With Furloughs and Fees Hikes Underway, UC Under Major Scrutiny

universitycat.pngWith the University of California imposing a 32% fee increase to students and implementing furloughs and layoffs as a means to cut costs, the UC System is now under increased scrutiny from a variety of fronts.  On November 23, 2009, the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) issued a complaint regarding unfair labor practices and bad faith negotiations. 

This week, UC Associate Vice President for Information Resources and Communications, David Ernst was exposed for for misusing $150,000 in public moneys to finance lavish overseas trips, meals, and stays at expensive resorts under the guise of official business while he was employed at the California State University.

And finally, the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) criticized the UC System for creating new programs and schools that are not priorities or essential.  In addition, there is no state-level view and thus they call into question the state’s approval process to prevent unnecessary or nonpriority programs and schools.

PERB Complaint

On November 23, California’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) issued a far-reaching complaint against the University of California for bad faith bargaining in tech and researcher (TX/RX) negotiations with University Professional & Technical Employees (UPTE).

The complaint includes the University of California (UC) refusing to bagain about furloughs, cuts, and layoffs.  Furthermore UC made its wage offer contingent on the state budget and then withdrew it.  Third, UC engaged in direct dealing UPTE members about how to impose cuts.  Fourth, UC refused to bargain about holiday closures.  Finally, UC canceled and/ or sabotaged many bargaining sessions.

A “complaint” means PERB has found enough evidence to merit charging the university with violating labor law, and that the matter will go to a full hearing.

Kevin Rooney, UPTE-CWA’s chief TX/RX negotiator:

“We hope this complaint will wake up UC’s Office of the President and they will start working with unions for real solutions instead of their current union-busting tactic of absolute refusal to negotiate.”

Tanya Smith, a  Berkeley editor and member of the UPTE bargaining team who was laid off recently:

“The university seems to have no respect for fair play.  They’ve used every trick they can to avoid negotiating as they are legally required to do, including laying off bargainers, refusing to schedule bargaining sessions and direct dealing with members over furloughs.”

According to a release from UPTE, the complaint validates the three unfair labor practice strikes that UPTE-CWA members have engaged in during the course of bargaining.  The PERB complaint will also make it much more difficult for UC officials to impose any kind of unfavorable agreement because they have not gone through the legally mandated bargaining process.

Jelger Kalmijn, systemwide president of UPTE-CWA:

“Our members have been forced to strike repeatedly this year because of UC’s recalcitrant behavior.  We hope this development has the effect of putting the brakes on UC’s illegal tactics.”

Misuse of Funds

For CSU the timing probably could not have been worse this week when it was released on Thursday that a former CSU executive, David Ernst had received over $150,000 in improper expense reimbursements to finance lavish overseas trips, meals, and stays at expensive resorts under the guise of official business while he was employed at the California State University.

The state auditor’s report released Thursday highlighted over $150,000 in improper expense reimbursements to Ernst when he served as CSU’s chief of information technology from July 2005 through July 2008.  The improper payments included expenses for unnecessary trips, extravagant meals, commuting expenses, living allowances, home office expenses, duplicate payments, overpayments of claims, and an airline executive club membership, among other misappropriations.

What was not disclosed is that Mr. Ernst is now an associated Vice President for UC and making a public salary of $238,000.

Lillian Taiz, President of the California Faculty Association said:

“This improper use of public funds could not have come at a worse time for students and faculty.  The $152,441 wasted by this individual should have gone to pay for class sections. This behavior would be inappropriate even in better times, but under the current economic circumstances, it is beyond reprehensible.”

Senator Leland Yee immediately called on David Ernst to return the $152,441 to the CSU.

“Taxpayers and CSU students deserve a refund.  Mr. Ernst has enriched himself on the backs of students and should immediately return this money.  This is yet another example of UC and CSU executives living high on the hog, while students unfairly suffer.  It is unconscionable.”

Senator Yee also called on CSU Chancellor Charles Reed and UC President Mark Yudof to immediately review and disclose all payments made to executives in order to evaluate the extent of the impropriety.

Said Senator Yee in a statement released Friday morning:

“The public deserves to know the extent of this problem.  Considering the culture of secrecy and corruption within the UC and CSU administration, it is highly unlikely this is an isolated incident.  It was completely inappropriate to request these reimbursements, and even worse that such luxuries were approved by other administrators.  CSU and UC have a poor track record when it comes to protecting the taxpayers’ and students’ dollars.  This report further highlights a sad trend within our public universities and demonstrates the need for greater transparency and accountability.” 

Meanwhile, the President of AFSCME 3299, Lakesha Harrison is going further, issuing a call for Mr. Ernst to resign.

In a letter to UC President Mark Yudof and UC Regent Chair Russell Gould, Ms. Harrison said:

“The news that a high-level University of California executive has enjoyed jet-setting global junkets, lavish meals and opulent retreats at taxpayer expense is an insult to workers who have been asked to put less food on their tables and students who have been forced to forgo their dreams.”

She continued:

“Coming on top of the public outrage UC sparked when it levied a 32 percent fee hike on students and their families who are already struggling under the weight of the nation’s severe recession, this scandal could not have come at a worse time. It is the responsibility of the President and the Regents to take swift action to address these transgressions and restore trust in the University AFSCME 3299 workers have dedicated their lives to serving. Restoring the public’s faith in the UC requires that Mr. David Ernst be forced to resign his position immediately and return the misused public funds.”

Report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office

Since 2002, the University of California has authorized, according to a report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) at least 45 new programs and seven additional schools.

According to the report,

“These expansions create significant budget implications, as they require the addition or redirection of faculty, staff, and facilities.”

There are supposed to be procedures and criteria to establish these new programs and schools.  State law requires a body known as the California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) to

“review the segments’ proposals in order to ensure the proposals meet priorities and are coordinated with nearby public and private postsecondary institutions.”

The problem is that the role of the CPEC is only advisory and has become increasingly limited to certain proposals due to an increased workload.  The result is that many proposals have been implemented without proper state-level review.

The center of this report is a law school opened at UC Irvine.

“In 2007 CPEC determined that a new law school proposed for University of California (UC) Irvine was unnecessary and duplicative. The opening of the new law school this fall despite CPEC’s objections calls into question the ability of the state’s approval process to prevent unnecessary or nonpriority programs and schools.”

In examining a number of new programs and schools that have been approved recently, they attempt to determine the ability of the state’s approval process to properly oversee the implementation of these additions.

Their findings are not encouraging at a time when UC is having to make huge cutbacks in order to stay afloat fiscally.

“Our review finds that the approval process lacks sufficient coordination and data and does not adequately consider priorities and policy alternatives. Most policy decisions are made at the campus level so that the type, scope, and size of programs are often driven by the desire of institutions to achieve comparability with other campuses in the system rather than by considerations of need or cost effectiveness. As a result, some approved proposals do not align with the state’s needs or priorities. Additionally, we determined that many approved proposals could have achieved their goals with lower costs.”

The LAO report recommends four structural changes that would improve the approval process.

First they recommend, the measurement of supply and demand in major fields.  This would provide a framework to plan new programs and indicate which programs ought to be developed.

Second, they need to revise their criteria for proposals so that they fit within the state’s priorities and resources.

Third, state–level review of proposals needs to be made more meaningful by allowing for earlier input from stakeholders and requiring CPEC’s approval for proposals to move forward.

Finally they recommend increased oversight from the Legislature.  Such mechanisms could include requiring the Legislature’s approval for larger proposals or separate budget items for new schools and programs.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. E Roberts Musser

    “Finally they recommend increased oversight from the Legislature.”

    I don’t know as I would recommend increased oversight from the Legislature, since they can’t keep their own house in order! Increased oversight, yes, but not by the Legislature. Only problem is, I don’t know who else to suggest for increased oversight. Any ideas?

  2. Frankly

    There was a good op-ed in the Sac Bee last week written by Ward Connerly. http://www.sacbee.com/325/story/2371655.html

    One very interesting tidbit he exposed: 1/3 of tuition costs paid by students are used to fund tuition grants for other low income students.

    How about we stop sending any state money to the UC and CSU system, and instead turn it into higher learning vouchers for students. Then students can pay full price and all colleges can compete for the dollars.

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