“The economic crisis has made this a countrywide phenomenon, with devastating cuts in some states, including California. Historically acclaimed public institutions are struggling to remain true to their mission as tuition rises and in-state students from middle- and low-income families are displaced by out-of-state students from higher socioeconomic brackets who pay steeper fees. While America is fortunate to have many great private universities, we do not need to add to the list by privatizing Berkeley, Illinois, Rutgers, etc. On the contrary, we need to keep our public research and teaching universities excellent and accessible to the vast majority of Americans.”
“in which a limited number of our great public research and teaching universities receive basic operating support from the federal government and their respective state governments. Washington might initially choose a representative set of schools, perhaps based on their research achievements, their success in graduating students, commitment to public service and their record in having a student body that is broadly representative of society.
Washington would provide sufficient additional funding for operations and student support to ensure broad access and continued excellence at these universities. A portion of these resources would ensure that out-of-state and in-state students pay the same tuition and have access to the same financial aid packages. The combined federal-state funding must be sufficient for these universities to maintain their preeminence as well as charge moderate fees to all U.S. citizens and permanent residents.”
A report in the Contra Costa Times tells us the idea was well received in Washington, but they lack the money to act on it.
“They were enthusiastic,” said Birgeneau, who said he had spoken with Department of Education officials and was told not to expect any movement for at least the next two years. “But they told me they had no money.”
President Barack Obama has been clear about his higher-education priorities for his first term, said Department of Education spokesman Justin Hamilton, and that list does not yet include Birgeneau’s proposal.
“You look at the fight we’re having over health care reform right now,” Hamilton said. “That’s just this year’s budget. Realistically speaking, we’ve kind of got the table set at this point for the next couple of years.”
Leaders from the University of California have taken their case to both Sacramento and Washington, arguing for better funding using claims that the schools are losing ground to competition in other states and other countries.
UC President Mark Yudof said recently:
“It’s a national problem, and we need a national solution. It’s time that we had a national discussion.”
In some ways this is the frog in boiling water analogy. Over the course of twenty years incrementally funding had diminished for the UC system, but it was slow enough to avoid detection. It is only in crisis do we see that we are sitting in boiling water and the problems are as bad as they are.
The problem is now as clear as ever, but the solution is more elusive than ever. Our state government is quite simply incapable of being able to solve our problems. Indeed they struggle with the mundane problems. No realistic person should have any faith in Sacramento, nevertheless we need to figure out what our priorities are in this state and figure out a way to address them.
There will be a lot of focus on the Governor’s race in the coming months. There is no doubt that the current Governor is part of the problem. But we also see that the Governor position is almost powerless to change things. Right or wrong the Governor is trying to force the legislature to do things and having little success at it. He was unable to broker a budget deal in a timely manner and appears equally unable to get reform legislation through. And while I may disagree with much of what he is doing, it is clear how limited the governor’s power actually is.
The legislature is equally impotent when it comes to budgetary measures–hamstrung in part by citizen initiatives and an archaic two-thirds system. Without reform, this system is in serious trouble that is becoming more and more evident.
Many undoubtedly look at the federal government as a huge albatross, but it may be akin to the one-eyed giant. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed giant is king and the last best hope for public higher education may in fact be the behemoth that is the federal government. It is an intriguing idea whose time has not quite come yet, but whose time is likely approaching quickly to at least ponder the ramifications of such a move.
—David M. Greenwald reporting