues, including a nearly four-year shutdown that ended in 2016.

Even LANL has doubted its ability to succeed. The lab is only “marginally capable” of ramping up production to 30 pits per year by 2026 and sustaining that rate, it reported in 2018.

A 2017 assessment by the NNSA determined that relying solely on Los Alamos for pit production presented an “unacceptably high mission risk.” As a result of the NNSA assessment, the lab was taken out of the running for the pit project. It took intensive lobbying from New Mexico’s Congressional delegation over the next months before the federal government chose Los Alamos to share the mission.

Between 2005 and 2016, the lab’s “persistent and serious shortcomings in criticality safety” – involving potentially lethal nuclear reactions – was criticized in more than 40 reports by government agencies, safety experts and lab staff, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found. Officials at LANL declined to respond to Searchlight New Mexico’s multiple requests for comment. Talhelm, the lab's spokesperson, instead provided a written statement.

“The Laboratory is working to modernize facilities and hire new employees to begin pit production in support of our national security mission to ensure the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile. …We have the only facility in the country where this work is currently possible,” she wrote. “In 2018, NNSA completed an engineering assessment and workforce analysis of the site and found that it can safely meet the requirements of NNSA’s goal of producing at least 30 pits per year.”

Mello doesn’t agree with the lab’s assertions. In his view, the pit-production mission is folly. “The project is entirely unnecessary,” he said. And it will harm nearby Pueblos and communities, he added, “especially those who are nearest and most fragile.”

Called a hero by some, and difficult by others, Mello has devoted years to fighting and blocking nuclear-warhead projects at LANL, in tandem with his wife. Everyone who speaks of him does so with either enthusiastic or grudging respect for his work. The couple’s Albuquerque office is crammed with sensitive and classified documents that they’ve obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and leaks from within federal agencies. In one case, Mello recalled, they used a stick to open an envelope in the yard, not knowing what was inside – it turned out to be a paper from a Pentagon source.

Mello’s background is in engineering, and he studied regional economics and environmental planning at Harvard. In 1989, he founded the nonpartisan Los Alamos Study Group, which has given briefings to the Department of Energy, the NNSA and others on Capitol Hill. Pit production at LANL is an accident waiting to happen, he believes. “We have no idea, really, what will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” he said. “But there are many possibilities.” History illustrates a number of them.

In 2011, for example, carelessness nearly led to catastrophe when technicians placed eight rods of plutonium side by side to snap a photo of them. This violated a fundamental rule of handling plutonium: Too much in one place can begin to react uncontrollably, generating a burst of lethal radiation. After this near-miss, LANL engineers in charge of worker safety resigned en masse, alleging that the lab prioritized profits over safety. The result was the nearly four-year shutdown.

There is yet another reason that opposition to the pit project is so fierce: Many experts believe it isn’t necessary. The project was launched in part because of debates about how age affects plutonium cores in existing nuclear warheads. Nuclear scientists and national laboratories say the pits in the U.S. arsenal will be stable and effective for more than a century.

Project proponents, however, say the pits are degrading and need replacement. As Admiral Charles Richard, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, told the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services on March 8, there is an urgent need to “modernize the nuclear triad” in light of the war in Ukraine. Policy experts, for their part, worry that ramping up pit production will ratchet up international tensions.

“There is absolutely no reason to expand pit production capacity in light of Russia’s war in Ukraine,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “That would suggest the United States should have a larger nuclear arsenal than we currently have, and that is a dangerous knee-jerk response.”

Even some of the most ardent supporters of pit production wish the country had better options, and express doubts about splitting the mission between two facilities. Admiral Richard is among them: It will be impossible for LANL and the South Carolina site to make 80 pits each year on schedule, he told the Senate on March 8. The Laboratory is working to modernize facilities and hire new employees to begin pit production in support of our national security mission to ensure the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile.

New Mexico politicians have nevertheless fought hard to bring the entire 80-per-year pit-production mission to LANL alone. When the NNSA issued a negative assessment of the lab in 2017 – dashing Los Alamos' hopes for the whole package – U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and then-Congressman Ben Ray Luján wrote a scathing letter to the Department of Energy, demanding reconsideration. New Mexico lawmakers continue to voice support. As Heinrich told Searchlight last month, the state’s national labs “strengthen New Mexico’s economy by providing high-paying, high-skilled technology jobs.”

The money at stake is staggering: At least $9 billion for a decade of work at the two sites. Up to $3.9 billion of that will go to the Los Alamos lab, the NNSA says. But the real price tag could run as high as $18 billion over a decade, Arms Control Today reported.

To Mello, these aren’t only New Mexico’s problems – they’re the nation’s. “This is the decade when we have to change direction in this country,” he said. But changing direction isn’t easy. Any week now, the Biden administration is slated to release a document called a “Nuclear Posture Review,” which will determine whether the nation leans into nuclear amplification or reins it in. And if pit production proceeds at Los Alamos? It will cement New Mexico’s status as a “nuclear colony and sacrifice zone,” activists say.

In recent months, they’ve regularly left fresh flowers at a new plaque at the Santuario de Guadalupe in Santa Fe, commemorating Pope Francis’ condemnation of nuclear weapons. Activists from groups like Nuclear Watch New Mexico have continually lodged protests. Veterans for Peace, Tewa Women United, Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety and other organizations have gathered at the state Capitol to condemn the expansion of nuclear-waste storage in New Mexico – which pit manufacturing will require. 

As 2023 approaches and pit production starts in earnest, the chorus of resistance is likely to grow louder. Whether Washington hears it is anyone’s guess.





TikTok video of filming of new Oppenheimer movie at UCLA

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

It can be hard to get from here to there

From an email received Monday:

University of California

Dear valued member,

We are writing to acknowledge — and apologize for — the problems many members of the UC community are experiencing with Navitus Health, a new administrator of pharmacy benefits for UC employee and Medicare PPO plans, and to let you know what we are doing to fix the problems.

Last year, University of California Health (UCH) and UC Systemwide Human Resources selected Navitus Health to administer pharmacy benefits, starting Jan. 1, 2022. This decision was made following an extensive formal bid process, conducted by a committee with representatives from UCH, Systemwide HR, UC faculty with pharmacy expertise, and UC’s retiree association.

Navitus was selected as the partner that could provide UC with the best overall flexibility, service, and affordability. However, since UC’s transition to Navitus Health, we have heard from too many members who have been negatively impacted by this change.

Some members have had to change prescription drugs, been required to complete time-consuming authorization processes and experienced denials by Navitus, causing unnecessary anxiety and frustration. Navitus failed to meet the scheduled target date for mailing a clinical transition letter, causing hardship and worry for faculty, staff, retirees and their family members.

Additionally, like many employers Navitus has faced customer service staffing challenges, leading to wait times that far exceed Navitus’ standards and UC performance guarantees. Among other things, this has put undue pressure on benefits professionals at UC locations and in the UC Retirement Service Center and the UCPath Center, as they have worked to provide support that should be handled by Navitus.

We take these problems — and our responsibility to ensure that members of UC health plans have access to the prescriptions they need — very seriously. UCH and UC Systemwide Human Resources have been in constant communication with Navitus, and we want to let you know what we are doing to fix these problems.

Support with member transitions

Due to the delay in mailing clinical transition letters, Navitus has provided an extended transition period to the end of April for drugs that are not covered. Extension letters and an email campaign were recently initiated.

Navitus will call members who need to transition to new medications directly and offer help with authorizations, denials, and appeals. Those who have experienced a denial for a Not Covered/Non-Formulary medication will also receive a phone call offering help.

UCH, Alliant (a UC consultant) and Navitus will audit and review the protocols Navitus uses for denials to ensure they are in alignment with Navitus internal guidelines, industry standards and Medicare guidelines – and to identify and correct any gaps.

Customer service improvements

Navitus has committed to adding an additional 35 customer service representatives (an increase from 125 to 160) by the end of April, and hopes to add another 15 staff after that, along with additional support for UC benefits professionals.

Navitus has also added two more personnel with pharmacy clinical expertise to help UC benefit professionals support members.

In addition, Navitus is exploring a concierge-type customer service model to ensure UC members receive the dedicated assistance they need.

Again, we sincerely apologize for any difficulties you or your family members have experienced during this transition. We are committed to you receiving the critical health care you deserve, without unnecessary inconvenience or frustration.


Cheryl Lloyd, Vice President, Systemwide Human Resources

Dr. Carrie Byington, Executive Vice President, University of California Health

Unclear on the concept

UCLA has been requiring weekly COVID tests of the spit-in-a-tube variety. The tests are available in vending machines accessible with a Bruincard. According to the instructions with each test, it is important to drop the sample in the box next to the vending machine within one hour of gathering it.

However, according to the sign on the box, if the sample isn't put in the box by 11 am, it isn't processed until the next day.

So why is it essential to put the sample in the box within one hour?

I guess this is just one of the mysteries of the pandemic. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

There actually is such a thing as bad publicity

There is a saying, attributed to various supposed authors, that "there is no such thing as bad publicity." But regardless of who might have said it, it isn't true.

An ad appeared recently that seemed to be for a faculty position with no pay. The ad began making the rounds of social media with, as you might expect, critical comments. Some commenters, however, did wonder whether what has being offered was a position in which the job holder had outside funds but needed a university position as a base. 

Still what was odd about the ad was that it focused on teaching rather than research. Typically, someone who had funding but needed a university home would have a research grant of some type. The ad said that evidence that needed to be submitted regarding research capability was optional. But a statement regarding teaching capability was required. Hence, the ad appeared to be for a teaching position.

Yours truly became aware of the ad after an inquiry from a journalist and sent the ad to the chair of the campus Faculty Welfare Committee, the president of the Faculty Association, and to the Interim Vice Provost for Academic Personnel. As a result, a clarification was issued:

UCLA is committed to providing fair compensation to faculty across the institution. We recognize the language in this particular advertisement could have benefitted from additional context and we are committed to doing better in the future. In the spirit of providing additional context, arrangements such as these are common in academia and, in cases where formal classroom teaching is a component, compensation for these services is provided commensurate to experience and with an eye to equity within the unit. Some positions may be without salary when individuals are compensated by other sources and a formal affiliation with UCLA is necessary, which may be needed to apply for or maintain a grant or conduct research.

It remains unclear why the ad seemed focused on teaching rather than research or where the funding for teaching would come from. The original text of the ad is reproduced at

Monday, March 21, 2022

What We Got

Higher Ed Dive has a listing of "earmarks" in the recent federal spending bill signed last Tuesday that went to higher education. Yours truly has gone through the listing and identified those earmarks that went to UC campuses. Listed below are the agency source and the names of the congressional representatives and/or senators responsible. 

Over $1 million came to UCLA and the two UCLA grants are shown in italics.

Department of Health & Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA): Regents of the University of California, Los Angeles, CA for the purchase of equipment, including telehealth equipment, Lieu, $600,000 

Department of Health & Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA): University of California (San Francisco), Fresno Regional Campus, Fresno, CA, for facilities and equipment, Costa, $475,000 

Department of Health & Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA): University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA, for a telehealth initiative, including purchase of equipment, Peters, $950,000

Department of Health & Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA): University of California, Davis Health, Sacramento, CA, for an electronic health record and telehealth initiative, Matsui and Padilla, $1,700,000

Department of Health & Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA): University of California-Davis, Davis, CA, for a health workforce initiative, Garamendi, $1,000,000

Department of Education, Higher Education, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, for student basic needs services, Feinstein and Padilla, $450,000

Watch the Regents Meeting of March 17, 2022 (including rejection of a new hire)

The Regents met last Thursday for their final March meeting. (There will be two off-cycle committee meetings in April.) Public comments included student assistance, the Munger dorm proposal at UC-Santa Barbara, student debt, and abortion. 

Regent Hadi Makarechian spoke remotely about an injury he suffered in a fall a year before which had left him paralyzed from the neck down initially. Thanks to treatment he received, he now has limited walking ability and is donating $1 million toward a program for spinal injuries.

Other topics taken up were a program to encourage small business suppliers to UC, the coronavirus situation, and student aid and debt.

Yesterday, we posted about the Wednesday session of the Health Services Committee at which Regent Pérez voted against a new hire for CFO at UC-Davis Health which exceeded the 75th percentile salary comparison.* Regent Park abstained. However, the recommendation to make the hire passed in the committee and was sent to the full board for a final decision. You can watch the discussion of the board at the link below from 1:39:00 to 2:05:00. In the end, although Regent Park changed her abstention to a "yes" vote, the new hire was REJECTED with a vote of 9 no, 7 yes, and 2 abstentions. Suffice it to say, a rejection of a new hire is very rare at the Regents. Exactly what will happen now is unclear. Even if the new hire were to accept a lower salary offer at or below the 75th percentile, the Health Services Committee won't meet again until May (at which time it could approve it). But the vacancy opens up on April 1 with the retirement of the incumbent CFO.

As always, we preserve the Regents' recordings since the Regents - for unknown reasons - delete them after one year. The link is:



Sunday, March 20, 2022

Still in Normal Range

We continue our weekly tracking of new claims for unemployment insurance as an index of the state labor market and general economic activity. The numbers remain in the pre-pandemic range which is a Good Thing. Let's hope that the various events that are threats to the national economy - Ukraine, inflation, Federal Reserve policy - do not again derail the California economy. 

As always, the latest data are at

Watch the Regents Afternoon Meeting of March 16, 2022

There is seldom open disagreement about proposals coming from UCOP but at the Health Services Committee, there was. An appointment was proposed - first in closed session, then in open session - of a new Chief Financial Officer for the UC-Davis health system. The current CFO is retiring on April 1. 

The proposed candidate to take over on April 1 was Cheryl Sadro who is currently Executive Vice President and Chief Business and Finance Officer, University of Tennessee Medical Branch at a proposed salary of $802,000. According to data available to the Regents, that salary would put her 2.3% above the 75 percentile for salaries in comparable positions. Assuming she also earned an incentive bonus, total salary would be $922,300.* (There would be university benefits beyond salary.) 

The chair of Health Services, John Pérez said he could not approve the pay package and voted "no." Regent Lark Park abstained. However, the committee approved the appointment and sent it on the the full board on the following day. We will pick up this tale tomorrow when we review the March 17 meeting of the full board.

Three other committees met in the afternoon. At Finance and Capital Strategies, Regent Hadi Makarechian pushed for more density at a UC-Irvine project, given the high cost of land in the area. A UCLA computer project dealing with "Financial Systems Integration" was reported to be delayed. The Governance Committee approved some executive pay proposals without controversy.

Academic and Student Affairs had a session on learning and cheating (academic integrity). The learning component involved techniques of more customized learning, i.e., different paces for different students. The discussion of cheating/academic integrity possibly was triggered by problems that arose in exams during online classes during the pandemic. However, the committee went into closed session to discuss "legal issues" related to academic integrity which was somewhat surprising. Whether there are lawsuits that arose from the pandemic period or some other legal matters is unknown. 

As always, we have preserved the recordings of the sessions since the Regents delete them after one years. Links are below:

Afternoon session:

Academic and Student Affairs:


Health Services and Finance and Capital Strategies:


The proposal is at