Response to Chancellor Katehi’s “Economic Impacts” Article

by Duane Wright

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi recently penned an article for the Davis Vanguard praising “The Economic Impact of UC Davis”. It came as no surprise to this working-poor Teaching Assistant, student parent, and activist fighting to defend public education and student and worker rights that much of the economic impacts of UC Davis were ignored, specifically the financial hardships faced by the workers who make the university run, and the students who the university is supposed to be serving.

Let’s start with the Chancellor’s discussion about good jobs. In her article Katehi says, “But even with the state’s share of our operating revenues in historical decline, we know we can and must do more. Davis and every other healthy community needs a steady infusion of attractive employment opportunities to remain healthy and provide jobs so its young men and women aren’t compelled to move away to find work, start careers and build families. That’s why we have worked more aggressively across the entire university to support commercial ventures based on discoveries made by our researchers.”

UC Davis employs many thousands of people, from the cooks and janitors of AFSCME 3299 to the Teaching Assistants like myself in UAW 2865, to the Lecturers and Librarians of UC-AFT, the post-doctoral researchers of UAW 5810, and many other workers, some covered by unions (such as UPTE, CNA, CUE, and Teamsters) and some not. Over 90% of AFSCME 3299 employees are eligible for some kind of public assistance. I make about 18k per year (before taxes), yet my rent, which is relatively cheap for Davis, is $12,600 per year, or around 70% of my pre-tax income. This is as far from any definition of affordable housing that you can find (usually 33% of income or lower), and why I take out student loans every year – not to pay my tuition, that is covered by the union contract, but just to pay my rent and feed my kid. TAs and AFSCME employees aren’t the exception to the rule, but rather the norm. Take the student employees working on campus for little more than minimum wage. If Katehi wanted to show leadership and a vision of the future and tout the economic impacts of her campus why doesn’t she at least follow the zeitgeist of a $15 minimum wage for her campus workers.

Where was Chancellor Katehi during the recent round of contract negotiations between the university and numerous unions, UAW 2865, AFSCME 3299, UPTE, CNA, etc.? Did she come out as a leader and visionary who is concerned with the economic effects of the university? No. She remained silent, at best. The Chancellor says the area needs healthy jobs to attract young people (I won’t speak in the gender binary and heteronormative language that the Chancellor did, I know better, and presumably she does as well…), while the UC Academic Council released a report that alarmingly said that in 2010 for the first time in the history of the UC more than half of accepted grad students are going elsewhere. The reasons cited for not choosing the UC were the pay and cost of living — i.e. economic reasons. The area is already losing young workers, Chancellor.

Furthermore, let’s talk about who UC Davis is employing or helping to get jobs. Under-representation is a huge issue in both the undergraduate and student body, particularly for African Americans and Chicanx/Latinx/Hispanics. If college is truly a gateway to better jobs than UC Davis is opening the door for some, while being a gatekeeper for others.As for jobs that UC Davis is providing right now, the issue of under-representation is also a big problem blaming faculty and administration. For example both career and non-career staff classified as “managers and senior professionals” African Americans are about 4% and 3% respectively compared to the over 6% of the California population. The numbers are even more dismal for tenured faculty, at 2%. So for all the talk about the wonderful jobs the university is creating these jobs are primarily going to those from racially and economically privileged backgrounds.

The Chancellor also cites the University’s amazing alchemy of turning lead into gold: “All told, UC Davis is responsible for $7 billion a year in annual economic activity and supports nearly 70,000 jobs. It generates more than $3.4 billion a year in employee pay alone. With our role as employer, purchaser, real-estate and workforce developer, collaborator and facilitator, UC Davis is arguably the most dynamic economic development engine in the region. Since we now receive about $340 million in state funding, that’s an impressive return on investment of more than 20:1.

But just like alchemy, this too is more “trick” than “magic”. The chancellor conveniently ignores the massive influx of federal money in the form of student loans, which are subsidies to the university that it doesn’t have to pay back, but rather burdens the students who the University theoretically is meant to serve. At a time when student loan debt is the highest in history, over $1 Trillion, the UC has seen tuition grow exponentially; to ignore this type of public funding and the economic impacts of student loans on UCD students isn’t just disingenuous, its repulsive.

Federal money isn’t the only additional public money subsidizing UCD, that she neglects to mention. Many employees receive assistance, like the aforementioned 90% of eligible AFSCME workers, but their children and partners are also receiving aid because of UCD’s lack of commitment to supporting it’s workers and their family. For example, my own child is on Medi-Cal, because the dependent care that the university offers is so costly not a single student-parent I know uses it. When the University is paying its workers so little that they are dependent on public assistance, and its public figures like Chancellor Katehi are writing glaring reviews of the economic benefits of the University one has to wonder if the UC is not only following the model of Walmart, who is also being subsidized by taxpayer money in the form of public assistance to their employees, but if they have hired the same PR firm!

For all these reasons, Katehi’s article is not a real honest assessment of the economic impacts of UC Davis – as a PhD Student in sociology I can honestly say this wouldn’t fly in my field – but rather it is advertising. It is propaganda for the corporate entity that is UC Davis – as that is all that the university has left: branding. Quality public education is on the decline – tuition is skyrocketing making it less accessible and class size has been on the rise. Quality jobs, defined by pay and security, are on the decline and mostly reserved for the executives running this corporate university.

Most troubling is that Katehi’s article isn’t just a sales pitch in some brochure, but that as an article on a reputable news site, it is also a claim to history – or rather a whitewashing of it. The narrative the Chancellor puts forth is a proud celebration of the systems of white supremacy and exclusion that the university is built on, and another reminder of the structures of power on campus which consistently ignore the problems of the workers and students who make up the campus community.

About The Author

Duane Wright is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at UC Davis and a member (and former officer) of UC Student-Worker Union UAW 2865. His research focuses on the restructuring of schooling around high stakes tests and the resistance to that by teachers, students, and the community.

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1 Comment

  1. Davis Progressive

    while i don’t necessarily disagree with the author’s point about the labor issues at uc davis and i disagree with the chancellor on a lot of those issues, it seems to be that the problem the author has with katehi is not her policies on economic development but other matters.  the chancellor can be mistaken on matters such as labor issues and tuition increases but still be right on economic development.  i think we should therefore separate the issue of overall disagreement to disagreement on the specifics.

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