One of the most annoying parts of any UC Regents meeting is the constant, time-consuming ritual of self-praise. Near the start of the meeting on July 13th, Chairman Gould announced that he would like to praise the board for their successful effort at turning anger away from Oakland and aiming it directly at Sacramento. In other words, the head regent wanted to make sure that people blamed the state and not the regents or the Office of the President for any of the UC’s problems.
Gould later responded directly to my public comment concerning the university’s loss of $23 billion in investments during 2008-09. He flatly said, “Over the last twenty years, our investments have outperformed our peers.” Not only is this statement completely false, but it reveals the defensive and misguided nature of the regents’ thinking.
Another great example of defensive group thinking occurred during the discussion of UC admission statistics. After stating that the system ended up with 2,000 more transfer students than they wanted, a regent exclaimed that this high rate of transfers shows that the Master Plan is still working. No one questioned why none of the admission targets were met, but the VP of Budget did warn that this level of over-enrollment means that the UC system now has 15,000 students that are not being funded by the state.
A very uncomfortable moment occurred when the ethnic breakdown of new admits was being discussed. On one of the charts, it showed that the percentages of new freshman who are Asian American, Latino/Chicano, African American, and American Indian have all gone up; however, next to Caucasian, there was no arrow. A regent asked why the percentage of white students didn’t also go up? I thought to myself, doesn’t he realize that you can’t have the percentage of all of the groups go up; after all, some group has to go down. Yet, in the delusional thinking of the regents, they should be able to increase every group, while they commit themselves to decreasing undergraduate enrollments.
One regent even ventured that the result of increasing student fees was that there was more financial aid available, and so there are now even more low-income students. No one stated the obvious that someone must be losing out.
Of course, the magic bullet presented at this meeting to solve both the budget problems and diversity issues was online education. In Dean Edley’s showy presentation on how the UC can use online courses to democratize elite higher education, he claimed that digital education is the new civil rights issue, and he ended his presentation with a slide stating “Si Se Puede.” I am sure that Cesar Chavez used this slogan to tell his people that they would soon have access to a high-cost, low quality educational option.
After Edley’s presentation, there was a press conference, and I asked him how UC is going to offer high-quality online education to low-income students if these are they very students who do not have broadband, fancy computers, and the needed software. He replied that the UC would have to provide students with new computers and broadband access, but it would only cost a small drop in the bucket.
Edley also announced that he has been going around with the governor asking private donors to support the pilot program that he hopes to roll out this Fall. I asked him if he was afraid that the donor’s might have a different agenda than the University of California, and he assured me that none of the gifts will come with any strings attached. I didn’t get to ask him about regent Blum’s business interests in online education, but it is clear that the regents are feeling defensive concerning recent media exposure of possible conflicts of interests.
One of the central ways that the regents and UCOP are trying to polish their public image is by showing how they will save money through administrative efficiencies. In a major move, the regents granted President Yudof the power to force campuses to adopt common systems and practices. It was clear that the Chancellors in the audience were not happy about their sudden loss of power, but they had to suck it up as the regents extended Yudof’s executive reach.
Here is my final conclusion; since the regents have no understanding or interest in actual education, they turn their attention to other areas like new community outreach programs, online education, green technologies, and diversity issues. Not once, during two long days of discussions, did I hear anyone touch on the subject of providing high quality education and research. It is clear that the faculty, students, and unions have to change the conversation and interupt the love affair between the regents and the Office of the President.