Thursday, July 7, 2011

UC’s Steady Move to Privatization

At the next UC regents meeting, a proposal will be presented to increase tuition by 9.6%, which will be added to the previously accepted 8% increase for a total increase of 17.6%. The official reason for this increase is that the state has reduced UC funding by $650 million. Moreover, the anticipated state cut has also pushed UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSD to increase its nonresident student enrollments, and in the case of Berkeley, about a third of its new students are coming from outside of California, and these nonresident students are very attractive because they full tuition without any financial aid. This is what privatization looks look.

By increasing the cost of attendance and decreasing the percentage of Californian students, the UC is following in the footsteps of Michigan and Virginia, and the result will soon be that a larger proportion of students will come from outside of California and more of them will come from families in the top income bracket. However, unlike Michigan and Virginia, the UC is still dedicated to using financial aid to make school affordable for lower-income and lower-middle class students. Of course, something has to give here, and it is the Californian middle-class students who cannot afford the increased tuition but do not qualify for financial aid who will find themselves excluded from a UC education.

The UC likes to argue that it has no choice but to raise tuition and chase nonresident students, but as I have shown before, the administration’s logic is flawed. If the university wanted to, it could decrease tuition and increase student enrollments, but this would require a very different funding model. Instead of having undergraduates subsidize graduate education, professional education, research, and administration, the system could make sure that each sector could support itself. This process would require budgetary transparency and an increase in funding for for graduate and professional students.

When in the past I have called for this type of budgeting, I have been told that the only way to maintain UC’s excellence is by hiding its funding process from the public and everyone else. In other words, if people knew that the UC was jacking up undergraduate tuition in order to support expensive graduate and research programs, citizens would rebel and call for the defunding of the university. However, my response is that only a transparent budget would allow us to see if there really are non-essential costs that could be eliminated. In fact, part of being a public university is allowing the public to see how you really spend your funds.

Yet, while professors and administrators often complain about the creeping privatization of the UC system, they still want to be paid like they are working for private schools. Moreover, the fear of losing star professors to elite private universities pushes the system to pay some of its employees at a high market rate, while all of the other faculty members and workers are asked to do more for less. By allowing individual faculty members to negotiate private deals with administrators, the system not only creates collusion between the faculty and the administration, but it also drives up costs as it eliminates transparency and equity.

This system of private deals at a public university is going to get even worse if the regents approve of the plan of letting the president decide on his own about employee compensation increases. This new system will not only decrease transparency, but it will also increase inequality as the president garners support by handing out raises. Public institutions do not function this way; rather, this is how autocrats rise to power and maintain their control. If we really want a public university, all of us have to fight for it.

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