Friday, April 15, 2016

The University of Public Relations

The news that UC Davis spentat least $175,000 on public relations to clean up their reputation after pepper spraying defenseless students should not surprise anyone at this point. Universities are highly invested in their public reputation, and they will often go to great lengths to hide negative facts.  For example, in response to the state auditor’s criticism of UC’s recent admissions policies, the university spent money and time not only attacking the audit but also spinning out their owncounter-narrative. Unfortunately, everyone seems to have bought UC’s official story that state funding cuts are the only problem, and UC acted in an ethical and effective manner.  However, the reality is that the new funding and admissions model the UCproduced in response to the state budget harms students, the state, andemployees

The big takeaway according to the media was that UC replaced eligible students from California with high-paying non-resident students, but this is no longer a problem since the university has agreed to increase the number of students from California in the future.  Yet, a larger problem has not been dealt with, and this concerns how to pay for all of the new students and how funds are distributed among the campuses.  As the audit rightly pointed out, the UC has continued to fail to produce a credible way of calculating how much it costs to teach different levels of students, and this failure to comply with state legislation makes it difficult to know how the university spends state funds, tuition dollars, and other sources of income.  On a fundamental level, no one knows how much anything costs in the UC system, and the main reason why has to do with public relations.

Since the university does not believe that the state or parents want to pay for research and other non-instructional activities, the system creates fake and misleading budgets to block transparency and allow for a high level of discretionary funding.  In fact, the recent budget crisis at Berkeley is a product of the university’s refusal to produce credible budgets: no one seems to know why Berkeley has such a large budget deficit, and so the PRmachine is simply blaming the state. After all, since Berkeley has increased its funding by bringing in so many high-paying out-of-state students, we have to ask, where has all of the money gone?

This emphasis on public relations over truth and transparency can also help to explain why the current president made such a bad deal with the governor and the state.  Not only did she agree to undermine the pension plan, but she has agreed to admit many more students with a much lower level of state funding per student.  Did she accept such a bad deal because she had entered into a public fight with the governor and her only way to save face was to pretend that the austerity budget was good for the university?


The question remains of how the campuses with lower funding and fewer non-resident students will afford to educate so many more students.  Of course, no one wants to deal with this problem because they are so busy trying to put a positive spin on everything.  It would be great to know how much the UC spends each year on public relations, but of course, we can’t figure this out since we do not know how much anything costs.  

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