Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Plan to Protect the University of California

I would like to suggest here a concrete plan to defend high quality public education for the University of California.

The first step is to build coalitions around a set of specific demands. This strategy is necessary in order to unite diverse interest groups within the UC system, and in fact, unions, students, and faculty have already done a good job centering our demands around five basic issues: furloughs, layoffs, budgetary transparency, alternative budget solutions, and shared governance.

By saying no to furloughs for people making less than $40,000, we have united around a very modest and realizable goal. Moreover, this demand shows our commitment to economic justice and a basic sense of fairness.

Linked to the demand to limit the furloughs, and to stop all furloughs by July 1 2010, is the need to halt the layoffs on each campus. The unions have been working on this demand, but it will take a united front to stop the elimination of jobs throughout the UC system. Students need to realize that when the university gets rid of lecturers, courses are eliminated and class sizes expand. Furthermore, faculty, need to know that without lecturers and teaching assistants, professors will not have time to do research, and the quality of education will go down. It is also important to stress that when workers and staff lose their jobs, everyone loses.

Of course, the UC administration will argue that layoffs and furloughs are necessary to maintain the quality of the university, but without budget transparency, we have no way of knowing if the money saved by furloughs and layoffs will actually go to protect things like undergraduate instruction and graduate research. Right now, it seems that students are being asked to pay more for less, while workers and faculty are being asked to do more for less. Furthermore, decisions are being imposed from above, and we are seeing a serious lack of shared governance.

The reason that we have to insist on shared governance and budget transparency, then, is to make sure that decisions are not being made in secret, which will result in the privatization of the university. And privatization, means not only the raising of student fees to such an extent that the university becomes indistinguishable from private universities, but more fundamentally, privatization says that education is no longer considered a free, public good and that knowledge is no longer the free pursuit of knowledge. Privatization also means that decisions are made in private, and private gain becomes the over-arching goal.

One way to fight all of these forms of privatization is to insist on the alterntaive budget solutions that the unions have presented to the administration. These solutions start with a very basic human concept: sharing. Not only should the profit-making units share with the less profit-oriented sectors, but the highest earners should share some of their wealth with the lowest earners. Moreover, if positions have to be eliminated, it should not only be the lowest paid workers who lose their jobs.

A growing number of UC workers, faculty, and students believe that the UC does not have a fiscal crisis; rather it has a crisis of priorities, and we can work together to change these priorities. We need to use the regents meeting at UCLA on November 17-19 to present our demands to the general public and to rally around our shared interests.

The next step after the regents meeting is to go back to our respective campuses and to make sure that our shared demands are accepted. Following some recent success, we need to put pressure on the chancellors on each campus, and this may take the form of sit-ins and other modes of civil disobedience. By working with students, we can force the local leaders to make local changes, which can lead to more system-wide changes. For example, the chancellors can stop layoffs and provide budgetary transparency that enables shared governance. The chancellors can also demand an end to furloughs and service cuts.

The chancellors have to be accountable to the students and faculty, and we need to work together to make them accept our demands. We need to fight for the university we want. Please come to UCLA on the 18th and 19th, and let your voices be heard.


  1. I like in particular the quote "...the UC does not have a fiscal crisis; rather it has a crisis of priorities." It is a very accurate way of putting into words our current situation. But I don't understand what is meant in the statement that says public education is free. How can they be considered free if we're already paying tens of thousands?

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