A lot of people have questioned the anger of students over fee hikes and their targeting that anger toward the chancellor, the regents and UC President Mark Yudof. After all, it can be argued – as many have – that the real culprit in the fee hikes is not the University of California but rather the state legislature.
It was for these reasons I tended to view with skepticism claims from student protesters in the past that the blame lies with the UC Regents, chancellor, and Office of the President. After all, they are operating in the world created by legislative funding priorities. And while executive salaries are obscene in the UC System – justifiable or not – the total costs almost certainly amount to what is a small molehill in the mountain of budgetary realities.
After all, even if the salaries of upper administration are bloated, cutting executive salaries is not going to fix the budget problems. And while the work that some of the labor groups have presented on internal shifting of funds is somewhat intriguing, overall, the cuts by the legislature are outstripping the ability of the universities to meet their overhead through salary cuts.
But my thinking is starting to change on all of this.
Last week’s story on UC Davis’ economic impact points to perhaps another way.
The story goes that UC Davis “is a powerful economic engine for Northern California, generating $6.9 billion in annual economic activity and accounting for 69,000 jobs.”
The report goes on to suggest that jobs created at UC Davis lead to additional jobs in other sectors of the economy, and that “Northern California benefited from an additional $1.10 to $1.40 in secondary economic activity.”
Overall, UC Davis’ two campuses — in Davis and Sacramento — constitute the second-largest individual employer in the Sacramento region, behind only the State of California.
“UC Davis is a significant catalyst for economic activity throughout our region and across the state,” said Chancellor Linda Katehi. “It is gratifying to see that the investments made in the university will pay off not only in the long term — with a highly educated workforce and the discoveries and innovations that will help us to address the globe’s most pressing problems. These investments also have an immediate, positive and profound impact on the economic prosperity of California.”
The problem may be that what we lack is not money so much as imagination, creativity and ingenuity.
Chancellor Katehi has some grand visions for UC Davis. She envisions generating $1 billion in fundraising. She envisions expanding the scope of UC Davis greatly, to bring it to upwards of 40,000 students.
What is missing is a plan to capture some of that revenue and some of that economic engine to benefit the students.
At a very basic level, this economic analysis demonstrates that both the state and the Sacramento region benefit from the economic engine that is UC Davis. And if this region and state benefit from UC Davis, then other parts of the state likely benefit from the presence of other campuses of UC students.
The state and region are perfectly willing to benefit from that influx of capital and that economic engine, but also perfectly willing to continue to slash funding and make affordability a much less achievable goal for students.
In as much as Chancellor Katehi has been under fire from students, she has a chance to make some amends if she modifies her grandiose visions of UC Davis to capture some of that economic revenue for the students.
In summary then, students should be angry and frustrated because what has happened is that the University of California really is becoming more privatized, and it is ironic that the Occupy Wall Street movement has moved to campuses for the very reason that the campuses themselves are starting to look and act like Wall Street.
Observe: those at the very top are making tremendous salaries. Those who try to justify those salaries, based on the notion of competitiveness, are forgetting that people do not go into service at public institutions for that type of personal gain.
Moreover, at the same time tuition and fees have gone up, those at the very top are getting pay raises and sometimes bonuses.
The system is increasingly top-heavy and operating for the benefit, not of public education, which is after all the mission of a public education system, but for the benefit of the entity itself. Wealth and power is being amassed at the top and done so on the backs of the students who are being asked to pay an ever-increasing burden.
The bottom line is that there should be enough money in the system to produce ways to capture portions of that money to go back into the system and prevent the students from having to pay the burden that they currently are paying.
The ambition of Linda Katehi should be used in part to ease the burden of students. After all, if the university can raise $1 billion, if the university generates nearly $7 billion each year, it seems reasonable that students should see some direct benefit from that success.
Instead, what we see with the University of California is a microcosm of our entire economy – the middle class increasingly pays the burden, even as those at the top accrue more and more benefit from being at the top.
—David M. Greenwald reporting