UC Walkout

Back in June, when the governor and the legislature were still fighting over the best way to balance the state’s budget without raising taxes, they agreed upon a series of cuts to public education in California. One of their ideas was to take away $800 million from the University of California system. When I wrote about this for the Nation, I argued that:

The UC budget represents only $3 billion of the state’s budget, but its economic, educational and health benefits are enormous. The UC system employs 170,000 faculty and staff; it educates 220,000 students; its five medical centers serve more than 3.6 million patients each year; and for every dollar it receives in state research funding, it secures six more in federal and private research dollars. Cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from California’s public universities would be an unmitigated disaster. It would result in huge losses in tax revenues for the state and a decline in the quality of healthcare, and it would eventually lead to nothing short of the dismantling of quality public higher education in the state.

In early July, when most faculty and students were away, the administrators of the University of California began sending a series of emails, which seemed to me confusing and contradictory. It eventually became clear that President Yudoff’s plan included salary cuts and furloughs for all faculty and staff, larger classes, reduced enrollment, and higher tuition and fees. Because of the University’s system of “shared governance,” the faculty and staff still believed they would have a voice in how the budget cuts would be implemented on their individual campuses.

So when the UC faculty voted (system-wide) to have at least 6 instruction-day furloughs (out of a total of 26), they expected to be heard. Ordinarily, faculty divide their time between three main duties: teaching, service, and research. It makes sense that at least some of the furlough time be on instruction days. In addition, instruction-day furloughs keep the pressure on the state and force the governor/legislature to be accountable for the effects of continued disinvestment from public education. But on August 21, the University’s administrators announced that “the decision was made to not have faculty furlough days take place on instructional days.” This seems to be a fairly clear violation of the system of shared governance.

In addition, while the administrators claim that the salary cuts were unavoidable, they also somehow managed to vote for pay increases for a couple dozen top administrators way back in May. So the administrators do believe that the cuts are necessary, so long as the people at the very top are not affected.

Most importantly, the students will have larger and fewer classes, and higher tuition and fees. The cost of their education has risen dramatically and, chances are, will continue to rise over the next few years. Meanwhile, there are fewer options for them in the job market.

The UC Board of Regents Chair, Russell Gould, launched a commission, which he will co-chair with President Yudoff. It’s called the “Commission on the Future of UC” and it will likely help redefine the way in which the University will operate in the next few years. It consists of business and professional people, chancellors and deans from UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UCLA, and UC Santa Barbara (but not other campuses—UC Riverside, UC Santa Cruz, UC Merced, UC Davis, UC San Francisco, and UC San Diego), and very few faculty. There is real reason to worry that certain fields and certain campuses will be given a higher priority than those fields/campuses that do not bring in as much money to the University.

It is because of all of this that a group of UC faculty, including faculty on my campus, has organized a walkout for September 24. Our walkout is endorsed by the American Association of University Professors.

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