The UC Students Will Suffer
The UC administration likes to claim that it cares about educating undergraduates, but recent actions reveal another set of priorities. As President Yudof has said on many occasions, it will be hard to look students in the eye next year because there will be fewer courses, larger classes, longer lines, and less faculty to teach the undergraduates. While Yudof makes it sound like these cuts are inevitable, we have to wonder if he is telling the truth.
The UC is still a very wealthy institution with some very highly compensated employees, and so the recent claim of a "fiscal emergency" has to be received with skepticism. Yes, the state has cut 812 million dollars from the budget, but this covers two years and only 3% of the total operating budget, which is $20 billion a year. The UC also has another $50 billion in assets and investments, and so we must ask, why is the university pretending to be poor?
The first reason why the UC administration likes to cry poverty is that it wants to force the state to give it more money, and a wealthy institution has a hard time asking for more funds when so many in the state are suffering. The UC also has to claim poverty in order to raise student fees and to make sure that the most highly compensated employees--coaches, administrators, and medical faculty--remain highly compensated.
In fact, a recent study of UC’s salary system reveals that 3,643 employees earned over $200,000 in 2008 for a total gross pay of over 1 billion dollars. Since the total payroll for the UC system is $9 billion for 240,000 employees , this means that less than 2% of the people make 11% of the total pay. Moreover, Preside Yudof has decided to not “tax” the total compensation of employees, and this change has tremendous ramifications. For instance, the people making over $200,000 have a collective base pay of $640 million, so by taxing them 10%, the university only saves 64 million, but if the total compensation was taxed, UC would save 100 million, which is close to 70% of what the university will get by reducing all employees. In this structure, the poorest employees end up subsidizing the high salaries of the wealthiest employees.
Ultimately, the UC suffers from a culture of selfish individualism, where separate groups and employees simply do not want to share their resources. Thus, the people funded on external grants have successfully fought to be excluded from Yudof's furlough plan, and the highest earners have made sure that only their base pay, and not their total pay, will be reduced. Likewise, research faculty have been quick to call for a reduction of the instructional budget, so that the "prestige" of the university can be maintained. Some faculty have even suggested closing the Merced, Riverside, and Santa Cruz campuses because these institutions focus on teaching and not research.
During the last thirty years, universities like the UC have diversified their assets and have become highly profitable research centers, which are subsidized by state and federal taxes. Thus, while states have reduced their over-all support for these institutions, other sources of revenue, including constant tuition increases, have more than made up for the deficits. Unfortunately, the UC administration has decided not to share the revenue from the most profitable units, and so they will be forced to layoff non-tenured faculty who teach over 40% of the undergraduate courses, and once these faculty are gone, students will be paying more and getting less. UCLA is even considering suspending all undergraduate requirements.
The UC does not have a budget crisis; it has a crisis in priorities.
Bob Samuels, President, UC-AFT