Sunday, September 27, 2009

President Yudof the undertaker

 By Ákos Róna-Tas, UCSD

Many of us looking at UCOP’s plans with nervous anticipation have been wondering what kind of undertaking President Yudof has been planning to rescue the University of California. Now we have his response: it is the funereal kind.
In an interview to be published in the New York Times Magazine this Sunday, President Yudof responds to questions from Deborah Solomon. Solomon’s interviews are always to the point, with an ironic touch. They read as witty repartees between the journalist and her discussion partners.
Solomon grills Yudof on his salary (no it is not $828,000, only $540,000, but with his pension it is more) and housing allowance ($10,000 rent per month), but this is not what disturbs me. Solomon also asked him about furloughs:
S: Already professors on all 10 U.C. campuses are taking required “furloughs,” to use a buzzword.
Y: Let me tell you why we used it. The faculty said “furlough” sounds more temporary than “salary cut,” and being president of the University of California is like being manager of a cemetery: there are many people under you, but no one is listening. I listen to them.

This is witty, but also revealing. Banish the thought that Yudof thinks a furlough is the same as a paycut, just that it sounds more temporary, at least to the faculty. Moreover, I appreciate the dark humor of director Yudof in a black suit and top hat and all of us six feet under.
What ruins the joke is what comes before it.  At the beginning of the interview, Solomon asks whether Yudof blames Governor Schwarzenegger for the financial crisis of UC. Here is Yudof’s response:
Y: I do not. This is a long-term secular trend across the entire country. Higher education is being squeezed out. It’s systemic. We have an aging population nationally. We have a lot of concern, as we should, with health care.
S: And education?
Y: The shine is off of it. It’s really a question of being crowded out by other priorities.

I understand that Yudof is not willing to confront Governor Schwarzenegger in an interview. He will have to work with the Terminator a bit longer: after all, cemeteries are downstream businesses. But here we can see Yudof’s theory for why we are in trouble. At this point things turn deadly serious, one may even say, macabre.
Yudof states that our troubles have nothing to do with politics; no point in fighting a political fight. Our crisis also should not be blamed on the economy. Waiting for the economy to turn around is also futile. No, our troubles are long term and are rooted in secular, demographic trends. We are a dying breed, because our students are.
I am not sure where Yudof got his facts. His own 2009-10 UC Budget projects growth in UC enrollment into the 2020s, although growth is predicted to be slower than it was in recent years.  The reason why our current efforts to cut enrollment are so contentious is precisely because there are lots of students eager to get into UC but cannot. Body count is not our problem.
Maybe what Yudof means is that as the population grows older, healthcare has become such a prominent concern that it naturally eclipses everything else. While a useful if predictable argument for a healthcare lobbyist, it is odd to hear this from the president of UC.  Using this same logic there is no issue—from greenhouse gases to terrorism—that could not be argued to be crowded out by a graying population and their healthcare needs. One might think, in fact, that a graying population puts bigger pressure on the productivity of the younger generations who must pay for their retirement and healthcare expenses, calling for more higher education.
What seems to follow from Yudof’s demographic theory of higher education is simple: we must downsize the educational functions of UC and make do with less.  It also follows that if healthcare is where the money goes, we should turn our already extensive health services into an even larger part of the UC enterprise.
The project Yudof seems to be planning is not to fight Sacramento, not even to prepare for an eventual economic upturn, but to become an undertaker. His plan seems to be to put the public university of Clark Kerr in the grave, burying much of its traditional core.  To ride this secular wave of aging America, UC will need to offer more medical care and maybe -- why not? -- to provide one-stop-shopping, also funeral and cemetery services.

Akos Rona-Tas
UC San Diego


Moravecglobal said...

Save $3,000,000for students, faculty and staff by doing the work of East Coast consultants internally and impartially. Chancellor Birgeneau should do the work of his job with his senior UCB management and save UC $3,000,000.
The Great Recession is a time for doing more rather than spending money on outsiders.

Moravecglobal said...

Chancellor Birgeneau has to hire outside consultants to be in touch with the UCB Faculty, Staff and UCB Academic Senate. Evidence of a loss of credibility and trust from Faculty, Staff and UCB Academic Senate.

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