Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Why Fight for Higher Ed? Some Responses from UC Berkeley

From: Timothy Clark
Date: August 30, 2009 10:41:07 PM PDT
Subject: arguments

Dear all -- As promised in Friday's meeting, I'm sending a selection of replies to a call that went out from the Solidarity Alliance a couple of weeks ago, asking for pithy responses to the question: "What is the point, in the State's present circumstances, of fighting to preserve higher education as a public right?"

Here was the thinking behind the original call: "The Solidarity people yesterday discussed the painful question of how, on such occasions, they could put the case against the Yudof proposals in a manner that might make sense in the wider, demoralized, angry world beyond campus. In other words, are there ways in which we can explain what we're fighting for that will come across as something more than a special interest defending its turf? Everyone recognized how tough this will be -- whatever we say, the usual suspects at SFGate will paint us as sniveling parasites -- but there was a strong sense in the meeting that an apologetic, "yes-I-know-I'm-privileged" stance would be worse than useless."

Below are some replies. 3 points:

1) This is NOT the only question that needs answering in the present situation. Others, like elementary justice for underpaid employees, cry out to be answered. But this is a background -- all-pervasive -- question, about the nature of the institution we find ourselves working in.

2) Obviously, given the present climate, arguments about the university's economic role will be central. Ways to make this case vividly -- not always in the same "motor of economic progress," feeder to Silicon valley" mode -- are welcome, and still in short supply. But a movement is always speaking to many audiences, and needs a variety of arguments -- not least because there IS more than one answer to the question posed. We are not suggesting that all the arguments below are usable in all situations, or will mean much to many in the grips of the downturn. Some may strike you as far-fetched. But a university ought to have more than one way of explaining itself.

3) We asked for brevity. Many replied that sound bites inevitably travesty the issues. Sure -- but if we can't generate "nuclear" arguments and images, which hit hard or shift the terms of debate slightly, we're in trouble. Some respondents came up with links to other sites with good, often copious information. I've pointed to them. But the need for incisiveness -- persuasiveness -- still stands. Count this as another invitation to come up with arguments of your own, which I'll circulate if you send them. The letter from Yaman Salahi to the Daily Cal shows it can be done. (Would someone like to ask him to participate?)

I've sometimes edited the responses, and mostly left off writers' names.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

1. "I think that the way to approach this is as a moment at which a dialogue needs to begin about what the future will be. I don't think that evocations of the past, or of "tradition" will be very useful. The whole point about this moment, as our fearless leaders have noted, is that it is unprecedented. Moreover, the entrepreneurial approach thrives precisely, as we know, on the ideology of "innovation," so as to brush away all vestiges of tradition or continuity ("shock and awe"). I also don't think it's much use, rhetorically, to compare ourselves to the private universities. For us at UCB, this is a reflex. For most people it doesn't mean a thing. My neighbors, who are middle class and lower middle class people, know that UC is a "great school." They never seem to think in terms of comparison with other schools, many of which they've never heard of. So we need to focus on the notion of what a "great school" is.

"One of the things that has struck me about the exchanges I've read on my computer over the past two weeks has been the extent to which there has been very little whining about me, me, me (even though these cuts are going to cause real pain for many of us, including me). Rather, the discussion has been about excellence (a word missing, by the way, from virtually every pronouncement coming out of Birgenau's office). I think that if we are going to "resonate with a larger, hurting California" we need to speak loudly and forcefully about what we think education should be, stressing the dual poles of educational capital and economic capital, arguing that the two go together. The "economic engine" language isn't going to go away--if we think we can make it disappear we're being utopian. Rather, we need to make a simple, easily understandable point about excellence by stressing that the Yudof plan will lead the University and the state to mediocrity, just when the state most needs innovation and excellence in all areas. We, by contrast, stand for excellence, for keeping UC a "great school." And that requires funding. I think that this message is the message that needs to be made again and again, to our students, to their parents, and to leading alumni. If we do this we will be seen as those who have a vision of the future that makes sense. Like all political battles, this is about shaping the language of the debate. We need to try to do that."

2. "What's the point?
* To fulfill the aspirations of the people of California for their children to realize their full potential.

* To accommodate the talented young who represent the vast majority of Californians who cannot afford to pay the outrageous price of a private education.

* To provide the skilled and creative workforce for the cutting-edge industries, including electronics, biotech, and agriculture, that make California a national and global leader in innovation.

* To train the future leaders of California, the country and the world by imparting to our best and brightest students the broadest knowledge of the world, the most advance technical skills, and the critical abilities to think for themselves.

*To offer students a broad range of options for study--not least in the arts, humanities, and social sciences--in recognition of the diversity of the talents of our young people, and the key role of these disciplines in shaping an educated and creative citizenry."

3. "This does not respond to your request for a simple answer - I think the "educated citizenry" argument ought to be central - but I am moved to respond in personal terms. When I entered Berkeley as a freshman, I was coming from an SF labor family absolutely closed to possibility by a sense of oppression. Berkeley opened the whole world for me. It was extraordinary in a way that still brings tears to my eyes more than fifty years later. It still holds that brilliance of illumination, and our students still show the hunger that I think we had for its meaning. My classes these days are wonderful mixes of kids from all backgrounds, whole clusters from farmworkers' families and from refinery neighborhoods, who not only absorb what they are taught but, more importantly, open their worlds with pride to everyone else. I cannot imagine the culture of California if these channels of mobility are diminished. And from what I have witnessed in the year's protests over school closings, a large segment of our population, primarily Hispanic and previously voiceless, will not accept it."

4. "I think the assumption that some are making - that anything we say in support of public funding for high ed will inevitably sound outrageously self serving - is a symptom of the broader problem we are facing. We have all gotten much too cynical for our own good. This debate concerns the benefits and the value of having a well educated citizenry - not just the costs to the taxpayer of funding UC and the CSUs. Clearly both systems of higher ed are extremely important to the CA economy. But it's not just the economy that is a stake here. The question is how a college educated citizenry improves our communities and strengthens our civilization. How are we going to be able to meet the challenges of the future without well educated citizens who have the skills and insights needed to figure out creative solutions to climate change, a rapidly aging population, immigration, global terrorism and all the other complex problems facing us? Technological innovation will not provide all the answers. People are going to have to think through the opportunity costs and ethical dimensions of all the many possible approaches to dealing with our problems. We need as a society to provide broad access to high quality higher education in order to prepare our people to do this. They will need not only to devise the new technologies, public policies, and systems needed to solve these problems, but also the capacity to think critically about the economic, social, and political costs and benefits of and trade-offs between the competing approaches that will inevitably emerge and the opportunity costs and benefits of doing one thing rather than another. Beyond this, there is, I would argue, great value in helping people to reach their full potential and in lifting people up and giving them the sort of perspective on the world and all the people and other organisms that inhabit it - and their problems and their beauty - that only the arts and humanities can provide.

"To frame the public option issue in ways that highlight our desire to maintain our relatively generous salaries and benefits [n.b. this applies to faculty only] is a mistake. But we don't have to do this. We should focus on the big picture. If we do this - and critics still try to frame our support of higher education as some sort of purely self interested effort to protect our jobs - we need to fight back, by keeping the public's eye on the real issues at stake."

5. "Here are a few points.

"First, we need hard dollar figures about the economic contributions of UC in general, and UCB in particular, to the California and national economy. I think the economists among us could provide a pretty solid quantification of the value-added of UC and UCB in particular to the California economy. Imagine today's world if Berkeley Unix hadn't been invented! Imagine California without Silicon Valley! Without biotech companies! etcS There is an old analysis, dated 2003, called California's Future Starts Here: The Economic Value of Investing in UC. It made a strong case. That case needs to be updated, and there needs to be a series of headlines:


- EVERY DOLLAR CUT FROM UC WILL COST THE STATE $400 OVER THE NEXT DECADE (or whatever the defensible figure is)

"Second, we need to harp on excellence. Have you ever driven down the streets that have the banners of UC's Nobel Prize winners flying on them? I'm pretty jaded, and I can't help but be impressed. This image of greatness needs to be juxtaposed with the likely future if the legislature succeeds in gutting the University. The headline:


"We already have allies, some unwitting, in this PR fight. For example, there was a piece in the Economist on August 6, titled "California's financial crisis jeopardises one of the world's finest universities."

Some tidbits from that article: "The best public higher education in the world is to be found at the University of California (UC)S It is therefore no small matter that this glory may be about to end. 'We are in irreversible decline,' says Sandra Faber, a professor of astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz who has inadvertently become a mouthpiece for a fed-up faculty. University excellence, she says, 'took decades to build. It takes a year to destroy it.'"

Another article people on this list know about is the one by Isaac Barchas of Texas, urging his legislature (which is increasing its investment in higher education) to cherry-pick the best talent, now that UC can't hire and may lose its own best. The article, offers lots of juicy quotes: "The emergency budget deal that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed two weeks ago for California might bring to an end that state's 50-year run as the home of the nation's strongest public universities. This is a tragedy for California. Especially if Texas seizes the remarkable opportunity it presents.

"Why? Because this crisis will hollow out the University of California's most important asset: its world-class talent."


"Third, we have to point to the value of the University as a democratizing force. We're a PUBLIC university, and that means we have a long history of enabling students who wouldn't otherwise have access to the very best education have a shot at the American dream. Last week, after I had an op-ed piece appear in the Sacramento Bee ), I got a note from a Cal Grad that's worth noting:

'I read your op-ed piece in the sacramento bee. Kudos for educating the public on what a deal the vast majority of professors have been to the UC system. I have received the richest, most engaging social and academic training while at Berkeley. I have gone on to medical school where half of the class were either from Stanfurd or the Ivies. I would not have been able to compete with those students coming out of high school but Berkeley more than leveled the playing field. For that, I will always be thankful. I hope that professors like yourself in the UC system understand the pride that we, as former students, have in Berkeley and the gratitude that we have in our former teachers and professors.'"

6. "I think one example we should use is "the Wisconsin idea" of the early 20th century in which scholars at the university worked to solve basic problems of taxation and governance not totally different from the ones California is facing today. At a time when trustees at the private schools were firing economists for such crimes as supporting municipal ownership of urban transit systems, Wisconsin had Richard T. Ely working on agricultural economics and state/local taxes, John R. Commons drafting workman's comp legislation, and so on. That and the land grant mission: the wine stuff at Davis, the pure science feeding Silicon Valley, and the rest. But my point about Wisconsin is its integral link between academic freedom and public service. We are in a situation not unlike Cal was in in the 1890s, when the Populists complained that it was teaching "rich lawyers' boys Greek with the farmers' money" within the state -- but one of our Nobel physicists is the Secretary of Energy for a reason, we send tons of economists to Washington (maybe more in the Clinton admin than now, I'm not sure). Yes, of course they can make fun of some of what goes on in humanities departments, or any other departments, but we are here as resources, doing our own work, which many of us would gladly interrupt if our help were sought.

"I think the defense of "higher education" in general is not the main way to go. It is Cal -- or even Berkeley -- for the citizens of California."

"Universities -- to start at the level of Yudof-speak -- are in the knowledge business. They are one (only one) of the producers of a commodity that human societies seem to need to survive and flourish. All societies we know of have invested heavily in knowledge-production, some to a baffling degree: you might imagine, looking at the record, that calculating the movement of the stars was more important, and absorbed more talent, than improving the duckboard plough. But if societies appear to over-invest in knowledge, this may be because they know they have to; because no society can predict what new knowledge it may need most in the future.
Instrumentalized knowledge -- the kind funded by BP and the feds -- runs the risk of any species over-adapted to its niche. Knowledge in excess, so the record of history and pre-history suggests, is a strategy for survival.

"You may say in reply: "Only in the long run..." But how close is the long run? How near are we to eco-collapse or terminal populism or failed Empire? We lack the knowledge to be sure. Finding out about Hitler or Dostoevsky or the behavior of the spotted toad -- truly investigating, I mean, in ways that bypass the available knowledge-motifs -- may contribute to a wisdom that is suddenly, urgently of use. A society that has no space for "non-productive" experiment -- that thinks it knows the kind of knowledge it doesn't need -- is a society heading downhill. And knowledge, by the way, can't be equated with technics: the buzz of innovation often conceals, till too late, the central absence of ideas."

8. "My sense is this: we educate not just for "value" (quantifiable) but for values. Who wants to be part of any community that is wealthy but corrupt, or efficient but shallow? We can't even begin to get to such a place without a broad and deep education in areas that involve learning and thinking about history, the arts, the diversity of cultures--in short, all the things that human beings do and have done to get us where--for good or for ill--we find ourselves now."

9. "It seems to me that the economic argument runs something like this: the better the education, the more varied the development of tastes and powers. And with that variety comes support for an immense variety of social activities ranging from the arts to food to lesser known sports. And the interesting feature of an economy of this kind is that most of the people are content with low wages because they love what they are doing. This means that smaller groups of interested people can sustain economic niches and keep lots of people from being on the unemployment rolls. There is an entire shadow economy where the workers are produced by the best schools and their work is supported by institutions strong enough not to repeat the mainstream culture. Absent that support, all the people become competitors in the mainstream economy."

10. "Berkeley offers an amazing 58 languages every year. Arts & Humanities alone offers undergraduate and graduate degrees through nineteen departments, ranging from small gems like Italian and Scandinavian to our powerhouse English department. From co-sponsored lectures to collaborative art projects, we partner in research and teaching with a broad range of disciplines beyond Arts & Humanities, exploring basic questions that arise in disciplines as diverse as law, psychology, and biological science.

"About 28% of Berkeley's undergraduates are the first in their family to go to college, and approximately one-third come from families with incomes of less than $35,000 per year. The number of Berkeley students from this income-group is larger than the number of all such students combined at the eight Ivy League schools.

"Berkeley is one of the world's most diverse campuses, and provides an arena in which the intellectual, cultural, economic, and ethnic diversity of Berkeley's faculty and students can spark lively and productive debates. A great university offers challenging lecture courses, but also intimate seminars and project-based studio classes. These smaller settings are especially valuable for fostering close engagement, collaborative thinking, and a range of skill sets.

"We teach our students that-in the midst of passionate debate, in the midst of creative expression-they must be ready to question assumptions, including their own. By teaching languages, literatures, and artistic practices from around the globe, we help students to understand lives very different from their own, and we prepare them for informed, ethical, and humane work in a multicultural world. We also teach students to appreciate the great and enduring questions, texts, and artworks of past ages and to achieve perspective on contemporary cultures, values, and ideas by understanding their history.

11. HARD FACTS (from various respondents):

a) "Here are some sites that may be useful for the development of language and/or figures and/or strategies for the public option:

Stan Glantz's

January 2009 report on "California, at the Edge of a Cliff" is good source of facts, prepared by HIgher Education Policy Analyst Tom Mortenson for the California Faculty Association of CSU

And if you did want empirical support for an economic argument for the state's need to invest in its higher education system, The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) has an April 2009 report that finds that California faces a shortage of almost 1,000,000 college-educated workers by 2025

b) "I want to make sure that you are aware of a report on the UC return on investment which was produced three years ago by Mike Hout and others at Berkeley, showing how investment in higher education would save the state lots of money."

c) "The Vasconcellos Project has been using the February 2009 report issued by CSU Sacramento's Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy in its California Community Policy Forums on Higher Education. The CSU Sacramento report has similar findings to the PPIC report (see above), but it also offers a useful breakdown of the disparity in regional access to higher education. The economic appeal to the state to invest more in higher education will, I think, have to be coupled with more specific arguments about how projected ethnic/racial population growth for the next 30 years coupled with the disparities in racial/ethnic and regional access to higher education necessarily affect the future shortage in workers -- all of which point to the need to prioritize investments in the K-12, community college, and CSU systems, particularly if the appeal also includes a call to re-democratize access to education and eradicate class disparities in higher ed.

"The Grades Are In - 2008: Is California Higher Education Measuring Up?"

d) "2 related items:

An Aug 10 article on the higher education bubble

and an Aug 18 statement of the AAUP on the current financial crisis of universities and how faculty should respond.

12. "If your group is working to prepare materials for some teachin or similar events, where punching the UC administration is one of the objectives, then I would like to contribute.
"Below is one example: something I wrote up recently, sent to the coordinating working group with a suggestion that this might be good to use at an initial press conference when SAVE announced itself and its intentions. I never got any response. What I like about this scenario is that it would be faculty complaining (and there is plenty to complain about related to the furloughs), but not on behalf of themselves but on behalf of students."


These are difficult financial times for the whole University of California, but there are some stupid mistakes being made by officials responsible for the budget.

Example #1: At the July 15 meeting of the Regents, some Chancellors stated that they could not provide an adequate number of Teaching Assistants for their classes because of the state budget shortfall. Here are some relevant numbers for all of UC.

o Total Expenditure for Teaching Assistants (2007-08) SSS. $ 239,031,193 (1)

o Total Revenue from students' Educational Fees (2008-09) S $1,391,234,000 (2)

Surely, the first priority for use of those student fee revenues must be to pay for the most urgent needs of providing the education that those students are paying for.

Example #2: At that same Regents' meeting,
"UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said it will take students an extra half year to graduate, the result of courses being eliminated." (3)

Surely, the first priority for use of those student fee revenues must be to pay for the most urgent needs of providing the education that those students are paying for.


Therefore, we ask that Chancellor Birgeneau correct these mistakes at Berkeley and advise the Chancellors on the other UC campuses to do the same.

(1) Source: "Report to Regents on Student Financial Support 2007-08", Attachment A-1 page 3
Note: The Governor's Budget for 2007-08 shows only $104,507,000 for Teaching Assistants.

(2) Source: "2009-10 Budget for Current Operations - Budget Detail", page 174

(3) Source: San Francisco Chronicle July 16, 2009, page D1

13. Some will know Bob Samuels's hard-hitting work, but if you don't, have a look at it

Like most efforts in this area, where our masters work hard to hide and obfuscate the true figures, I'm told (not by admin apologists) that some of Samuels's claims are disputable. But the main arguments are strong.

14. Last, irresistibly, Kevin Padian's "
Why UC execs are worse than mediocre - objectively": muckraking at its best.

"We hear constantly how wonderful our top UC executives are, and why they have to be paid top dollar to be retained. Why, even today we heard how the UC brass lobbied successfully to kill legislation that would have limited their overpayment:

'California lawmakers killed a bill Thursday that would have kept public universities from raising executives' pay in hard economic times - even though it would have meant "significant savings" of several million dollars, according to a state analysis.'

"So, they can't work a deal to get enough money to prevent our staff and younger professors from suffering severe salary cuts. But they can protect their corporate butts. They must be awfully good. This is the argument maintained by Mark Laret, UCSF's CEO, in a recent letter to the Chronicle.

"A response to Mr. Laret's article countered as follows:

'Understandably, Mr. Laret, the CEO of UCSF, defends high salaries (such as his) in his field. His evidence is that "top" UC medical executives are leaving all the time. But with all due respect, he still hasn't given us any external support for his assessment. Is pay the only thing that matters to biomedical CEOs? Many of these execs may be leaving because they're disenchanted with UC's business model. A lot of people prefer living in California to St. Louis, Minneapolis, or Kentucky - especially when they have high salaries -- but in fact no evidence is presented for the personal reasons why these people left. And we still have no external evidence that UC executives are better than any others. We do have this evidence, however, for our faculty and academic programs. Generally, people stay at institutions if their creativity is fostered, their jobs are rewarding, and they're accomplishing things. That's true for faculty as well as career executives.

'By the way, Mr. Laret is a good example. He's the longest-tenured CEO in the UC system. According to Forbes, he's also a director of Varian Medical Systems, where he earns $300,000 to $435,000 per year on top of his UC salary - which UC faculty are not allowed to do, by the way. (Only an extra 20% of faculty income can be earned from outside sources.) UC executives simply don't get why this dual system is problematic. But the public understands quite well.

'If UC health science executives are so good at their jobs, why was UC support cut so much in the present budget, when UC faculty bring in $3.8 research and development for every $1 spent by the state? And why did UC have to lend the state $200 million (and where did that money come from?) so that they could continue work on the biomedical facilities that UC execs are supposed to be successfully convincing the state to support?'

"Does it seem to anyone to be a conflict of interest for Mr. Laret to be the CEO of UCSF while he simultaneously holds a directorship on a board of an HMO? But this is just the start.

"In fact, there is objective evidence from outside that not only are UC executives not the best, they are manifestly incompetent. And who says so? Why, the nonprofit Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the main accrediting agency for colleges and universities in California, Hawaii and U.S. territories in the Pacific Ocean and in East Asia. Just 18 months ago. Read all about it.

View the WASC report. "Can you imagine what the response would be if an academic unit at one of the campuses got that kind of review?

"The response of UCOP was to enact a sham "shakeup" that slightly reduced the size of their administration. But most of these top executives were re-hired at other campuses immediately, with big bonuses and transfer costs, thanks to pressure from UCOP.

"Why is there any reason to treat the claims of the administration as anything other than what they are: an unsupported sham? They are the only component of the UC system not subject to ANY external review or ANY objective measure of quality. For years they have not merited the supervision of the university. They are not even pretending to maintain the quality of the University. They have lost the confidence of every quarter of the state. They now merit only contempt.

"So what are you going to do about it?"

** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

A very mixed bag, all this -- but much of it can, I hope, be put to use. In solidarity -- Tim


Anonymous said...

Another discussion of the trend of public universities to privatize is Washburn's UNIVERSITY INC.


Milan said...

Mistaken priorities of UC President Yudof and UCB Chancellor Birgeneau: $3,000,000 for consultants when work can be done internally. Doesn't UC/UCB get the message that we are in a recession!

Anonymous said...

Actually,good post. thx

Anonymous said...

keep quoting these dead white guys for a reason. We seem to be repeating some particularly nasty history, right now.