Commentary: Whom Should the Students Blame?

UC President Janet Napolitano

There has been a lot of anger by students directed at UC in the last week, as UC proposed five more years of increased tuition, but if you believe the Enterprise editorial, “the problem is in Sacramento.”

Writes the local paper, “While the rage against the immediate decision-makers is understandable, the students — and voters concerned with the future of UC — may be better served by turning their focus away from the local chancellors’ offices, away from the Bay Area regents meetings, and toward Sacramento. After all, the increased tuition is a response to chronic underfunding by the state, a gap that shows no sign of closing anytime soon.”

They note, “Current funding leaves the system $460 million below 2008 levels.”

“Brown vetoed legislation that would have given the University of California and California State University systems a $100 million financial boost, saying the state lacked the money,” they write. “The budget Brown signed this past summer included that $100 million — if the state received a certain level of revenue from property taxes. But Brown said those tax revenues didn’t materialize.”

But the students see the administrators as the enemy. Indeed, as the Enterprise points out, they see the governor, the former speaker, the lieutenant governor and others vote against the increase, “and they vent their rage at the regents who vote yes. They don’t see the backroom deal-making that led to UC’s shortage.”

Clearly, the local paper has bought the administrative line – the question is why?

It was only two months ago that the UC Board of Regents voted to award 20 percent pay increases to their three lowest-paid chancellors. Wrote the San Francisco Chronicle at the time, “Heralding what the University of California regents promise will be a new era of pay increases at the public university, the governing board gave 20 percent raises Thursday to their three lowest-paid chancellors – with some regents expressing regret that they could give so little.”

Only one regent voted against that increase – Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom.

Writes the Chronicle, “The salary increases came a day after finance executives told the regents at their meeting in San Francisco that academic quality is in jeopardy, thanks to years of budget shortfalls. They said UC lacks the funds to keep the student-faculty ratio from rising, replace aging technology, close salary gaps for faculty and staff, and address other ‘unmet needs related to graduate and undergraduate education.’ “

The regents raised the base salary of Chancellors Dorothy Leland of UC Merced and George Blumenthal of UC Santa Cruz to $383,160 from $319,300. They raised UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry Yang’s base salary to $389,340 from $324,450.

My favorite quote comes from Regent Bonnie Reiss, who serves on the compensation committee. “At first I was concerned about how this will look to the general public,” she said. “But [she said she] changed [her] mind after recalling that UC Irvine lost its chancellor, Michael Drake, last year when he quit to run Ohio State University, where the base pay was $851,303, the nation’s highest for a public university.”

“We’re starting today with our lowest-paid chancellors, but the Board of Regents feels it’s still not enough,” she added.

The Chronicle continues, “The higher pay is ‘correcting injustices’ done to the chancellors, whose base salaries are the lowest of the 62 leading research universities – including 26 top private universities – that make up the Association of American Universities, said Regent Russell Gould, who also serves on the compensation committee.”

As one editorial put it, “Generally, the argument that the UC and California State University systems must keep pace in the executive-pay arms race or lose their best bosses has always been shaky, dating back to the recession years when the number of UC employees making $1 million a year more than tripled. As one Board of Regents adviser noted at last week’s meeting, the argument that campus executives’ salaries must be kept competitive should apply to all university employees.

“Yes, what about the importance of staying competitive in the battle to attract the best professors and students? UC Regents’ focus on rewarding chancellors sends a terrible message to faculty members and most of all to students, who face rising costs and higher barriers to in-state student admission.”

So, on the one hand, UC wants to argue that they are broke and are forced to make do with less, but on the other hand, they want to argue that they need to increase the pay of their chancellors, but ignore the faculty and students. It would be like a ball team increasing salaries for its manager and general manager, but allowing its players to walk away to free agency.

The local paper notes, “One other significant budget pressure facing UC is one shared by many other government institutions — the unfunded $7.2 billion liability for pensions.”

One of Speaker of the Assembly Toni Atkins’ recommendations was, “UC should adopt the pension reforms for new employees contained in the Public Employees’ Pension Reform Act of 2013.”

Of course, one of the points that the Enterprise fails to make is that following the passage of Prop. 30, the state is slowly increasing funding by $50 million per year, but UC needs to do its share to cut costs while the state slowly recovers from the recession.

Right now, by increasing student tuition while increasing compensation to chancellors, the board of regents is sending the wrong message – that attracting the best quality of administrators is more important than attracting the best quality of students and faculty. Ultimately, that’s a losing strategy.

—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. Frankly

    My wife worked for a UCD administrative function a couple of decades ago.  I got to know some of the UCD brass and her boss.  And being an private sector executive myself having responsibilities for similar budgets and staff, it because clear that not only was UCD bloated with unneeded highly-compensated managers, but many of them were, frankly, not very impressive in demonstrated professional attributes and capability.

    And this was a couple of decades ago.

    I can only guess that the numbers of these highly-compensated stuffed shirts has exploded.

    The students are being brainwashed by their school and their educators that the problem is the state and lack of taxation.  The problem is the bloat of highly compensated UC employees, and UC executives unwilling to tackle the more challenging work to reform the university to do more will less.

      1. Miwok

        Not necessarily. The out of state tuition on many fine schools costs less than any California school. Growing up in Ohio, many of us aspired to Ohio State, but many saved money by going to Michigan, or Kentucky’ best schools at a cost less than OSU. Way less then UC.

        1. South of Davis

          Miwok wrote:

          > Not necessarily. The out of state tuition on many fine schools

          > costs less than any California school. 

          With quite a few friends paying out of state tuition (since their kids didn’t get in to UC or CSU schools) I have not heard of a single state that will let a California student attend college for less than the ~$8K in state tuition for CSU schools or the ~$12K California residents pay to send their kids to a UC school.  Can you list a couple of these “many fine schools”?

  2. Anon

    I can see both sides here.  On the one hand I do not disagree with Frankly’s assessment of bloat.  On the other hand, I also understand this ugly phenomenon of “keeping up with the Jones'” in regard to salaries, to keep really qualified individuals from jumping the university ship.  I also know how politicians work in not keeping their promises.  The state is not investing in higher education, just the opposite.  I would say there is plenty of blame to go around.  The UC system needs to do a better job of streamlining, but Sacramento has to do a better job of investing in higher education and keeping its promises.

    1. Davis Progressive

      one of my questions is: whether the administrators are the key to running a good school or whether it’s the faculty, quality of the research, and students.  i tend to think it’s the later, although running the university well is a bonus.  but then again, i’m not sure that paying the people we have what we are paying them is giving us a great product.

  3. Tia Will

    The UC system needs to do a better job of streamlining, but Sacramento has to do a better job of investing in higher education and keeping its promises.”

    Now here is a real anomaly. We have Frankly, Anon, Sisterhood and me in partial agreement ! I would go one step further in assessing blame. The taxpayers ( yes that means us) who are unwilling to spend more to maintain what was once the stellar public educational system at the State and UC level at prices that students could actually afford.

    We the taxpayers made a decision that placed taxpayers above public education. Our choice, our consequences.

  4. South of Davis

    David wrote:

    > Whom Should the Students Blame?

    1. Let’s start with President Napolitano (who makes more than the President of the United States and the Governor of California COMBINED) for having the nerve to announce a new (expensive) program to help ILLEGAL (aka “Undocumented Dreamers”) students taking the place of LEGAL (aka “tax paying”) students the day after announcing a big tuition increase.

    2. The huge number of UC employees who game the system making MASSIVE amounts of money, working very few hours before they retire with multi-million dollar pensions (while this number is big the majority of UC employees are not part of this inner circle of high pay and low work and especially the professors trying to get tenure most work real hard).

    3. The crony capitalism that allows the UC schools to borrow BILLIONS to make politically connected (often alumni) bankers, contractors and vendors RICH on the backs of the students who also make the bankers rich taking on more and more debt each year…

    1. Alan Miller

      4.  The fool alumni who give to UC Davis, blinded by their own sense of loyalty, a slick PR campaign and naive student call-center volunteers into thinking it is noble to give to an entity so dysfunctional and bloated.  It’s called enabling, and it’s on a scale of billions.

  5. Miwok

    I agree with Frankly, again, and also lots of other posters. I have seen the ebb and flow of money since I started there in 1984.

    The era Frankly talks about, up to about 2006 when I left, they were broke, again, and converting closets and small rooms into educational space, at exorbitant costs instead of building new buildings.We always were told the State held up things, but they really were waiting for the money to be allocated for it by Management.

    When I went to a different department in 2010, I saw the Development and Gifts operating side of things, and helped to reduce redundancy and waste. But as I mentioned in one post, they sent an email and said the budget just got cut 25%. Zap! There was a previous one of more than that when I did not work there.

    Working as a part of Compensations Committees, I saw where $82 Million was sent as bonuses and pay raises in one year “to keep people here” while laying off Staff making so little they were on Food Stamps. The cost of a 4% raise for Staff that year would have been less than $5M. While the Press Release said these were bonuses, later research showed they were a bonus/raise. UC claimed “they had no money”.

    One thing not documented, and I don’t know if it can be, is the cuts to the educational systems. When I mention UC, there is another 2/3 added (community colleges and State Colleges). In 2010, the cut to UC Davis was $100M alone, the rest of the system and State had to bear more or less. This was also way before Ms Napolitano came. The State has taken more, before even Schwarzenegger came, than they gave back. The politically Late Sen Yee of SF was trying to expose much of this.

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