Spring proposals for many futures in the hopes that no one forgets our present.

So, the UC Regents have gathered and planned out the next infinity of years. Some of the proposals include replacing teachers, t.a.s, and lecturers with computer programs, getting rid of the “public” label “problem”, making the freshmen pay for the increases (especially since they will not know what it is to pay tuition in the first place), and work together with big pharma companies to bring in more grads to biomedical fields.

Read the “Recommendations” from the so-called [Evil Empire] “Commission on the Future”.

And read the following abridged explanation of what these recommendations mean, brought to you by: remakingtheuniversity.

UCOF Education and Curriculum Recommendations: Less for More
by Rei Terada, Professor of Comparative Literature, UC Irvine


The proposals offered by UCOF this week quite literally ask students to pay more for less instruction. How to get them to pay more is covered under the funding recommendations; how the UC might deliver less instruction is covered in the section called “Education and Curriculum,” which will be my focus below. I’ll try to give an analytic summary of this 25-page section (pp. 29-54), as well as to suggest some larger concerns that emerge from its reading.

(1) The first set of Education and Curriculum recommendations (pp. 29-35)suggests moving students through degrees faster, for example by raising average credit loads, changing or “streamlining” requirements, and increasing summer and cross-campus enrollment. This set of proposals includes possibilities that could benefit students by facilitating graduation; transfer credit, for example, might be treated less bureaucratically, and major requirements could become more practical to fulfill. In a system so revised, however, students may also have less leeway about when to take courses, tighter add and drop deadlines, and more regimented courses of study. Further, another goal is to get them to graduate with fewer UC courses all together, through increased use of AP, high school, and community college credits and by lowering the total number of units students may take. In an obvious sense, a three-year B.A. gives less UC experience to the student even as fees are desired to rise.

In addition, the UC courses students do take would be less likely to be taught by ladder faculty. For the recommendations wish to “make more effective use of faculty resources” (29), or, bluntly put, to pay less to get courses taught. The working group suggests “extend[ing] the use made of research grant funding to buy out ladder faculty from instruction” while deploying lower-paid lecturers and graduate students to “backfill” the gap (29). In this all-too-appropriate construction metaphor, ladder faculty are removed by excavation, while lecturers and TAs are the gravel you scrape back into the hole. The “fiscal implication” of these recommendations for “the state and the University” is to “reduce the cost per degree . . . by efficient use of campus facilities and instructional personnel” (31), and the long-term “implementation method” that corresponds to this suggestion is: “consider changes in mix/type of faculty deployed to various courses” (32). So, savings are realized by channeling students and faculty into non-UC courses, summer sessions in which ladder faculty are paid less per course than in the regular academic year, and by using cheaper labor. The supposed benefit to students is that by graduating earlier, they will “have the opportunity to reduce their total costs”–costs that need reduction because the Regents are raising them even while continuing to lower the cost of the instruction they are receiving.

It’s well-known that instruction is the only part of the UC budget, in distinction to capital and administration, where expenditures have been on a downward course. On the educational level, to ignore the implications of “changes in mix” of teaching staff is to refuse to recognize that top universities maintain their reputations by maintaining students’ access to tenure-track faculty. On the level of labor relations, graduating students on the basis of fewer courses necessarily reduces the ranks of ladder faculty, not just while they’re off doing research but structurally and permanently. The ladder faculty’s ability to shape the UC would be eroded by emphasis on lower-paid temporary staff and graduate students who are not voting members of the Academic Senate and are excluded from the job security and governance rights of regular faculty. And that in turn would make it easier to accomplish further corporatization.

(2) The second set of Education and Curriculum recommendations (pp. 36-39) advises the UC to “continue timely exploration of online instruction in the undergraduate curriculum, as well as in self-supporting graduate degrees and Extension programs” (36). This recommendation is linked directly to the first set in that online instruction would facilitate cross-campus, high school, and community college enrollment in UC courses and hence students’ graduation with fewer UC courses. In addition, lucrative post-baccalaureate degrees offered online could “generat[e] revenues that support the University’s educational mission” (38; online courses are already offered, for example, by UCLA Extension). The possible impact of expanded online instruction on student access to faculty and on the faculty as a labor force is plain enough. The recommendation is presented somewhat gingerly, in the consciousness that people are likely to regard online instruction as inferior. The working group therefore stresses that the pilot project of 40 online courses currently being coordinated by the Office of the President be treated as a chance to evaluate the quality of online courses (36; while this is not the place for a discussion of the social science of educational assessment, what constitutes valid assessment is clearly an issue). In this section “Faculty concerns, e.g., about academic quality, workload, ongoing institutional support, intellectual property rights,” are acknowledged in a single line. Students’ desires for personal relationships with their teachers and fellow students and concern for the university as a community are not mentioned among the “challenges” the online education proposal faces.

(3) The third recommendation is to “expand use of self-supporting and part-time programs” (40) including UC Extension and professional M.A. programs, with a focus on “high demand disciplines” for which students are willing to pay top dollar. The third recommendation therefore echoes part of the second, in which online instruction is envisioned to be an appropriate venue for “self-supporting” programs. Many such programs already exist in the UC–in business, engineering, health sciences, and information science programs, for example. In addition to non-degree, certificate, and professional M.A. programs, a new part-time B.A. in “one or two general, interdisciplinary majors” is also contemplated. Again, these programs are imagined to be staffed in part by cheaper TA labor (41), and while additional TAships would help graduate students in the short run, substituting TA labor for faculty labor in a large program also reduces the ranks of faculty and so shrinks the employment prospects of those same graduate students.

The part-time B.A. introduces a topic worthy of discussion–increased access for nontraditional students–but in troubling ways. Instead of furnishing nontraditional students with the full range of educational and research possibilities, it offers “general” degrees, even though the “admission criteria would be the same as current transfer requirements” (41). So even though this new body of part-time students would be as qualified as other UC transfers, it would be offered a reduced range of degree possibilities in return for fees “most likely . . . approaching non-resident tuition level” (41; my italics). The “underserved population” mentioned as an example is the “26% of the adult population” in L.A. County with “some college” (40). Now, the median income of that group is about $36,000 a year. Non-resident tuition is recommended to increase from $33,181 in 2010-11 to $36,027 in 2015-16 (89). Thus before financial aid, the “underserved” (but equally qualified) student who needs a part-time degree because she must keep working (p. 40) is here imagined to be the exemplary recipient of a reduced-option B.A. whose annual fee is equal to her annual income.

The working group adds that “these programs can be designed to return a portion of the fees to financial aid,” but also that “to the extent that self-supporting programs generate additional revenues for academic departments, this improves access for students in the regular programs” (41). That “extent” would be small if the new B.A.s were structured financially like existing Extension programs; current non-professional Extension revenue is “relatively small–generating modest amounts above program costs” (42). But Extension courses are nondegree programs and presumably less valuable. So it is not clear whether the part-time B.A. would also generate only modest revenue (if financial aid was significant), or would extract it from a target group with a median income of $36,000. No justification is ever given for why part-time students equivalent scholastically to transfer students should be excluded from the full range of degrees. None of the social inequities involved are mentioned among the “challenges” to the proposal (42).

(4) The fourth recommendation reads: “Develop a systemwide academic planning framework that incorporates campus goals within the context of priorities identified for the University as a whole” (46). A new way to coordinate planning systemwide might be useful, but it is not obvious what the working group envisions. An “assessment” program is part of it; would this be a standardized assessment of programs? How standardized? And used to what end by whom? The working group wishes to “establish and routinely update an integrated set of campus and system academic priorities” (48), but does not give a clue about how this would be done, who would articulate these priorities, and how the identification and articulation of priorities might involve the Academic Senate and other governance structures. As it stands, the specific disposal of budgets handed down to individual campuses, deans, and eventually units is left to the discretion of the local entities involved. The working group suggests that “budget cuts implemented by individual campuses during a year or two may not pose immediate risk to the systemwide academic profile, but the cumulative effect of such decisions over a longer period could be quite harmful” (48), and so suggests that a systemwide body wants some measure of control or oversight over how local entities distribute the budgets they are given. Local and centralized authorities may of course end up at odds, and it is not explained how conflicts would be resolved and what rights in the matter local entities would retain. An idea of “striking appropriate balance between campus/system interests” needs to say what balance is appropriate, and to confront the possibility that the interests of an entire campus could be de-emphasized from a central perspective. Instead, the working group introduces the notion of creating “an integrated set of campus and system academic priorities” without reference to the UC Master Plan or to existing long-range plans developed on each campus before the height of the global financial crisis.

Since the question of planning process emerges in this section, it’s worth pointing out that in practice the procedural form that dominates the entire document is that of the special “task force”–innumerable “task forces” are proposed to further develop recommendations that are general to the point of being obscure. But task forces are highly problematic exceptions to the structure of university governance. They are smaller, appointed, often oligarchic bodies that shape topics, deciding what’s worth discussing and what’s not worth discussing, before proposals get to the properly elected bodies that eventually consider them. Justified as time-saving and convenient, they too often save us from the inconveniences of a more democratic culture.

(5) Finally, although the recommendations on Education and Curriculum repeats throughout that proposals should be explored while maintaining “quality,” its final portion (pp. 49-54) demurs from explaining what “quality” means and instead “seeks UC input on its forthcoming recommendation on quality.” By deferring discussion of the criteria by which it knows its recommendations must be measured, the working group evades most consideration of the intellectual impact of its suggestions. The definition of quality devolves upon “metrics” yet to come (49), suggesting again that assessment methods may be a future area of contestation. Usefully, faculty are stated to be the arbiters of quality in their own fields. But the background document that comprises Appendix A to this last section, “Characteristics of UC Quality Courses, Majors and Programs” (52-54), operates at a level of generality that is unable to distinguish the University of California from any other college, and so does not bode well for the ability of current assessment procedures to provide directive criteria.

So far, I’ve been reading the UCOF recommendations on their own terms and following UCOF’s presentation, but in fact its terms and presentation are part of the problem. As Christopher Newfield noted in his post on Monday, the content of the UC’s educational mission is set aside instead of being developed so that budgetary thinking might be organized to meet its principles. As it stands, when the profitability of a recommendation is being pointed out, and the phrase “support the University’s educational mission” is tacked on–as in “generate revenues and create workload efficiencies that support the University’s educational mission” (36, 37)—the statement becomes entirely circular, since no mission is ever elaborated except the optimization of assets. The recommendations on Education and Curriculum are above all evasive. They remarkably omit any consideration of connections between educational programs except when advocating the elimination of redundancy. Faculty opinions tend to be referenced under “challenges,” as they are called when the working group is afraid of faculty objections. Students’ views of education and hopes for the UC are literally never mentioned, as though they did not exist. As it stands, even the financial advantage for instruction of the recommendations is obscure, because although it’s noted in several places that lucrative programs can help to fund less profitable ones, it is never said that they should. The document’s studiously impoverished account of what public education might be implies that a genuine account is somehow irrelevant. Its refusal to be articulate is so pervasive that it becomes the main message: the vision is that there should be no vision, and that no one should even have to say so.

Bob Samuels, President of the UC-AFT also wrote a comment (via changinguniversities):

The Future of the University: Funding Options for a Permanent Crisis

The Commission on the Future of the University’s Funding Strategies working group of has put together a document listing their initial proposals, and near the start of their report, we find the following ominous claim: “The funding gap is exacerbated by a significant unfunded post-retirement benefit liability, which is currently $1.9 billion and expected to reach $18 billion by 2013. Similarly, the University’s unfunded post-retirement healthcare liability is projected to grow from $13 billion today to $18 billion by 2013 . . . Because the PEB Task Force is scheduled to finalize recommendations by this summer, we do not address PEB issues in this report, but recognize that more than any financial challenge facing the University, the cost of providing these benefits has the potential to overwhelm our ability to continue our tripartite mission of teaching, research, and public service.” While these statistics are presented as neutral facts, they are in reality very complicated assumptions that require a deeper analysis. On face value, it looks like the UC faces an enormous fiscal crisis that will not go away, and so the future of the university entails a permanent budget crisis. However, we must understand that the pension and retiree healthcare liabilities are mostly accounting mechanisms that were developed under the George W. Bush administration as an attempt to undermine unions and pension plans.

According to new accounting requirements, institutions have to declare on their books all of the future payments that they will have to make to their retirees. In other words, in 2010, we have to calculate what would happen if everyone in the UC system retired today, yet, we do not have to actually put money into an account to fund this huge liability; rather, we have to make sure that in our audited financial statements, we declare the huge liability and subtract it from our total revenue.

In the case of the UC system, this accounting requirement has allowed the system to move billions of dollars from the unrestricted to the restricted category; in other words, UC has a way of declaring that it has no money to spend on things like instruction or employee salaries because it has shifted money from a usable pile to a non-usable pile. But, and this is a huge but, the UC has actually moved very little money; what they have done is just changed where the money is listed in their financial statements. For some strange reason, no one in the financial working group knows about this accounting move, or at least no one is admitting that they know it, and instead, they are using the post-retirement liability to call for a change in retirement benefits, while they declare a permanent fiscal crisis for the UC system.

I am not arguing that the UC should not fund the pension plan or the healthcare of retirees; what I am arguing is that the university should not use a new accounting requirement to manipulate the budget. After all, the UC has for the last two years declared a several billion dollar liability, while they have only shifted a couple of hundred million in to the retiree accounts. Moreover, this working group does not comment on any of the UC’s questionable investment strategies that have resulted in billions of dollars of losses.

Another set of assumptions that this working group has accepted concerns the level of state funding and the amount of money the UC needs from the state: “The University of California Office of the President currently estimates that UC’s core funding from state funds, student fees, and other sources has fallen $1.2 billion below UC’s current needs. At current levels of state support, this funding gap is estimated to grow to $3.5 billion by the 2015-16 fiscal year. . . ” What this statement of fiscal decline does not show is how the UC has calculated what they need from the state or what they will get from the state in the future. While it is important to push for more state funding, it is difficult to ask the legislature to back the UC’s funding requests when the university is always using questionable numbers and trumped up statistics. For instance, the following statement is simply false: “State funding per student has declined by 54% since 1990-91.” As I have pointed out on several occasions, state funding per student has gone up since 1990; what the UC should say is that state funding has not kept up with inflation, but they would have to define the inflation rate and why the costs of a UC education have gone up; unfortunately, they never do this, and so they upset the legislatures who have fought for increased UC funding in the past.

Even with these major accounting issues, the report does make a few important recommendations that should be followed. One vital suggestion is to reduce the cost of administration related to the core mission: “Costs not directly related to research and teaching (herein called administrative costs) are estimated to be as large as 25-30% of that which is funded by UC core funds. While recent actions have been made to reduce these costs, they remain substantial.” The working group points to several recent efforts to decrease the cost of staff and administration to accomplish the goal of saving money: “When the University of Texas System enacted a shared-services model to improve administrative efficiencies, $250 million in value was added to system operations. The “Carolina Counts” program at UNC, focused on operational efficiencies, expects to deliver $90 – $160 million dollars of ongoing operational savings within five years. Most recently, UC Berkeley expects to generate tens of millions of dollars in annual savings as a result of administrative improvements suggested by external consultants Bain & Co. There is no reason to expect that similar results, scaled to the UC system, could not be delivered as well through the pursuit of an administrative efficiency framework.” We should applaud this effort to lower the administrative costs of the university.

Another very positive recommendation concerns the questions of research grants losing money: “For a variety of historical reasons and local campus practices, indirect costs charged to non-federally funded research projects – those funded by the State of California, foundations, gifts, and corporations – do not fully recover the costs of research conducted for these agencies. Hence, the university subsidizes this research with core funds. This can be rationalized in times of ample budget in fulfilling one of our primary missions – research. It cannot be rationalized in times of insufficient core budget to fulfill one of our other primary missions – teaching.” Here we find a clear recognition that funds that are supposed to be dedicated to instruction are being used to subsidize grants that do not come with enough indirect funding: “Preliminary estimates are that current policies and practices of recovering indirect costs on non- federally funded research throughout the University of California are currently leading to the use of core-funds to subsidize this research in the range of more than $300 million per year.” In order to rectify this situation, the working group suggests that “Preliminary estimates are that we are 5-10 percentage points behind our comparator institutions in ICR rates, and recover 75% of facilities and administrative costs attributable to federally- funded research. Increasing ICR rates by just 5% across UC could generate more than $150 million per year.” By increasing our indirect cost recovery for federal and state funds, the UC could turn a research deficit into a research surplus.

Another set of recommendations concerns student fees, and the movement here is towards privatization. Not only do they want to replace the term “student fees” with “tuition, but they call for a continual increase in the sticker price: “Notwithstanding recent major increases in student fees, the University of California remains a significant value within the marketplace of leading universities. At least in the short run, there is significant room to increase tuition levels without significant negative impacts on projected enrollment or access for students from low-income families.” From a purely free market perspective, the UC could get away with major increases in student fees; however, this proposal does not look at the effect on middle-class students and first-generation students who do not understand how financial aid works. This recommendation also fails to realize that a pre-planned, multi-year set of tuition increases will only make it easier for the state to cut its funding for the UC system.

The final recommendation is perhaps the most dangerous and likely the most attractive to some faculty and administrators. This suggestion is to allow professors to be partially compensated through non-state funds: “There are already examples in the UC system of faculty salaries being covered in part by fees (professional schools), or by a combination of income from clinical practice and research (medical school). There have been a number of suggestions of ways to extend similar or derivative practices to other faculty: Compensation plans similar to the medical schools for faculty in the biological sciences; the use of non-core funding (e.g., contract and grant money, or other external sources of revenue) to pay some portion of the off-scale component of faculty salaries, where feasible; More extensive use of contract and grant funds to support some fraction of faculty salary during their regular nine-month appointment.” At first glance, these look like great ideas, but they would function to undermine the humanities and the social sciences that do not receive large sums of money from external grants, patents, or services. This type of compensation system would also turn public employees into privatized entrepreneurs.

It is surprising that none of these commission members even considered increasing enrollments and holding fees at the present level. It is also alarming that this financial committee did not address the university’s questionable investment practices and secret compensation deals. By repeating the university’s standard budget propaganda, the commission reveals that its main function is to support the administration’s desire to privatize the world’s greatest public university system.


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