California Higher Education: a system in peril

by Abby Chau


They were told that there’s no low-hanging fruit. Just one month before the crucial Californian budget deadline at the end of June, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger told his constituents, who once enjoyed the status of ranking 8th in the world for their economic prowess, that they were essentially broke and that cuts to the state budget would be long and deep.   Schwarzenegger exclaimed, “California no longer has low-hanging fruit. As a matter of fact, we don’t have any medium-hanging fruit. We also don’t have high-hanging fruit. We literally have to take the ladder from the tree and shake the whole tree.”

With house foreclosures and record unemployment plaguing the Golden State, recession-vulnerable public expenditures like welfare programmes and higher education are on the chopping block. The Daily Californian reported that in January of this year, Schwarzenegger planned on suspending the new competitive Cal Grant awards and cutting the budget on educational enrolment growth. With the proverbial knife slashing educational expenditures, many people don’t remember that back in 2004 and in the name of a fiscal crisis, Schwarzenegger, along with the help of then UC President Robert Dynes and California State University Chancellor Charles Reed, was quick to cut the purse strings of public education in favour of privatisation by signing the Higher Education Compact.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “the compact substantially cut base public funding for higher education, required both UC and Cal State to impose large and rapid tuition increases as a permanent source of operating revenues, and committed our universities (in the compact’s own words) to ‘continue to seek additional private resources and maximize other fund sources available to the University to support basic programs.’

Now with unemployment hovering around 12% Californians may have to brace themselves for another and more substantial hit to their beloved higher education system. The economic crisis spurred on by the housing crisis and dubious financial trading and unchecked lending has robbed California twice, the second burglary will take the shape of whatever new economic policies will be crammed down their throats. They were will be told again that there is a new economic reality (one power players created) and everyone (except the people who caused it) will have to buckle down.

Governor Schwarzenegger has signalled recently that he will save higher education although this could only really be fiscally possible by eliminating welfare programmes, a compromise many Californians will find hard to stomach. Now with the budget proposal heading for a legislative vote soon, Californians are waiting for the other axe to fall, albeit hopefully this time with fewer confused fruit analogies hurled at them.,0,6849110.story

3 replies
  1. Cal Cal
    Cal Cal says:

    UC Berkeley senior management in peril: hire three million $ consultants to do the work of Cal senior management. Sorry Tale of UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Office: easily grasped by the public, lost on University of California’s President Yudoff. The UC Berkley budget gap has grown to $150 million, & still the Chancellor is spending money that isn’t there on $3,000,000 consultants. His reasons range from the need for impartiality to requiring the consultants “thinking, expertise, & new knowledge”.
    Does this mean that the faculty & management of UC Berkeley – flagship campus of the greatest public system of higher education in the world – lack the knowledge, integrity, impartiality, innovation, skills to come up with solutions? Have they been fudging their research for years? The consultants will glean their recommendations from faculty interviews & the senior management that hired them; yet $ 150 million of inefficiencies and solutions could be found internally if the Chancellor & Provost Breslauer were doing the work of their jobs (This simple point is lost on UC’s leadership).
    The victims of this folly are Faculty and Students. $ 3 million consultant fees would be far better spent on students & faculty.
    There can be only one conclusion as to why inefficiencies & solutions have not been forthcoming from faculty & staff: Chancellor Birgeneau has lost credibility & the trust of the faculty & Academic Senate leadership (C. Kutz, F. Doyle). Even if the faculty agrees with the consultants’ recommendations – disagreeing might put their jobs in jeopardy – the underlying problem of lost credibility & trust will remain. (Context: greatest recession in modern times)

  2. Cal Cal
    Cal Cal says:

    UC Berkeley employees, faculty, staff reeling from Chancellor sponsored Operation Excellence (OE). Public universities are into a phase of creative disassembly where reinvention and adjustments are constant. Even solid world class institutions like the University of California Berkeley under the leadership of Chancellor Birgeneau & Provost Breslauer are firing staff, faculty and part-time lecturers through “Operation Excellence (OE)”. Yet many employees, professionals and faculty cling to old assumptions about one of the most critical relationship of all: the implied, unwritten contract between employer and employee.
    Until recently, loyalty was the cornerstone of that relationship. Employers promised work security and a steady progress up the hierarchy in return for employees fitting in, accepting lower wages, performing in prescribed ways and sticking around. Longevity was a sign of employer-employee relations; turnover was a sign of dysfunction. None of these assumptions apply today. Organizations can no longer guarantee work and lifetime careers, even if they want to. UC Berkeley senior management paralyzed themselves with an attachment to “success brings success’ rather than “success brings failure’ and are now forced to break the implied contract with employees – a contract nurtured by management that the future can be controlled.
    Jettisoned Cal employees are finding that the hard won knowledge, skills and capabilities earned while being loyal are no longer valuable in the employment market place.
    What kind of a contract can employers and employees make with each other? The central idea is both simple and powerful: the job or position is a shared situation. Employers and employees face market and financial conditions together, and the longevity of the partnership depends on how well the for-profit or not-for-profit continues to meet the needs of customers and constituencies. Neither employer nor employee has a future obligation to the other. Organizations train people. Employees develop the kind of security they really need – skills, knowledge and capabilities that enhance future employability.
    The partnership can be dissolved without either party considering the other a traitor.


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