Saturday, July 18, 2009

Faculty self-interest trumps collegiality at the University of California

(Cross-posted at BlogHer)

In a letter that has made jaws drop throughout the University of California system and in colleges and universities around the country, a group of 23 University of California, San Diego department chairs have called on the UC to--among other things--sacrifice campuses, specifically UC Merced, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Riverside, that value teaching as well as research. Wesleyan University Professor Claire Potter puts it best, I think, in her interpretation of the letter in her post "Sincerely Yours, The Department of Miserable Bastards,":

To put it in plain English for those of you who do not teach at a prestigious flagship, some people (you, for example) suck, other people (they) don't; hence, it can be determined some faculty have value and others do not. From this we can derive that some faculty are endlessly exploitable and/or can be discarded without any real harm coming to anyone important, such as students.

You are so right, Professor Scull, and I think you should just march right up to [UC Santa Cruz Professor and activist] Angela Davis and her [History of Consciousness] friends and tell them that to their faces. The one bright spot in this budget crisis, it seems, is that we can take the gloves off and be honest with each other about how we really feel. But I do want to say -- that was one heck of a run-on sentence, and before you row away in your little lifeboat, leaving the rest of the system to paddle around on whatever floats, you might want to get the Chair of the English Department on board.

The letter, which really you must read, was authored by UCSD sociologist Andrew Scull, who--I kid you not--researches the sociology of lunacy and megalomania. (Talk about lack of self-awareness.) Proving that sociologists just don't get, well, social interaction, the UC Los Angeles sociology department has joined in with its own letter, which, like Scull's, calls on the Regents and President of the UC to cut back on programs (or perhaps closely entirely) the three campuses Scull mentions in favor of campuses like UCLA, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego. (Which leaves some campuses--like, oh, mine in Davis--in some kind of limbo, I suppose, limping along on life support as it struggles to develop technologies to, you know, feed the world and remediate environmental disasters in the making.)

Danielle Gaines cites a statement University of California President Mark Yudof made to the Merced Sun-Star:

"I am 100 percent behind Merced, Riverside and Santa Cruz, and do not see the call to reduce expenditures on those campuses, beyond their proportionate share of the systemwide deficit, as a solution to our budgetary ills."

For more discussion of Scull's letter and the respective UC campuses, see Margaret Soltan's post at University Diaries and the comments on it.

The truth is, all campuses have something to contribute as teaching and research institutions, and cuts should be distributed proportionately across them. Merced's budget is tiny compared to UCLA's, just as my salary as a UC staff member is small compared to a department chair's at UCSD or UCLA. And just as the furloughs and pay cuts are being distributed on a sliding scale, with lesser-paid administrative staff losing a smaller percentage of their salary (say, 4% to 6%) than better-paid faculty (7% to 10%), the larger campuses should have more cushion in their budgets to take a bigger hit during a financial crisis affecting the entire system.

There are also issues of equity to California's growing populations of young people of color, who are tragically underrepresented at the University of California. Writing in La Prensa San Diego, Jorge Mariscal upbraids Scul for wanting to close those campuses that have the highest enrollment of underrepresented students:

As the privatization of the UC continues (UCSD, for example, is a public university in name only with only 6% of its budget coming from the state), more out-of-state and international students will be admitted. This has been a shift desired by some for several years now. The mission of the UC that says we should be serving the people of California is sacrificed on the altar of revenue flow.

UCSD then becomes a finishing school for out-of-state students from rich families and affluent foreigners. The University of Michigan, now almost fully privatized and being talked about as a model for the new UC, currently enrolls more international students than Mexican American students.

Once the three “elite” UC campuses make the transition to being in essence private schools, working class and minority students will slowly disappear from their classrooms. Again, this is already happening due to increased tuition (which Scull supports) and enrollment caps. But if UC were to adopt Scull’s plan and wipe out the campuses with the most underrepresented students—Riverside and Merced—you accelerate the process.

Throw in the California State University system and the California Community College system, both of which are underfunded, and the picture of higher education in the state becomes even more complicated, particularly as regards working-class students, non-traditional (e.g. older) students, and students of color. Asking to be removed from the cuts because the academic research you do is somehow more important than the work being done elsewhere to educate first-generation college students is just arrogant.

Where is Clark Kerr when we need him?

What are your thoughts?


ScienceWoman said...

Arrogant bastard.

Does that about sum it up?

I can't believe that anyone would talk about closing whole campuses so that a few elite schools wouldn't have to make cuts. Does Scull miss the point that the primary mission of state universities is to educate the state's citizens? Obviously, he does.

Anonymous said...

The most hilarious aspect of Scull's foolish letter is that, by his own logic, his position - indeed, his entire department - would be amongst the first cut! According to most external rankings, UCSD's sociology department is rated fairly low, well below Irvine's, for example. I think the perfect justice would be if this twit got precisely what he asked for, and was laid off.

Anonymous said...

Self-serving interests of UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau and Provost Breslauer trump the collegiality of UC. You Bet! Sorry Tale of Malfeasance in the Chancellor’s Office at UC Berkeley: easily grasped by the public, lost on University of California’s leadership. The UC Berkley budget gap has grown to $150 million, & still the Chancellor is spending money that isn't there on $3,000,000 consultants. His reasons range from the need for impartiality to requiring the consultants "thinking, expertise, & new knowledge".
Does this mean that the faculty & management of UC Berkeley – flagship campus of the greatest public system of higher education in the world - lack the knowledge, integrity, impartiality, innovation, skills to come up with solutions? Have they been fudging their research for years? The consultants will glean their recommendations from faculty interviews & the senior management that hired them; yet $ 150 million of inefficiencies and solutions could be found internally if the Chancellor & Provost Breslauer were doing the work of their jobs (This simple point is lost on UC’s leadership).
The victims of this folly are Faculty and Students. $ 3 million consultant fees would be far better spent on students & faculty.
There can be only one conclusion as to why inefficiencies & solutions have not been forthcoming from faculty & staff: Chancellor Birgeneau has lost credibility & the trust of the faculty & Academic Senate leadership (C. Kutz, F. Doyle). Even if the faculty agrees with the consultants' recommendations - disagreeing might put their jobs in jeopardy - the underlying problem of lost credibility & trust will remain.
Contact your representatives in Sacramento: tell them of the hefty self-serving $’s being spent by UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau & Provost Breslauer.