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Works and Days

Fantasyland

I am looking over a pile of form letters and going over emails of anguish, all decrying the cuts in state government. Indeed, I just got my regular alumnus email note from the UC system — outraged over the destruction of the university through massive budget cuts. Of course, there is very little self-reflection in all of this furor. Not one of these notices suggests, “There is no money left. It does not grow on trees. Look in the mirror.”

You, the Greedy — Not Us, the Anointed

No, nothing is much said about the gargantuan number of UC administrators, their pay, the percentage of administrative costs in the budget, the number of non-academic employees serving in the system, or any explanation why the rate of annual increase in the university budget has consistently over the years exceeded the rate of inflation — in many years at twice the rate of inflation. Taxes climb; guaranteed federal loans that pay tuition expand; state borrowing increases; standards decline; admissions increase; life is good — so why worry?

“They” did it!

Instead the modus operandi is to cite students turned away, classes canceled, programs slashed — never any sense that the first cuts should be vice chancellors, associate provosts, assistants to the president, and other top echelon administrators — absences in many cases that would not affect the quality of instruction. Slash UC administrators by 50%, make all UC professors teach 2 classes per semester (those at CSU teach 4), cut out “support” personnel in various centers, end tenure — and at least some of the crisis would ease.

From my 21 years in the CSU system, I can attest that most of the “centers for…” and “assistants to” and “offices of” could easily be terminated. Both UC and CSU have vastly increased the percentage of non-academic, non-teaching expenditures in their budgets — the expanding number of non-instructional employees subsidized by both increased taxes and the exploitive use of part-time and graduate student instructors, who teach at well less than half the pay of normal faculty and now at some campuses account for nearly 40% of the total offered units. (Remember that the next time a tenured professor rails about pay inequity at Wal-Mart).

Protests everywhere…

In general now, University of California students are furious with tuition raises, rioting even at Berkeley. Teachers are angry about cutbacks. State employee unions blast the airways with ads complaining about a scarcity of funds.

So bear with me with a bit.

The cost to attend a University of California flagship campus — room, board, and tuition — is about a third of what is charged by a private, comparable institution in California like Stanford or USC — roughly some $15-20,000 in total costs versus around $50,000 per year. Public higher education is a good deal, in other words.

California public school teachers make on average the highest salaries in the United States, several thousands higher than those in Massachusetts or Connecticut, and about $20,000 more a year than in a place like Maine or Kansas. On average, government employees, state and federal, nationwide make about 50% more (in salary, pension, and benefits) than their counterparts in the private sector. I realize that if one reaches the very top of private enterprise, one can make more than a high-earning state or federal bureaucrat; but, in general, across the spectrum, it is far preferable to work for government, besides the job security, higher pension, and better working conditions.

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