At a special meeting on December 13th, the UC regents voted to endorse the Commission on the Future’s final report and the new pension plan. Before the actual vote on the Commission’s report, there was a long discussion of what they were actually being asked to vote on. Some of the regents weren’t sure if they were voting to endorse the whole report, part of the report, or none of the report. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that the final report doesn’t actually make any specific changes; rather, the report discusses general principles with mostly vague goals. Basically, the report argues that the UC system needs to educate more students with less money from the state; the major way the university plans to do more with less is by increasing the number of high-paying out-of-state students and transfer students, while finding ways to speed all students through the system, perhaps with the use of online courses or reduced course requirements.
As I pointed out in my public comments, the proposed solutions make neither fiscal nor educational sense. For instance, we find the following statement in the final report: “admittedly, the education of upper-division students is more expensive because of smaller classes and necessary specialization and facilities . . . From an aggregate perspective, however, transfer students require only two years of UC resources in order to graduate with a UC bachelor’s degree. . . Serving transfer students increases the number of degrees the UC can confer with any given level of instructional resources.” According to this contradictory logic, upper-upper division courses are more expensive, and therefore the way to save money is to increase the number of expensive classes and reduce the number of inexpensive ones.
This failure to grasp basic math and accounting is continued in the discussion of why they should increase the number of graduate students in relation to undergraduate students: “the education of graduate students is more expensive than undergraduate students, both in instructional costs and student financial support. Therefore, under current and baseline fiscal projections, funding for graduate enrollment growth would require that campuses reduce undergraduate enrollment — an unacceptable result in light of our access mission and commitment to the master Plan enrollment goals.” After clearly stating that graduate education is more expensive than undergraduate education, and that the increase in graduate students would result in an unacceptable decrease in undergraduates, we find the following argument: “Recognizing UC’s role in the master Plan as the state’s primary research and doctoral-granting institution, the commission recommends that the University increase the proportion of graduate enrollments from 22 percent of total enrollments to 26 percent by 2020-21, with individual targets set by each campus.” So the master plan tells us to have more undergraduate students, but the matser plan also tells us to have more doctoral students, so the solution is to do both even though the university cannot afford either.
As I have argued, the university simply refuses to admit that undergraduates are now subsidizing everything else in the UC system, and the only solution the university finds to any problem is to increase student tuition and to cheapen the quality of undergraduate education by turning to online classes, reduced requirements, summer courses, and fast degrees. In the Commission’s words, “the master Plan prescribes a ratio of 60:40 in upper division to lower division undergraduate students in order to have ample upper division spaces for community college transfer students (Uc’s ratio in 2009-10 was 66:34 due to freshmen entering with advanced placement and other college credit). Given these expected capital facility costs, UC will either need to find significant new revenues to supplement limited state funding or it will need to pursue alternatives to bricks-and-mortar classrooms and labs.” In the hands of this collection of amateur educationalists, the master plan is simply a rhetorical weapon to whip out to score points when needed. Not only does the final report lack vision, but it starts with all of the wrong premises.
In a moment of frustration, President Yudof declared that if someone else has a different plan, he would love to see it. But a coalition of unions has presented multiple plans to Yudof, and they have been simply ignored. One thing is clear, the regents will not be able to maintain the fiscal health and educational quality of the university if they cannot do simple math, and if they spend the majority of the time blaming the state for all of the UC’s problems, nothing will ever change.
Finally, on the pension front, several unions argued during public comment that retiree healthcare should be based on pay bands like all other current healthcare premiums. While this proposal was rejected by the regents, they did respond to a last minute plea by the highest-paid employees to re-consider waiving the IRS limit on pensions. In an incredible act of hubris, during the meeting, they re-wrote the final pension proposal, and it was unclear if the regents even knew which proposal was under consideration.