Paying for college

One thing that seems to jump out at people when considering this “evil plan” to sacrifice UCM and (maybe) UCR in order to “save” USCD is that it’s not the professors from the “obvious best” UCs causing the ruckus. Nick, one of my friends, commented on the Facebook feed of my blog:

Or, likewise, reduce the UC system to just the big two: UCB and UCLA–it’s not like the others matter. To suggest that UCSD is on par or near handicap to either LA or Cal is absurd.

Upon further consideration, I believe that this is not coincidental.

Crudely speaking, universities amass funding by appealing to three distinct, and largely incompatibile, functions. The first is education; parents pay tuition so that their children will be educated, and the state funds the universities because education is one of its functions. Obviously, the balance of the two has changed quite a bit.

The second function is research, something the tuition-paying parents are largely indifferent to. Research in fact can often be antithetical to education, as the best researchers are often the worst educators, and time spent researching detracts from time spent education.

Yet research, or at least some of it, brings in revenue, as certain corporations fund the research of certain scientific departments. If you read the Scull letter, however, you’ll see that he mostly avoids this appeal. After all, Scull is the chair of Sociology, and the letter includes signatures from the chairs of the Music, History, Linguistics, and Philosophy departments. Speaking as someone who once aspired to become a “research professor” in English, I can confidently tell you what you no doubt already know; we in the humanities may be generating something, but it’s definitely not cash!

Instead, Scull speaks of research valuable in terms of reputation, and in order to maintain that reputation,

The key, I think, to why UCSD professors are sounding the alarm comes from something my friend Sean offered when I asked his opinion about UCSD’s standing on AIM:

its not up there in terms of the alumni/sports boosters sense
but perhaps in the academic sense
in terms of “research” only, UCSD probably is as good as UCB or UCLA

This ties in pretty well with something obvious to most, yet perhaps not previously obvious to myself (as cynical as I am about corruption, I can be a bit naive about how exactly corruption works), which is that football games help keep universities alive by creating alcohol-drenched opportunities for schmoozing with wealthy alumni, leading to their continued economic support. As such, the “alumni/sports boosters” matrix constitutes the third steam of revenue.

Put it together, and it all makes sense; the UCSD signees do not generate revenue by virtue of the research they do, and they do not work at schools like UCLA and UCB, schools that will continue to raise money simply by virtue of having their football games aired prominently on ESPN, so their only recourse is to manipulate and monopolize the revenue flow from education, by increasing out-of-state attendance, shutting down “bad research schools,” and so on. Sure, they are joined by some potentially profitable researchers, but those folks are just opportunistic, looking for a bit of extra revenue on top of what they get from corporations.

My friend Tanner summed up the heinousness of this proposal fairly well when he said, on his Twitter:

UCSD Dept. Chairs’ solution to budget crisis? Trim UC schools that teach low income and minority Californians:

Of course, they don’t even care about teaching the affluent, much less the dispossessed, but this remark does point out that UCR’s donor base is always going to be much more troubled than poor, not-on-ESPN UCSD.

Thoughts? Did I miss, or just mischaracterize, anything?

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