U.C. WAKE UP CALL: How Scale and Action Can Save the U.C. and Maybe the Rest of Higher Education in California

I love California, and I love the University of California. I am saddened by the recent financial problems the state and the entire education system faces. But I am more upset by what seems to be a failure of the education system: people who think 60s style protests are useful and wise responses to problems they helped create.

Sit-ins, threats, throwing food at Regents, and chants of the “What do we want? X! When do we want it? Now!” ilk remind me of a five year old throwing a tantrum; not intelligent people trying to change the system and take responsibility for their role in the problem. When I was at Berkeley, a professor noted that protesting the first Iraq war (especially in the Bay Area) was not as effective as the same thousands of people writing to Congress members and being clear where their donations and votes would go in the future. The same applies to the education funding problem.

Instead of putting all that great activist energy to campaigning for funding education, Californians have coasted on a system that cannot work without incredible growth. Californians cling to a broken property tax system, fail to push for better education funding, and back spending a billion dollars on prisons. Shame on us.

U.C. Berkeley’s alumni association sent me an email claiming close to 500,000 living alumni. That is but one campus in a system of 10 campuses. Now, add in the numbers of Californians who attend or graduated from the CalState and Community College system. Given the graduates, the current employees, and students at all the higher education campuses, there ought to be a focused, powerful political group that could move the state towards fixing its education funding problems. Rather than doing so, many of these folks waited until the state had no money and in a sense no choice about what to do to address the shortfall. The Regents and the students are finally joining together to voice their views in Sacramento. This type of action should have happened in the first place.

And, there is more to do. We need to start giving money to our respective campuses. I have more to say on this point. But in case you want to give now, here is the link to give to Cal. Here is a jump page with links to give to other U.C. campuses. Here is the link for giving to the CalState system. Here is the link to give to California’s Community College system.

When I was at Berkeley, California’s recession resulted in, I think, a 100% increase in fees over the four years. It was still a great deal. As I understand it, fees barely cover professors’ salaries at some of the campuses. Fundraising and endowment money is already part of the funding formula. But how are we doing as alumni?

Part of the problem is that there is not the culture of giving that the Ivies and other elite private schools foster. Yet, private schools cost quite a bit more, and their graduates still give huge amounts back to their schools. I must confess that until recently, I too, did not give at all. That was an error, and based, in part on the fact that giving was not part of the culture and that it had not occurred to me sooner. California education must start to foster that sense of community that generates a giving culture.

I did not and do not, however, subscribe to the idea that one should not give to a public institution. It is childish to claim that public schools do not deserve the same loyalty and support. I believe they deserve it more.

If you went to a U.C. (and really any part of the California higher education system) and have a job, I suggest that you should give at least $100 per year to your school. The education we received was highly subsidized. It’s time to let others have that same benefit.

Part of the glory and greatness of California flows from the education system. That stream of plenty is drying up because we have not funded it. If we want to continue to be a great state, positioned to compete in the information age, we must suck it up now and invest in this vital infrastructure. Or, from a purely self-interested view, giving to your campus will help maintain the value of your degree. And, yes, your degree has a value.

Here is the best part. Unlike the top private schools against which we compete, we have the numbers. Yes, it’s crowd sourcing power. 500,000 graduates at $100 per yer average would mean $50,000,000 per year to Berkeley. That money would help in huge ways. A percentage could go to stabilizing fee hikes, endowing chairs, or specific projects aimed at helping students (and as much as I love the Bears, no, sports funding is not the best way to address the current problems). If such giving occurred at all the campuses across California’s higher education system, the effect could be huge. In addition, the higher percentage of alumni who give, the easier it is for development offices to obtain large donations from big donors and foundations.

California, it is time to wake up. The future is still ours for the taking, but we must pay attention to the things that propelled us to greatness. Education is a huge part of that success. Let’s fund it for our continued success today and in the future.

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3 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    “problems they helped create”: could you expand on that please? You’d have to be at least 49 years old to have voted for Prop 13. How did students, especially, who are in the protests create their own problems? Or are you assuming that since their 18th birthdays they’ve all voted against each and every bond issue for education, when given the chance? In your $100 per year calculation, BTW, you’re overlooking the time and money parents have to devote to bake sales and other de facto mandatory contributions just to keep their public grade schools running, thanks to the late Mr. Jarvis & crew.

    I’m also not sure how your Iraq War story demonstrates, so to speak, anything about the efficacy vel non of protest. Were the protests before or after the Bay Area congressional reps had voted for it? And what is the degree of responsibility for problem-creation: that the protesters had voted for those reps to begin with? Or that they had initially encouraged the reps to support the war? Moreover, writing to one’s Congresspeople can’t persuade other voters in the way protests can; that was how the Vietnam era protests helped to bring about a change in voter attitudes toward the war. I think your professor was too narrow in his outlook.

  2. Cal Cal says:

    UC Berkeley: California Wake Up To Higher Eduation.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)

  3. Cal Cal says:

    Can Operation Excellence (OE) save UC Berkeley faculty, staff, employees? 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.