August 15, 2009, 12:00 AM ET
By Marc Bousquet
Bob Samuels is the president of UC-AFT, the union representing nontenurable faculty at University of California campuses across the state. Like thousands of others, he recently received a layoff notice in the wake of the chancellor's assumption of 'emergency powers' (the academic equivalent of martial law).
On his blog recently, Bob explained how 3500 U.C. "fat cats" earning over $200,000 are living large while students are being turned away and the teaching faculty--most earning less than bartenders--are being terminated and involuntarily furloughed. Learn more at Remaking the University and the California Faculty Association.
For me the most eye-popping statistic that you've been tracking is the soaring compensation in the upper echelons at the University of California--what you call the "$200,000 club." In the past three years, this group has grown by 50% and collects more than 11% of the salary budget for the whole university system.
Couldn't UC address its financial issues by adjusting the salaries and/or selective terminations among this group alone?
Almost all of the people making over 240,0000 are medical faculty, law and business faculty, coaches, and senior administrators, and many will have only a small part of their salaries reduced in the UC furlough plan. The unions are calling for a 25% reduction of these positions. As we say, the UC needs to chop from the top.
By contrast, the lowest paid workers, including many of the faculty you represent, have endured austerity for decades, haven't they?
Many faculty and staff have received no pay increases during this period; their labor subsidizes the raises of the highest paid employees.
You've called this a "fake" fiscal crisis. What do you mean by that?
UC has an operating budget of $20 billion and investments of over $50 billion; this was also a record year for external grants. They need to just move money around or share the profits of the revenue-generating sectors.
The new UC chancellor Mark Yudof has been green-lighted for the university equivalent of martial law-- "emergency powers." What is he doing with those powers?
He is imposing the furlough plan and allowing the fiscal emergency to trigger the layoff clause in union contracts. Who knows what else he can and will do. It is martial law.
Is this restructuring really necessary, or just desirable from management's point of view?
There is a long-term problem on the horizon, which has to do with the pension losses of at least $16 billion, and the UC will need to require high pension contributions from the university and the employees, but this means they need more workers and students, and they have to stop giving people outrageous salaries that turn into incredible pensions. Many executives are given special pension supplements, which will cost dearly in the future.
What has to change is funding undergraduate instruction out of temporary funds, while everything else is funded out of permanent funds. In the current system, when there is a decline in state funding, they have to gut undergraduate education.
How will the administration's actions affect California students?
In order to show they need more state money, the President has said that cuts have to be made visible on the campuses. This means larger classes, the elimination of many courses, fewer services, the suspension of requirements, higher fees (tuition), more student debt, the slosing of entire programs, online instruction, and it will take students longer to graduate because they will be unable to get the required courses they need. Also, many will lose their financial aid if they do not graduate on time.
This doesn't sound smart even from a sales and marketing point of view--how will the restructuring affect the reputation of the UC system and its ability to attract international and out of state students?
Right now, the UC attracts so many students, that it feels it can do almost anything and still be highly selective. UCLA has been the most applied to school in the nation for the last several years. It only accepts 5% from out of state, but it might move to increase this number since out of state students pay about four times as much for tuition.
How are the UC and CSU unions responding?
CSU really does have a budget crisis, and they have one union for tenured, non-tenured faculty and staff. They are being forced to accept furloughs for everyone and massive layoffs for the non-tenured. UC has many different sources of revenue, and the tenured faculty are not unionized. So the faculty and staff will get a furlough/salary reduction, and the UC has to bargain with the unions, but the UC is refusing to meet with the unions or answer their questions. There is major union busting activity going on, they have hired the top union busting law firm, and they are blaming layoffs on the failure of the unions to accept the furlough plan.
What lessons does the California situation offer to public university systems in the rest of the country?
Faculty have lost control of their own institutions, which are now run by administrators with no interest in education. Faculty have to fight to regain control, and scale down the administrative bloat. There also has to be a plan to defend undergraduate instruction and share revenue across sectors. Students also have to get involved and demand a quality education or they will be neglected. If all of the workers and faculty were unionized, they could create a united front, but now they are being pitted against each other. Tenured faculty have also bought into the free agent system, where they negotiate their salaries through private deals circumventing the peer review process, and this has to stop.