Thoughts on the Berkeley protests

I’ve made no secret of my opposition to this week’s protests at Berkeley and other UC campuses. The tactics were stale, the targets were wrong, and the rhetoric was ineffective. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think what’s going on at UC doesn’t completely suck.

The immediate cause of the protests was the 32% tuition increase instituted last week by the regents. While a UC education remains a bargain – the ~$2,500 increase in annual tuition brings the total to around $10,000 – the extra cost will be a crushing burden for many students.

But it doesn’t really matter whether you view $10,000 as unreasonably high or a great deal. The real problem with the tuition increase is what is says about the UC’s – and Berkeley in particular – status as a public institution.

Berkeley became what it is today – the best public university in the world – because the state lavished money on it – not only to subsidize student tuition (which, until Reagan was governor, was effectively free) but also to build the research facilities, museums, libraries and other trappings of an elite university and to recruit the best faculty to fill them.

And, as students are being asked to pick up a larger share of the budget, the university’s financial crisis is driving researchers, curators, etc… who have long relied on state support to adopt more of a private fundraising model. And in doing so, Berkeley is becoming more and more like every other place. And while that doesn’t necessarily mean it will stop being an elite university, it does mean it will stop being the special place it currently is.

I also want to say something about the Berkeley protesters fingering of UC president Yudof and Berkeley  chancellor Birgeneau as the culprits. I think this is absurd. Given the state of the university’s budget, they’ve really had no choice but the slash salaries, lay off workers and raise tuition. And the idea that the administration is somehow sitting on huge pots of money that they’re not spending because they want to hasten the transition to a private institution model (something a lot of protesters were arguing) is absurd.

Everything I’ve read and heard suggests that Yudof has done his best to argue our case in Sacramento. And it’s not clear that anything would have changed enough minds to make a difference. But, as we constantly tell our students, it doesn’t matter how hard you try on the test – you have to succeed. And there’s no doubt that UCs administration has failed to defend the university against the brutal cuts it has, of late, absorbed. Someone has to be held accountable for this failure.

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4 Comments

  1. Milan Moravec
    Posted November 22, 2009 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    University of California President Yudof Approves $3,000,000 to Outsource UCB Chancellor’s Job
    The UC President has a UCB Chancellor that should do the high paid job he is paid for instead of hiring an East Coast consulting firm to fulfill his responsibilities. ‘World class’ smart executives like Chancellor Birgeneau need to do the analysis, hard work and make the difficult decisions of their executive job!
    Where do consulting firms like Bain ($3,000,000 consultants) get their recommendations?
    From interviewing the senior management that hired them and will be approving their monthly consultant fees and expense reports. Remember the nationally known auditing firm who said the right things and submitted recommendations that senior management wanted to hear and fooled government oversight agencies and the public?
    Mr. Birgeneau’s executive officer performance management responsibilities include “inspiring innovation and leading change.” This involves “defining outcomes, energizing others at all levels and ensuring continuing commitment.” Instead of demonstrating his capacity to fulfill his executive accountabilities, Mr. Birgeneau outsourced them. Doesn’t he engage University of California and University of California Berkeley (UCB) people at all levels to help examine the budget and recommend the necessary trims? Hasn’t he talked to Cornell and the University of North Carolina – which also hired Bain — about best practices and recommendations that might apply to UCB cuts?
    No wonder the faculty and staff are angry and suspicious. Three million dollars is a high price for Californians to pay when a knowledgeable ‘world-class’ Chancellor is not doing his job.
    Please help save $3,000,000 for teaching our students and request that the UC President require the UCB Chancellor to fulfill his executive job accountabilities!

  2. Doye O Sivils
    Posted November 22, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Why does one of the top universities in the world have to spend $3 million of taxpayer money for consultants to do what should be done internally by UCB Chancellor Birgeneau?
    Who teaches auditors how to audit? Do UC professors not have the knowledge to perform what they teach?
    Having firsthand knowledge of consulting, I know one cardinal rule, “Don’t bite the hand that pays you.”
    In a nutshell, we have a high-paid, skilled UCB Chancellor who is unable or unwilling to do the job he is paid to do. Why do we wonder that UC and California are in a financial crisis!
    I’m sure taxpayers would not object to the $3 million payout if the money is reimbursed by taking money from the UCB Chancellor’s salary over the next 10 years.
    Stop the spending of $3,000,000 on consultants by President Yudof and the UCB Chancellor and do the job internally
    Respectfully

  3. Milan Moravec
    Posted December 23, 2009 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    $3 Million Extravagant Spending by UC President Yudof for UCBerkeley Chancellor Birgeneau to Hire Consultants – When Work Can Be Done Internally and Impartially
    These days, every dollar counts. Contact Senate (Ms. Romero 916.651.4105) & Assembly (Ms. Brownley 916.319.2044) Chairperson’s Education Committees or your representatives.
    Do the work internally at no additional costs with UCB Academic Senate Leadership (C. Kutz/F. Doyle), the world – class UCB faculty/ staff, & the UCB Chancellor’s bloated staff (G. Breslauer, N. Brostrom, F. Yeary, P. Hoffman, C. Holmes etc) & President Yudof.
    President Yudof’s UCB Chancellor should do the high paid work he is paid for instead of hiring expensive East Coast consults to do the work of his job. ‘World class’ smart executives like Chancellor Birgeneau need to do the hard work analysis, and make the tough-minded difficult, decisions to identify inefficiencies.
    Where do the $3,000,000 consultants get their recommendations?
    From interviewing the UCB senior management that hired them and approves their monthly consultant fees and expense reports. Remember the nationally known auditing firm who said the right things and submitted recommendations that senior management wanted to hear and fooled the public, state, federal agencies?
    $3 million impartial consultants never bite the hands (Birgeneau/Yeary) that feed them!
    Mr. Birgeneau’s accountabilities include “inspiring innovation, leading change.” This involves “defining outcomes, energizing others at all levels and ensuring continuing commitment.” Instead of deploying his leadership and setting a good example by doing the work of his Chancellor’s job, Mr. Birgeneau outsourced his work to the $3,000,000 consultants. Doesn’t he engage UC and UC Berkeley people at all levels to examine inefficiencies and recommend $150 million of trims? Hasn’t he talked to Cornell and the University of North Carolina – which also hired the consultants — about best practices and recommendations that will eliminate inefficiencies?
    No wonder the faculty, staff, students, Senate & Assembly are angry and suspicious.
    In today’s economy three million dollars is a irresponsible price to pay when a knowledgeable ‘world-class’ UCB Chancellor and his bloated staff do not do the work of their jobs.
    Together, we will make a difference.

  4. Vanderleun
    Posted April 24, 2011 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    “Berkeley became what it is today – the best public university in the world – because the state lavished money on it – ”

    Yes, but that was when the state actually HAD money. Implementing a lot of loose thinking and policies that came, in part, from Berkeley and its clones put paid to that. Intellectual insanity has its consequences. No reason Berkeley shouldn’t get hit.

    Vanderleun — UCB ’67

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