The UC budget crisis: you are still expendable

When those UCSD profs asked to shut down the “inferior UCs,” many of my soon-to-be former colleagues scoffed at the notion that UCSD was even worthy of considering itself an elite university (which led to musing on my part as to why it was them, and not our “true elite schools” who were out for blood). Well guess what, guys, some professors from your beloved UC Berkeley (specifically, Robert Cooter and Aaron Edlin, both apparently part of the law school) are out for your blood as well. I mean, what do you expect from an institution that, by presenting itself as “Cal,” clearly still fantasizes for the good old days of 1868 through 1916, where they were the University of California?

Their bloodlust is somewhat different, although their argument begins in the same way:

The University of California remains outstanding. By some rankings, three of its schools are among the top 20 universities in the world. But for how long?

Once again UCSD is allowed up there with the rest of them. Do you know it only because a UC in 1959? It’s not that old.

We also see that same appeal to the private sector, something I didn’t focus on in my previous analyses, but a point of concern for most people in my ex-department:

Across-the-board salary cuts are the simplest way to balance the budget, but they are rarely the best. In the corporate world, smart organizations more often choose layoffs than salary cuts. And with good reason.

You notice that they don’t even feel the need to justify applying corporate logic to the university! This is frightening, and it pretty much completely justifies the humanities grad student’s fear of privatization of the academy.

A crisis is a time to rethink what we do, how we do it and who does it.

This is known as disaster capitalism.

Consider what the proposed salary cuts would mean. With employees paid up to 20% below what peer institutions pay, the best will leave. Yes, even in this recession, the best people will leave for other jobs or retire or switch professions. And those who remain will suffer from low morale.

Actually, I heard a story on the public radio show Marketplace at least a month ago about the number of organizations opting for pay cuts over layoffs because the morale of those who stayed would be lowered by “survival guilt.” According to Cooter and Edlin, UC employees, particularly the faculty (I mean, are they talking about anyone else? Maybe administration), are in fact made of lower moral fiber than the typical corporate employee; lower pay would bring them down, but watching their friends and co-workers lose everything wouldn’t bother them a bit.

Growth has led to bloat at UC. The bloat and bureaucracy stifle creativity and productivity. The bloat is in unproductive workers and unproductive jobs. Many jobs have little to do with our core missions of teaching and research. Within jobs, there is task bloat — mission creep creates too many assignments of little import.

Of course, the five billion dollar question is, who do they consider to be expendable? Obviously, they have no motivation to be anything other than cagey about it, because their hope is that everyone will read this and say, “yeah, I know my job or unit is crucial, but those other guys are just taking up space!” If you are of this mindset, you may find yourself supporting this proposal right up until the moment you realize that it was you who they were able to portray as just “bloat.”

Oh, and I say units because that’s their work-around for canning tenured faculty: axing entire units. Who wants to take bets as to whether these old white (okay, I’m just guessing here) guys are just itching to drop Ethnic Studies, or other such departments?

The Fresno Bee ran an editorial in response to the “close UC Merced” proposal in which they stated that some people in the UC system clearly had a “Lord of the Flies” mentality. One wonders, with equal parts grim amusement and increasing alarm, how many more backstabbing proposals we have to look forward to.


7 thoughts on “The UC budget crisis: you are still expendable

  1. UCSD has gotten better but they were dumb to start building gold plated symphony halls and so on the moment I left. Granted, they’re charging a lot more in tuition nowadays compared to 10 years ago but it’s still not prudent. And UCSD hasn’t gone up in the national US ranking either, so it’s probably still not considered elite despite rising standards. I agree that demanding “other people get laid off” is pretty selfish. Cutting pay isn’t an option either, since people in academia get paid 2 bux an hour as it is. Now all these universities are screwed for thinking good times would last forever. It really begs the question “if all this money is pouring in and the employees are paid so little, where is all the money going?” I think it’s mostly due to schools thinking that new and shiny facilities means a better education.

    1. Well, as I mentioned in my “Merced strikes back” post, they are a member of the Association of American Universities, which is supposedly a big deal, but maybe the fact that Davis and Santa Barbara are also members shows that this membership doesn’t necessarily connote “elite.”

      Oh, and there was one long-time professor who was already a big name who made $2k, so you’re right that most don’t have much to cut. You know you can look this stuff up, right?

      1. Hey thanks for the link, I found that initially when I was leaving UCR. I was shocked to learn how much my prof gets paid for…well you know. But yeah $2k, is that for a month? Because that’s pretty pathetic. I’m kind of shocked how little people in government make as well. The president, the head of the CIA, etc. These kinds of salaries are totally unacceptable in private entities and encourage all sorts of corruption imo. Plus you have to question the kinds of people and the talent levels you attract with such low wages. So no, there really isn’t any room for paycuts to be made. As far as I’m aware of the only people in any universities who make any money are the fund managers who were hired to make good investments with univ. treasury funds.

      2. Even though a lot of profs ride the gravy train once they have tenure, $200k/year is still nothing considering they have to get their Ph.D., do post-docs, assistant profs, etc. That’s 20 years of poverty for most aspiring profs. You can just do anything else and basically make far more money. And they work for another 20 years and it’s time to retire (except they can’t so they work forever). Basically I will have a hard time seeing the 150-200k some big shot profs make per year but I will earn more than 99% of profs over my lifetime with just a Masters because I am making a real salary for the first 20 years while everyone trying to be a prof gets jack (not to mention the vast #s of Ph.D.s who never make it to the tenure track). So yeah, the cleaning staff, adjuncts, and TAs make nothing, but everyone is so severly underpaid there’s really no way to cut it across the board for everyone. There’s a reason half the people in grad school are on antidepressants.

  2. I thought their comments about the bloated bureaucracy were interesting. My guess is UC is a little top heavy, with seemingly duplicate administration positions at both UCOP and the campus level. But streamlining that would probably not result in major cost savings. (State government has the same problem generally, with cabinet-level “agencies” overseeing the various departments and boards, but it would not make much of a dent in the budget deficit to get rid of them.)

    1. Hmm, if you’re right, then that really makes me wonder… are they speaking out of ignorance, or bad faith? If the latter, what’s their interest in getting rid of people? Do they just want to bring the purifying fire of layoffs and get rid of all those “units” that they just don’t approve of?

      It reminds me of an event I went to where a bunch of custodial union people told us that they never got raises, but then said it was all because the president makes too much money. I really wouldn’t mind seeing him make less money, but I don’t imagine that cutting even most of his salary, or even his multi-million dollar home renovation, would pay for that many custodial raises. It was kinda the left-wing populist version of this argument, I guess… makes a certain kind of person feel good, but doesn’t constitute a real solution.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s