Faculty self-interest trumps collegiality at the University of California

BlogHer Original Post

In a letter that has made jaws drop throughout the University of California system and in colleges and universities around the country, a group of 23 University of California, San Diego department chairs have called on the UC to--among other things--sacrifice campuses, specifically UC Merced, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Riverside, that value teaching as well as research. Wesleyan University Professor Claire Potter puts it best, I think, in her interpretation of the letter in her post "Sincerely Yours, The Department of Miserable Bastards,":

To put it in plain English for those of you who do not teach at a prestigious flagship, some people (you, for example) suck, other people (they) don't; hence, it can be determined some faculty have value and others do not. From this we can derive that some faculty are endlessly exploitable and/or can be discarded without any real harm coming to anyone important, such as students.

You are so right, Professor Scull, and I think you should just march right up to [UC Santa Cruz Professor and activist] Angela Davis and her [History of Consciousness] friends and tell them that to their faces. The one bright spot in this budget crisis, it seems, is that we can take the gloves off and be honest with each other about how we really feel. But I do want to say -- that was one heck of a run-on sentence, and before you row away in your little lifeboat, leaving the rest of the system to paddle around on whatever floats, you might want to get the Chair of the English Department on board.

The letter, which really you must read, was authored by UCSD sociologist Andrew Scull, who--I kid you not--researches the sociology of lunacy and megalomania. (Talk about lack of self-awareness.) Proving that sociologists just don't get, well, social interaction, the UC Los Angeles sociology department has joined in with its own letter, which, like Scull's, calls on the Regents and President of the UC to cut back on programs (or perhaps closely entirely) the three campuses Scull mentions in favor of campuses like UCLA, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego. (Which leaves some campuses--like, oh, mine in Davis--in some kind of limbo, I suppose, limping along on life support as it struggles to develop technologies to, you know, feed the world and remediate environmental disasters in the making.)

Danielle Gaines cites a statement University of California President Mark Yudof made to the Merced Sun-Star:

"I am 100 percent behind Merced, Riverside and Santa Cruz, and do not see the call to reduce expenditures on those campuses, beyond their proportionate share of the systemwide deficit, as a solution to our budgetary ills."

For more discussion of Scull's letter and the respective UC campuses, see Margaret Soltan's post at University Diaries and the comments on it.

The truth is, all campuses have something to contribute as teaching and research institutions, and cuts should be distributed proportionately across them. Merced's budget is tiny compared to UCLA's, just as my salary as a UC staff member is small compared to a department chair's at UCSD or UCLA. And just as the furloughs and pay cuts are being distributed on a sliding scale, with lesser-paid administrative staff losing a smaller percentage of their salary (say, 4% to 6%) than better-paid faculty (7% to 10%), the larger campuses should have more cushion in their budgets to take a bigger hit during a financial crisis affecting the entire system.

There are also issues of equity to California's growing populations of young people of color, who are tragically underrepresented at the University of California. Writing in La Prensa San Diego, Jorge Mariscal upbraids Scul for wanting to close those campuses that have the highest enrollment of underrepresented students:

As the privatization of the UC continues (UCSD, for example, is a public university in name only with only 6% of its budget coming from the state), more out-of-state and international students will be admitted. This has been a shift desired by some for several years now. The mission of the UC that says we should be serving the people of California is sacrificed on the altar of revenue flow.

UCSD then becomes a finishing school for out-of-state students from rich families and affluent foreigners. The University of Michigan, now almost fully privatized and being talked about as a model for the new UC, currently enrolls more international students than Mexican American students.

Once the three “elite” UC campuses make the transition to being in essence private schools, working class and minority students will slowly disappear from their classrooms. Again, this is already happening due to increased tuition (which Scull supports) and enrollment caps. But if UC were to adopt Scull’s plan and wipe out the campuses with the most underrepresented students—Riverside and Merced—you accelerate the process.

Throw in the California State University system and the California Community College system, both of which are underfunded, and the picture of higher education in the state becomes even more complicated, particularly as regards working-class students, non-traditional (e.g. older) students, and students of color. Asking to be removed from the cuts because the academic research you do is somehow more important than the work being done elsewhere to educate first-generation college students is just arrogant.

What are your thoughts?

When she's not blogging, Leslie Madsen-Brooks, Ph.D., coordinates programs for UC Davis's Teaching Resources Center, which has taken its share of cuts. In 2009-10, she'll be using her 16 furlough days from the University of California to promote learning in other organizations.

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