My View II: Campus and Community Divide Reflects a National Divide

Vice Chancellor speaking to student protesters in Mrak in March
Vice Chancellor speaking to student protesters in Mrak Hall in March

There has been some discussion this week about a divide within national politics itself, and among the left on populist economic issues.  I bring that up as a backdrop to a much more local discussion, not only about the future of our community, but also the future of UC Davis.

In their message against Chancellor Katehi, the message rang from 2011 and the Occupy Movement which pushed back on the privatization of the university.  Protestors would say, “Whose university?  Our university!”  Underlying that was a notion of “people over profits” and a belief that Chancellor Katehi represented the corporatization of the university.

There is no doubt that is true, although the transformation was clearly occurring long before Chancellor Katehi arrived on the scene.  In September 2006, for example, there was a major announcement that Chevron Corporation would fund up to $25 million in research over five years “to develop affordable, renewable transportation fuels from farm and forest residues, urban wastes and crops grown specifically for energy.”

Two years ago it was the announcement that Mars, Incorporated, would dedicate $40 million to the UC Davis World Food Center.  That money, UC Davis spokesperson Andy Fell said at the time, would be matched by $20 million by UC Davis itself “to develop and fund innovations from preliminary research all the way to commercialization.”

It is easy to take the cynical view here that the future of education lies in a private-public partnership where research is increasingly funded either directly or indirectly by corporate interests.

Perhaps as much as anything else, the common thread between the 2011 protests on the UCD Quad and the 2016 occupation of Mrak Hall by the student protesters was the frustration and concern about this future.

When asked at his initial press conference, Acting Chancellor Ralph Hexter said, “I certainly attend to their message – I think the issue of the privatization of the university is a real issue that we need to examine and consider.”

He said that, as public support for the university diminishes, we have to look for other funding sources.

That is the problem that the university faces.  If tuition and state support do not fund the university’s mission, they will look to other funding sources.  Who can drop tens of millions?  Corporate America.

In a real sense, the divide over the mission of the university also drives the land use debate that has been hashed out over the Vanguard this spring and over the past week.

The drive of Chancellor Katehi, for example, focused on the strength of top programs like Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences.  She focused on the expansive growth of the Office of Research and fundraising.

In a January speech on the State of the Campus she trumpeted new facilities like the Museum of Art, the Pitzer Center Recital Hall, the International Center, Walker Hall Renovation, a new net-zero energy Large Lecture Hall, a new building housing the UC Davis Office of Veterans Affairs, a VetMed Administration building, and, finally, Tercero Student Housing Phase 4.

Of all the projects opening this fall or in 2017, Tercero 4 is the only one that provides housing and it only provides 506 beds at a cost of $59 million, more expensive than any of the other projects.

UC Davis is building a new empire, so to speak, and you don’t build greatness by building new dorms.

There are those that see UC Davis as an outside force, putting growth pressures on the community, and causing harm.  These people argue that UC Davis is responsible for the growth pressures, and therefore is responsible for solving the problem it causes.

There are others who argue that “Davis should view the  growing student population as an opportunity, not a  burden.   By constructing more student housing in and around Davis, we enhance tax revenues,  provide construction jobs and most importantly, provide enhanced business opportunities for our retail, service and restaurant owners, all of whom pay sales taxes to the city, salaries to workers, all while earning their own and income and building wealth.    If Davis doesn’t provide the living space for students, then  enterprising real estate developers will build in Dixon Woodland and West Sacramento, and Davis will lose the revenue opportunity.”

Others argue that, without UC Davis, Davis would more resemble Dixon than the community we love.  UC Davis is the largest employer and therefore is a huge benefit to our community.

But that is but one view.

Jim Leonard last night offered a different view, arguing, “City Hall should demand higher education moneys go to State Colleges over Universities–especially ones that abuse their neighboring jurisdictions. Universities are overly expensive for the State to support given the value they contribute to society. The basic value of a higher education is reading, writing, and critical thinking, which the State Colleges supply at a lesser cost than the Universities.

“Davis needs to decide what it is and move forward based upon that identity; I think the definition should remain the historical one of Davis being a small, rural based, agriculturally centered town. Others, unfortunately including our traitorous City Council, seem to think of Davis as only future profits in real estate. Unfortunately that ‘future’ vision ignores the fact that eventually the real estate gravy train runs out while the associated costs continue forever. It is true more money is associated with real estate at first and that, for many, appears to be a positive. Sad this viewpoint is a myopic one associated with much suffering once real estate money runs out. Agriculture, in contrast, continues on as a source of income and, seemingly in this world of ever increasing population, produces more and more income sustainable income than real estate ever can.

“U.C.D. is a growth generator and the main beneficiary is real estate. We don’t need that. What we need is what U.C.D. used to support: basic services for the agricultural community, particularly the local agricultural community. That way the historical Davis identity is supported rather than undermined and U.C.D. has a purpose that it can uniquely fill. If U.C.D. continues to bloat, grow fat, and impose its will on Davis, we would really be much better off without it. And the State would be better off directing its support to State Universities instead.”

A critical look at this discussion suggests that our community is just as divided as the rest of the nation.  The student activists rail against the privatization of the university, as academic elites argue that the chancellor’s status is a real setback to UC Davis – which has seen huge growth under the leadership of Linda Katehi for Hispanics in the university, who benefit from increased access and resource, and women who are leading the way in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

It is this place where we see the battleground that extends before this community and into national politics.  It is this debate that will be watched not only this year but for years to come.

—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. Misanthrop

    I don’t think the problem is corporations funding research. They are going to fund research no matter what. I think the problem is the University spending ever more money on the people at the top as if there was some equivalence between the private sector and public servants while the state cuts back on its share of funding and students are left holding the bag with debt.

  2. Tia Will


    I don’t think the problem is corporations funding research.”

    I see both as real problems. I have no problem with a company such as Mars, whose own mission statement is the development of “food products” not real food, funding research as long as it does so at private academic institutions. I have a great deal of problem with it funding at public institutions in order to maximize private earnings.

    I agree that cut backs in public funding are a major issue and that we need to change our mindset from one of short term profits and ever higher executive level pay to one of public service and the education of our population as a long term investment in our future.

    1. quielo

      It is not just the compensation of the administrators but also their increasing abundance. As a function of the number of students, the number of administrators continues to increase.

    2. Matt Williams

      Tia, if one looks at the annual budget of UC, it is very hard to justify the argument that UC is a public institution, with 88.2% of its funding coming from private sources.

      $2,640,000,000     State General Funds
      $3,968,000,000     Government Contracts and Grants
      $6,608,000,000     Total Public Sources (11.8%)

      $3,030,000,000     Student tuition and fee revenue
      $  929,000,000     UC General Funds (Nonresident Supplemental Tuition revenue, cost recovery funds from research contracts and grants, patent royalty income, and fees earned for management of Department of Energy laboratories)
      $7,296,000,000     Medical Center Revenues
      $5,376,000,000     Other Sales and Services
      $1,920,000,000     Private Support
      $  435,200,000     Other Sources
      $18,986,200,000     Total Private Sources (88.2%)

      $25,594,200,000        Total Sources (100.0%)

  3. Davis Progressive

    misanthrop is making the mistake of confusing the effect (rising compensation) with the cause – privatization of the university.  the reason why the occupy movement focused on campuses was their connection to wall street.

  4. Frankly

    Occupy Movement which pushed back on the privatization of the university.  Protestors would say, “Whose university?  Our university!”

    Assuming these kids actually graduate and are not perpetual students, what do they think happens when they graduate?  Some of them will go work for these very companies attempting to be successful leveraging relationships with research universities.

    I think some of the problems at UCD can be connected to the fact that it lacks an undergraduate business school.

  5. quielo

    “City Hall should demand higher education moneys go to State Colleges over Universities–especially ones that abuse their neighboring jurisdictions.” Not sure what is the point of this statement. The Davis CC is not in a position to “demand” anything and passing a resolution like this would only antagonize our neighbor and, whether people like it or not, our partner. Did JL explain how such a course of action would benefit Davis?

  6. Tia Will


    Some of them will go work for these very companies attempting to be successful leveraging relationships with research universities.”

    It is true that some will. It is equally true that some will find permanent employment in government or civil service of some sort, some will become educators, some will join the military, some will become pastors or counselors or coaches. A talented and lucky few may be able to build successful careers in the fine arts.  Because of the wide variety of opportunities that are presented by many different aspects of our society, there are some of us who believe that public educational institutions should remain free of undue influence by those who would offer money in order to “leverage” research universities into favoring those areas that will financially favor the sponsoring business. I further believe that the mission of a public university is the education of the citizens of the state. I do not believe that it should be “leveraged” into a product commercialization scheme for the top bidding company. I believe the university should educate across as broad as possible range of subjects and not be in the business of picking business winners and losers.

  7. Misanthrop

    “Davis needs to decide what it is and move forward based upon that identity; I think the definition should remain the historical one of Davis being a small, rural based, agriculturally centered town. Others, unfortunately including our traitorous City Council, seem to think of Davis as only future profits in real estate.”

    “Traitorous?” Usually people who make such over the top statements have the good sense to employ a pseudonym, but not Jim Leonard, he let’s his ugly, self righteous, and destructive rhetoric fly under the name his parents bestowed upon him. Never mind that all the members of the city council, including three of them just recently stood before the community and took an oath to uphold and defend the constitution.

    I guess Jim Leonard thinks that anyone who doesn’t share his vision of Davis, a vision, by the way, that leaves out any role for the University of California, or has a policy difference is some kind of Benedict Arnold. Jim obviously doesn’t know the difference between Will Arnold and Benedict Arnold.

    The Arnold’s have been in this town longer than your family Jim, a point I raise because you seem to wear your longevity in Davis on your sleeve as though it gives your idea of Davis some extra special weight or meaning.   The Arnold’s have contributed so much more to Davis than you have Jim, helping thousands of people purchase homes, serving the community in so many ways including giving their time to serve in the governance of the community, giving to charity and placing their children in our schools, all across multiple generations. Now it is Will’s turn to serve and give back to the community. I watched him get sworn in. He said it was the proudest moment of his life. Will wants to give back and make sure that the community that gave him so much is in good shape for his own children, a level of commitment that spans generations. A commitment that dwarfs your’s Jim. Now less than a month in office he gets called a traitor by a curmudgeon who hasn’t given squat to this community.

    Will Arnold has more commitment to this community in one finger than Jim Leonard has demonstrated in his entire life and the other members of the city council do as well.

    Brett Lee’s family has been here a long time too Jim, much longer than yours. I saw  Brett talking  with these two senior citizens while campaigning at the Farmers Market. They were talking about Brett’s mother who they knew from growing up here.

    The others on the council were not born here but many of them have a deep commitment to this community. They all have a deep enough commitment to stand for election and to serve. They have all been popularly elected and none of them deserve to be called a traitor, especially by someone who has been given so much by this community but who has given back so little.

  8. DavidSmith

    As Matt pointed out with real numbers, the notion of a public university has long lost its meaning with the level of State funding we are seeing now. It’s the same everywhere, not just in California. The simple truth is that our nation and our people don’t have the financial willpower to fund good public universities to offer affordable education to the next generation.

    I actually think Jim’s point regarding public universities has much value. I dare say that UC would be a much better university(ies) if the State stops funding it and let it be private.

  9. DavidSmith

    I’m not sure if the divide between the university and the community necessarily has a “national” backdrop. I can understand the students protest linked to a more general frustration of increasing higher education cost, but the conflict over housing? not so much in my opinion. All I see is human nature (read greed)

  10. Edison

    I’m wondering if one cause of the divide could be the huge cost of administrative salaries, coupled with the multiplication in the number of administrators. A few weeks ago the Wall Street Journal published an article on the high pay of university presidents (equivalent to chancellors in the UC system).  In addition to salaries frequently in the $400K range, the article pointed out that many university presidents have contract clauses that boost their pay far beyond the base annual salary. For example, the article profiled the president of Michigan State. In addition to a salary above $400K, the article said her contract allows her to return to teaching one year after she leaves the presidency, but during that year-long hiatus she’ll continue getting  the same pay she received while president.  The article explained that a contributing factor to higher pay for top level university administrators is the growing number of corporate CEOs on university Boards of Directors.  Over time those CEOs have taught the university presidents about the bonus and incentive clauses typical of corporate CEO contracts.  In any case, it seems to me that there is a growing divide between the socioeconomic status of university presidents and the families of students.

    1. DavidSmith

      It is a natural consequence of the public not willing to fund universities, leading to increasing privatization of universities, and therefore an increasingly competitive market for competent administrators.

    2. Frankly

      I have a few comments here.

      First, some universities warrant a highly compensated President/Chancellor because of the size and complexity of the business operation.  But the total compensation tends to be overblown when including the value of the perks and retirement benefits.  This is true for most senior management level government employees.

      For example, the lefty media goes ape-poo over some private CEO’s bonus, even though most of it is stock options, and the rest is taxed at 50%… and the CEO does not get a multi-million dollar pension.

      Lastly, most high-compensated heads of large organizations are well into their 50s when they get the job.  They generally are blessed with certain talents, and have worked their way up to mastery of that job.  The high pay is only for a few years.  And many CEOs don’t last very long on the job.   For example, Carly Fiorina started as a secretary and rose to the CEO of HP… but only for a few years.

      The problem with UCD is the number of administrative executives and managers.   It needs to be flattened.  It is much too top-heavy.  And the total compensation if way out of line.

      $400k a year is not over-compensation for the Chancellor of UCD.  But when you add up the value of the perks and retirement, the actual value is likely double or more.  And then when you multiply that by the number of executives and middle managers… that is where the problems are.

      1. DavidSmith

        UCD is no special campus than any others. I certainly know several other universities (I’d actually say that most other universities) offering similar perks to their administrators. UCD’s package is actually below average nationwide.

        1. Biddlin

          ” UCD’s package is actually below average nationwide.”

          Here’s Texas A&M’s deal: A&M System Chancellor John Sharp received a raise from $507,000 per year to $900,000 per year in 2015. His total compensation, including non-salary benefits, was reported as $1.1 million, on a five year contract.

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