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Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday, October 16, 2017
In the latest fallout from last spring's disastrous, and disastrously handled, audit, Governor Brown has just signed a new law that tightens up legislative oversight over UC Finances.  You will probably remember that the State Auditor challenged UCOP's handling of funds and accused UCOP of intervening in the audit process in order to gain more favorable responses from campus officials (although UCOP denied the allegations).  In response, the State transformed UC's budget.  And now the state is increasing its intervention into UC budgeting.

In what can only be seen as a response UCOP's role in changing campus responses to the Auditor's inquiries, the new law forbids communication between UCOP and a campus
whenever a request for information relating to the security of funds of the University of California is made by the California State Auditor’s Office pursuant to these provisions to one or more campuses of the University of California, would prohibit those campuses from coordinating their responses with, or seeking counsel, advice, or similar contact regarding their response from, the Office of the President of the University of California before submitting the requested information to the California State Auditor’s Office. The bill would require the California State Auditor’s Office, when requesting information under these provisions, to include a statement in the request that it is requesting the information pursuant to these provisions and that the request for information is not to be shared with the Office of the President of the University of California.
In addition, the legislature demands increased fine tuning of the University's cost of education calculation both in terms of the relative costs of undergraduate education, graduate education, and health science education and by funding source.  Given that UC has consistently insisted that this demand is unreasonable, we can expect further political tensions between Sacramento and the University.

Chris and I have long called for greater transparency about spending and funding sources.  And I can understand the State's desire to ensure that the information it receives during audits not be tampered with.  Still, this latest statute raises a series of important issues:

1) When the accusations about tampering first broke, UC announced that it was hiring an independent investigator to examine the charges.  Has that report been concluded?  If so, when will it be released?  What did it determine?  If it hasn't been concluded then why not?  And when can we find out what actually happened?

2) As I pointed out earlier, the State's response continues to be based on the notion that legislators and the Regents are the most appropriate people to co-govern the university with UCOP.  But as has been proven repeatedly, neither the Legislature, nor the Regents, nor the Governor nor UCOP, for that matter, has demonstrated much grasp of the educational and research practices of the University.  What is needed is greater internal democracy rather than simply legislative demands.  And that internal democracy should be applied to the question of how to achieve the highest academic accomplishment, not simply how to achieve the greatest savings or, as far too many local administrators seem to think, develop the latest private sector fads.

3).  When will there be genuine accountability at UCOP and the Board of Regents?  As the audit,  this year's budget, and this legislation demonstrate, UC has become extremely vulnerable to outside pressures and the political status of the University is remarkably low.  Does anyone really believe that the people who have brought the University to this point are the ones to correct it?  And given the destructive forces emanating from Washington, does anyone expect that the budget or the political climate is going to get better?

4) Shouldn't the Senate take a leading and public role in formulating proposals to recenter the University on its academic missions?

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 0

Monday, October 2, 2017

Monday, October 2, 2017

The farce that was MiloFest has now frittered away into failure.  Of course, that will not be the last time that the right-wing attempts to undermine the authority and status of higher education under the guise of standing up for free thought.  The challenge will be ongoing.

At the same time, we should not allow the fireworks over free speech to divert us from other important attacks on the educational mission of universities.  These attacks are driven not by the ideologies of the alt-right but by the ideologies of austerity.

One classic case of the damage brought about by privatization-driven austerity was revealed amidst the hubbub over free speech week at Berkeley.  While most attention was focused on the spectacles of Shapiro and Yiannopoulos, the Daily Cal reported that the Christ administration is proposing to end the funding for the tremendously successful Berkeley Connect program as part of its budget cutting plans.

Berkeley Connect is an  innovative program that provides academic mentoring to undergraduates and fellowship support to graduate students.  Undergraduates who join the program are linked with a graduate student adviser who helps them navigate their academic experience.  Students take part in small discussion groups and workshops, and pursue a specially designed curriculum.  Students overwhelmingly praise the program and it has been shown to improve their academic performance.  Over 10,000 have participated.  Even though the program had its campus support cut last year from $2M to $1M dollars it still was able to support 1200 undergraduates while providing 29 graduate fellowships.

What makes this proposed elimination so striking is that the Christ Administration appears willing to sacrifice precisely the sort of program that Berkeley claims it wants to promote because it improves the quality of undergraduate education.  Berkeley Connect began in 2010 as a result of a donation from the father of an English Department alumnus.  In 2013, recognizing its success, the campus agreed to fund its extension to additional departments.  It now serves 13 departments from Math, Computational Biology and Physics on the one hand to History, Architecture and African-American Studies on the other.  So the Christ administration is proposing to eliminate a highly successful program, built upon a commitment of campus funds and the support of appreciative parent of an alumnus, and that has demonstrably improved both undergraduate and graduate education.  And just for the record, the amount going to Berkeley Connect this year is approximately the same as what the University has recently spent on the Shapiro and Yiannopoulos events and less than 1/5 of the continued subvention of the chronically mismanaged Intercollegiate Athletics department.

To be sure, the particular brutalism of Berkeley's imposition of austerity is not due to the campus leadership alone.  UCOP is demanding the pace of deficit reduction and therefore making it more difficult to balance the budget without affecting innovative educational programs.  But when the campus announces that they have decided to exclude fellowships from the chopping block  and then turns around and makes a decision that will cut nearly 30 graduate fellowships, one has to wonder about how believable the administration's claims really are.

Indeed, as Chris pointed out in his recent budget post, Berkeley has shown no sign of an open and deep rethinking of their budget strategies and priorities of the last 15 years.  Beginning with the Birgeneau and Breslauer administration, Berkeley has been announcing new and greater privatization schemes while allowing for a dramatic expansion in administration even as funding for core educational activities has become increasingly strained.  Although it is true that in this year's budget plan, administrative cuts are serious, they don't make up for the imbalance in spending over the last several administrations.

If the Christ Administration eliminates Berkeley Connect it will be both a terrible step and a canary in a coal mine.  The Chancellor has insisted that she is determined to protect instruction.  If she is, then she will insist that her administration find the funds to maintain Berkeley Connect.  If she does not, it will be another example of the slide of Berkeley from the days when its headlines were about educational innovation to these days, when we hear mostly about rankings declines and athletic department mismanagement.
Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 3

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Thursday, September 28, 2017
Another negative report about the University of California appeared last weekend, this time on the front page of Sunday's Los Angeles Times.  The headline summarized the storyline: "UC is handing out generous pensions, and students are paying the price with higher tuition."

The piece has some analytical problems, but that doesn't keep it from painting a powerfully dark picture of the UC system.  I should say up front that I appreciate the investigative efforts of the piece's author, Jack Dolan, and his Times colleagues to collect internal university data and to report coherently on an important issue.

UC employees have been treated to two major pension tierings in less than a decade (where new employees get reduced benefits).  They have had their contributions increase from 0 to 7-9 percent of pretax salary depending on their employee group, during a period of de facto salary freezes.  No UC employee group ever requested the "contribution holiday" in the first place: UCRP was greatly overfunded at the time, and then zero contributions became an administrative end-run around pay freezes and stagnation during the first big round of state budget cuts that started in 1991-92. For the ensuing 25 years, most UC salaries have lagged behind their peers: faculty have generally been at least 10 percent behind.  The overfunded UC Retirement Program (UCRP) balanced that out, so that "total compensation" stayed competitive.  Now total compensation has fallen behind as well (by 10 percent for ladder faculty in a 2014 Mercer Total Remuneration Study; also see Berkeley FA overview) and this is due to deteriorating benefits as well as the tiering of and the rising contributions to the retirement plan.  UC now contributes 14 percent of salary to UCRP, with 6 percent of that going to backfill the effects of the "holiday," which, stupid as its protraction was, tried to counterbalance substandard salaries (UCRP page 8). So UC employees have little to learn about UC pension problems from the Dolan article.   And yet they were likely disturbed by Dolan's equation of all UC employees with the tiny $300,000+ Club whose payouts have been critiqued by faculty before, and that the article wrongly implies represent a pervasive, fatal overgenerosity to the whole.


That said, I'm interested in the larger framing problem the Dolan piece represents. How can UC frame its operations and missions in a way that avoids this kind of repeated damage to its reputation?  Fixing root causes is of course the real solution.  But real fixes are themselves blocked by a framing narrative that makes it much harder to address root causes or even to see what they are.

The master frame is "UC is rich and dishonest and doesn't need or deserve more state money."  Dolan's piece adds, "UC acts rich with pensions when it's actually poor, and thus hurts its students."  These are both "private good" frames that rest on "public-choice" political economy, as I'll discuss below.

We are in Year Ten (or Twenty) of a university strategy crisis about changing these narratives.  How can UC increase the chances of an alternative front page headline like,
After years of austerity, UC struggles to meet needs of students without hurting staff" (or vice versa)?  
A frame composed of such headlines would allow UC to address deep problems (e.g. inadequate public funding, including no ongoing state pension funding) rather than go after the specific mistakes of their critics.

Let's take a look at how Dolan's argument works.  He argues that a "good chunk" of this year's 2.5 percent tuition increase (rising for resident undergraduates from $12,294 to $12,630) will go to filling in the pension shortfall rather than improving campus operations. UC has $57 million in new tuition money for operations, but could have had $83 million were it not sending $26 million to add a drop to the pension deficit bucket.  The piece rolls several pension issues into a giant D.U.M.E spliff, as my Mardi Gras office candle would put it.
  1. "The average UC pension for people who retired after 30 years is $88,000."
  2. "More than 5400 UC retirees received pensions over $100,000."
  3. "The number of UC retirees collecting six-figure pensions has increased 60% since 2012."
  4. "Nearly three dozen [former employees] received pensions in excess of $300,000 last year, four times as many as in 2012."
  5. Former UC President Mark Yudof got a sweetheart pension deal that put him in the top ten, though he "worked at the university for only seven years--including one year on paid sabbatical and another in which he taught one class per semester."
  6. The pension fund can't really afford this because it has a $15 billion shortfall--which has been getting worse.
  7. The pension problem "is distinctly self-inflicted. In 1990, administrators  . .  . stopped making contributions for 20 years, even as their investments foundered."
The result is "a jaw-dropping bill for the next generation--which has now arrived." Students are paying the price.

That's just the first section of the piece.  The next section details how Mark Yudof got his pension up from the $45,000 per year the formula would have granted him--first to $230,000 per year for 5 years (via a custom formula he negotiated with senior UC officials), then to $357,000 per year when the year of sabbatical and year of teaching counted part of the president formula).  Then there's discussion of the medical professors who make up the bulk of the top-10 list.  Dolan interviewed two of them, Lawrence Bassett and Nostratola Vaziri (41.4 and 36.7 years of service), who both said they stayed for the work not the pension.  That's probably true, but leads to

     8. UC's justification for Defined Benefit pensions--they retain top talent--is false.

The rest of the piece is a mixture of people claiming that paying higher salaries on Defined Contribution plans would be cheaper, and a recount of how UCOP stonewalled The Times and another organization that thought the pension data was public. The piece notes that Regent Richard Blum did not respond to requests to explain the contract he negotiated with Yudof, and ends with this paragraph:
Napolitano’s staff also initially refused when The Times requested the pension information in February. It took until June for them to provide usable data — which showed the dramatic rise in six-figure pension payments and revealed for the first time the full amount of Yudof’s pension.
That brings us to 

    9. UC officials are not transparent and, lip service aside, don't think they are accountable to the public.

And throw in the conclusion (in pension author Lawrence McQuillan's words): 

    10. "this year's higher tuition is just the beginning of bailouts by students and their parents" of UC and other public universities. 

This chain of statements is very damaging.   (1) is not a bad but a good: $88,000 after 30 years is a reasonable pension for an institution comprised of the most highly qualified kinds of people in society, and whose professors are usually 30 when they get their doctorate and can start their career--or 35-40 given the shortage of tenure-track jobs and the stopgap of postdocs.  But then (1) gets buried by (2) through (10).  

We could analyze (2) through (10) and show that each of them is not entirely true and/or is decontextualized, and that there are counterexamples. We could say reforms have taken place, as UC CFO Nathan Brostrom does.  These kinds of rebuttals are satisfying and helpful but leave the current framework in place.  An example of failure in the recent series of UC-negative reports was UCOP's point-by-point rebuttal to the audit that we discussed several times in May (starting here).  It weirdly resulted in UCOP's formal capitulation, with no clarification for the public of the principles at stake.


What would work better is critique embedded in an explicit alternative framework.  For universities this should be a public good framework.  I theorize this in The Great Mistake, but I'll just do a summary narrative here.  The private good framework makes Defined Benefit pensions anomalous, and statements like "we're 83 percent funded!" won't change that.  In addition, a pervasive public-choice theory casts DB pensions as typical expressions of public-employee self-interest that are won at the expense of the customer (students). In contrast, DB pensions (to stick with our case here) are normal and logical in a public good framework. Here's a sample narrative, in the voice of the University administration:

Public universities create and sustain public goods in a variety of ways.  One public good is a fair salary that reflects the past effort and educational attainment of the employee and the value their ongoing labor.  Market rates are one guideline for but not the final determinant of salary.  The same is true for retirement.  Retirement security is a public good, and historical experience shows that Defined Benefit pensions are the best way of providing that.  We also know that pool investing is more efficient than individual investing.  Although UC is always being told to replace DB with Defined Contribution (DC) pensions, the main benefit would be to push the cost of retirement off state and institutional books and onto the budget of the individual employee.  There are no truly convincing ethical defenses of this "risk shift" to individuals.  In addition, the decades-long replacement of DB by DC plans (e.g. the 401(k)) has created a retirement crisis in the country. This is the real problem with pensions: not enough people have them.  We are not willing to shift from good to bad retirement design simply because the 401(k) satisfies a policy bias towards market solutions--even when their performance is worse.

In the public good context, we reject the LA Times article's assumption that students and university staff have opposing interests. We detect a standard public-choice framework, which posits that public employees are there to maximize their own welfare rather than to perform a satisfying and valuable service for a decently supportive salary, which is what we know empirically to be the case.  Public-choice assumptions misstate the problem: the problem is not that university staff have excessive pensions at the expense of the customer-student because bureaucracies defeat market discipline; the problem is that the system of public-good activities--learning, researching, disseminating knowledge--has been underfunded and continuously stressed.   We will not cut part of our employees' total compensation on the basis of an incorrect paradigm.

Since the University and society work together in a common public enterprise, we need to disclose what the funding does and explain how the institution works.  We have not been doing this well. This is largely because we don't trust the political system to grasp the history and rationale of policies unique to universities (like supplemental summer salaries for sponsored research) before they starting kicking those policies around as political footballs. We are always afraid of retaliation and have a duty to protect the university from it.  And yet we realize that we have increased public distrust by how we handle negative findings like those of the UCOP audit.  We know the price of selective disclosure is far too high, and we will end the practice of not disclosing budgetary information until we are sued or threatened with lawsuits, as was the case with the pension story. Non-disclosure blocks practical reforms by cutting us off from shared public-good goals.  Secrecy protects bad practices and thus prevents us from protecting a good overall policy.  So while pensions above $100,000 are justified (2), and their increase (3) can be traced to demographics, the spiked Yudof pension (5), was not.  We can tell you why we thought the Yudof deal was a good idea at the time, but we won't be doing such things again.  

The same goes for the 20 year pension "holiday."  This was sustained in an attempt to compensate UC faculty and staff for substandard salaries. They were below market value then, and they remain at least 10 percent below peer levels today.  We should have ended this practice much sooner, and both employees and employer are paying high costs out of pocket to make up for this mistake.  The state saved quite a bit of money from the pension holiday too.  When we place the Dolan article in a public good frame, we can see that the real issue is for all parties to contribute to keeping the retirement system solvent.  The University and its employees are doing their part: only the state rejects an ongoing commitment. A public good framework makes a state contribution natural. 

More generally, we won't engage in practices we can't defend in our overall philosophical framework, in which any practice must be able to withstand full disclosure.  At the same time, all practices that survive this test will be fully defended by us.   

Finally, our core public good is the creation and dissemination of advanced knowledge. In this context, we must insist that coverage follows full academic standards.  Here Jack Dolan's article falls short.  Dolan puts out large numbers without context. For example, 5400 pensions above $100,000 is  less than 10 percent of the over 60,000 former employees now receiving pensions (UCRP page 4). The average professional/support staff pension is $33,000; the average senior professional pension is under $60,000; even faculty, who mostly don't have 30 years of UC service, receive on average under $83,000. Mark Yudof and the other big pensions do not represent the system.  The article's cherry-picking of examples is a classic error, though it feeds the private-good paradigm that underwrites Dolan's analysis.  We will apply the same standards to critiques of us that we apply to our own research and administration.

That's a first draft on a public good frame for the retirement issue, and it could no doubt be improved. But the main point stands.  Reframing would give the public a new way of thinking about a scandal-plagued system. It could get them focused on UC's real problems and interested in actually fixing them.  And it has a better chance of breaking the doghouse cycle that the defenses we rely on now.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 5

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Tuesday, September 26, 2017
In the aftermath of the failure of Milofest, the Berkeley Faculty Association has written an op-ed that raises important questions about the relationship between free speech, academic freedom, and political attacks on the university.  As the BFA notes:

Freedom of speech is one foundational principle of the public university. Academic freedom is another. Since 1964, when the UC Berkeley administration was successfully challenged by the Free Speech Movement to extend First Amendment protections to campus space, the university has had to balance the obligation to allow citizens’ speech against the commitment to academic freedom. As a public entity, UC Berkeley must respect the airing of diverse viewpoints; as a higher learning institution, UC Berkeley must protect its autonomy from political interference and harassment. Increasingly, the threat to the campus’ autonomy, on which academic freedom depends, derives not from government legislators—as in the era of the FSM, when former UC President Clark Kerr and former UC Berkeley chancellor Edward Strong were faced with adjudicating competing obligations to free speech and academic freedom. Rather, the threat increasingly derives from private interests hostile to the university’s mission of research and teaching.

You can read the entire statement at the DAILY CAL

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 3

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sunday, September 10, 2017
Trump presides as the King of Pain, inflicting turmoil and loss on others, seemingly without effort or long-term benefit.  Last week the pain came from his administration's termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program this coming March.  The idea seems to be to threaten the program's 800,000 recipients with impeding job loss and deportation while the Congress that made DACA necessary by failing to pass immigration reform works again on passing immigration reform.

In "The Psychic Toll of Trump's DACA Decision," Karla Conejo Villavicencio writes,
Spreading fear and anxiety, of course, is part of the administration’s plan. Thomas Homan, the acting director of ICE, recently said: “If you’re in this country illegally and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable. You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.”
The renewed fear comes to a community that already leads a kind of lower-caste life bounded by suffering.
Undocumented life in America is hard on the mind and body. Poverty, precarious employment, poor access to health care, discrimination and trauma from the migration itself often lead to disorders like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Access to mental health treatment is scant, the demands of simply surviving are overwhelming, the fear of being discovered discourages people from seeking care, and the stigma of mental illness has perpetuated a culture of silence that only worsens the suffering. . . . All of the immigrants I have interviewed and known throughout my life seem to accept chronic exhaustion, low self-esteem, fear and panic, low moods and fits of crying as normal for the melancholic migrant struggling to subsist without being arrested. 
DACA was intended to give limited relief to one set of undocumented US residents: those who were brought to the U.S. by their parents as minors (under age 16) before 2007. It authorises two-year renewal work permits and "defers removal proceedings."  It was implemented in 2012 with a major assist from UC president Janet Napolitano when she was Barack Obama's Secretary of Homeland Security. The program has been generally popular: in 2013, back before he ran for president, Trump met with Dreamer activists (above; photo credit: Estuardo Rodriguez).

In the wake of the announcement, Janet Napolitano has gone one step further. She and the UC Regents are suing the Department of Homeland Security to prevent it from ending DACA.  The lawsuit claims that DACA is being terminated through an "unreasoned executive whim" that violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Administrative Procedures Act.  In her op-ed explaining her decision, Napolitano writes that the Department of Justice
offers no rationale based on the merits of DACA itself, but rather on the purported illegality of a separate program with different rules and aimed at different immigrants (the parents of DACA-eligible young people), a program that never went into effect. That justification is flat out wrong. The DACA program was a legal exercise of the department’s prosecutorial discretion and no court has found DACA to be invalid. 
In fact, in 2014, the Department of Justice office that reviews the constitutionality of executive branch actions determined that DACA was lawful. Now the Trump administration’s DOJ offers no reasoned analysis for its about-face.
Like many other university heads, Napolitano had already denounced the decision to end the DACA program while affirming the continuation of DACA-related legal, financial aid and advising programs (UC's are also summarised here; UCSB's Undocumented Student Services page is here).  In addition, she had confirmed that UCOP was
Directing campus police not to contact, detain, question or arrest individuals based on suspected undocumented status, or to enter agreements to undertake joint efforts to make arrests for federal immigration law violations.
Other universities, including the Cal State system, were already declining to cooperate with immigration officials, prompting threats of retaliation from some officials (e.g. Texas).  The University of California now becomes the first to sue, with standing to sue grounded in the harm done to its 4000 DACA students.

In the meantime, DACA students, please note: "Students whose legal status expires before or on March 5 can renew their two-year DACA status if they apply before October 5."    USCIS information is here.

I'm glad Napolitano has put UC out in front on this issue.  DACA was a patch on an immigration reform process that had been broken by congressional Republicans, and the patch should stay where it is.

But there's also quite a bit of politics to get through, and then a self-made trap for universities, with which I'll conclude.

First, the politics, which have shifted in favor of DACA.  In an echo of the lawsuits against the Muslim travel ban, the attorneys general of 15 states are suing the Trump administration to block DACA's termination, "citing Trump's racial animus."   The White House was already divided on termination, as Trump himself seems to be: his varying statements include suggestions that he would sign future DACA legislation sent to him by Congress and that for the 6 month period leading up to termination, DACA people "have nothing to worry about."  Silicon Valley supports DACA, as does the business wing of the Republican Party, as does every Democratic elected official who has spoken on the matter, as do many governors, mayors, city councils, police chiefs, school district heads, church leaders, and so on. So does two-thirds of the general public.  Ending DACA is turning out to be another unpopular thing that this popularity-obsessed president has done.   He has also done it after hurricane Harvey had devastated southeast Texas and as hurricane Irma was steaming towards Florida.  He did it at the start of a nasty political autumn when he will need solid support from both parties to raise the debt ceiling among other unpleasant political tasks.  DACA back-pedaling may be commencing soon.

Why did he do it then?  The simple answer is that the unifying principle of Trump's worldview is white supremacy. (See Ta-Nehisi Coates' piece, "Our First White President" if you need convincing, or even if you don't.)  More narrowly, his clear "racial animus" made it easier for him to take DACA students hostage to exchange for Democratic support for a border wall.  This is one motive for the timing of the announcement, though too many members of both parties hate this exchange for it to work.

A second motive for Sessions and Trump is that they are losing the immigration issue in the court of public opinion. They must have assumed that white identity politics would keep the base stirred up after it had put them over the top last November.  And yet there was no groundswell to defend the Muslim ban.  There was very limited excitement on the Right--and a fair amount of embarrassed condemnation--after the white supremacist show of force in Charlottesville last month. Charlottesville's immediate effect was to grow the size of anti-Trump counterprotests to proportions that made the Trump fans hard to find.

Trump's anti-immigration stance has not actually built a coalition beyond his base of a quarter to a third of voters.  Though immigration reform politics are complicated, and racism is a steady baseline,  the overall public is not anti-immigrant.  In the most recent national poll, a majority objected to Trump's pardon of Latino-abusing former sheriff Joe Arpaio and, in addition to supporting DACA by a two to one margin, favored some "path to citizenship" for all undocumented residents by nearly three to one (71 percent).  Americans are now more likely to favor increased immigration than they were in 1986 when Ronald Reagan signed the last "path to citizenship" immigration bill.

Still worse for Trump, DACA has been doing four things to erode support for a hardline anti-immigration position.

It has rebranded young Latino immigrants as the new "model minority"--the young Americans next door.

It has appealed to the American desire to side with the innocent, which helps it to see itself as innocent.  (For example, it is easier to admit child refugees from a Honduras made more lethal by Hillary Clinton's support for the 2009 coup against elected president Manuel Zelaya than to confront destructive U.S. policies in Latin America.)

Third, DACA has shown that diverse societies work. Integration is simply more practical as well as more humane than deportation, which seems particularly oafish and stupid in relation to DACA recipients.  Everyday life has tended to cut through the economic debate about whether immigrant labor is competitive with or complementary to native-born labor. Wherever the economy is functioning well, actual practice is an interdependent non-zero sum.

Finally, DACA has been showing that government programs can solve awkward social issues and reduce specific miseries. That fact on the ground disputes the Right's overall world view.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a lifelong race politician, and is no doubt aware of all this.  His announcement of the DACA termination sought to broaden termination's appeal on three points.

He stated that a "lawful immigration policy that serves the national interest" prohibits an "open border policy." Second, he stressed DACA's vulnerability to "legal and constitutional challenges," saying that his review found it to be inconsistent with the Constitution's separation of powers. He said he was establishing an orderly wind-down that would give Congress time to act if it so chose.  Third, he claimed that a "lawful and constitutional immigration policy" will "further economically the lives of millions who are struggling."

Sessions thus combined a "nation of laws" defense with a reference to Trump's fabled promises to bring back American jobs.  The overall point was to affirm that DACA residents are generally good people while rejecting Obama's executive order as undermining constitutional law and hurting citizen employment.

In the coming weeks, Sessions will try to appeal to people who know they too come from immigrants, who feel badly about pulling the ladder up now, but who worry about open borders, foreign disorder, ignored lawbreaking, and the scarcity of well-paying jobs.  He will also position defenders of DACA students as lawbreakers themselves. He'll specifically go after universities as a class, saying they think they are too good to follow the same laws that apply to everybody else.   He'll build on the Right's established vision of  universities as part of a liberal elite that has let middle-class jobs disappear while asserting their own special privileges.

To stay ahead of this issue, universities are going to have to do three things--three things in addition to the basic critique of such things as Sessions' own rationales The economic debate (e.g. Borjas v Krugman) must continue, but it has been fought to a draw that does little to affect people's sense of their economic experience. 

The first is have a good offense, and Napolitano's lawsuit provides it. It claims that legal procedure was broken not by universities like UC but by Sessions himself.  She is also a Democrat with a  unique claim to the "nation of laws" argument: she was a central player when Obama increased border enforcement and deported more undocumented migrants than any other president in history, and this record produced protests of her UC hire by the immigrants rights community that she sides with on DACA.  It will be hard for Sessions to position the UC lawsuit as emerging from someone who's soft on illegal immigration.

Second, colleges and universities will need to do a much better job of achieving racial equality.  Higher education was meant to be part of the solution to race-based discrimination, but decades of cuts and austerity have impoverished the institutions that serve the majority of students of color, starting with community colleges.  For example, there is a clear correlation between grossly unequal funding and unequal graduation rates (see Stage 7 of The Great Mistake or Separate and Unequal for details).  The U.S. has been trying to equalize K-12 funding across school districts for decades, though the egalitarian principle is honored in the breach, and resegregation has been spreading everywhere. Higher ed needs to get serious about embarking on its own equalization project.  The educational boon would be huge.  So would the political benefits for universities: they would associate themselves with inclusive social development via an equality across aggregate populations this is efficient as well as just. 

Third, racially egalitarian development will be credible only if universities break with their implicit 1990s-era economic model that has helped underdevelop much of the country. I mean the Clinton-style knowledge economy, which was to deliver general prosperity and instead produced stagnant wages for three-quarters of the workforce while devolving whole regions at a time.  Democrat consent to low tax dogma, supported by leaders in tech and finance, has eroded the infrastructure and public services that would have held economy and society together.  At the same time, universities have made their own workforces into microcosms of the dual economy that most voters hate: faculties are divided between a shrinking tenured elite and the contingent masses who comprise about 70 percent of the instructional workforce.  Administrative bloat has not stopped the same segmentation in non-teaching staff: UCSF made national news this year by outsourcing to an offshore company exactly the kind of information technology jobs that universities are supposed to prepare their students to have.  For the general public to care about universities's views on economics and immigration, they will need to set a better example.

In any case, the fates of universities and immigrants are intertwined.  Universities only make sense as a public good grounded in tax-based public systems that support full social development; similarly, immigrant and non-immigrant labor thrive together only in a social ecology sustained by strong, equitably distributed services in health, education, housing, transportation, and employment.  The same degradation of the public sector that has damaged public universities has intensified an artificial competition between immigrant and non-immigrant labor.  Universities could do a better job of using their own scholars's research--represented by the quotations with which I began--to show the range of both market and non-market contributions that immigrants have always been making.

I realize these last two points are a reach, and require new top-level strategy.  But though the UC lawsuit for DACA is a good start, it has a much better chance of lasting success--and of leading to stability and healing--if universities publicly engage with racial capitalism and the dual economy it has created.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 3

Friday, July 7, 2017

Friday, July 7, 2017
The Office of the President is asking for authority to lower UC's contribution to retiree health benefits.  This reduction would take the form of removing UC's commitment to a payment floor of 70% of aggregate retiree health premiums (7).  This figure had been set as part of the long and public discussion over benefits and debates that surrounded the President's Task Force on Post-Employment Benefits and approved by the Regents in 2010.  That discussion you may recall was long and involved and resulted in a series of steps (including the restarting of University contributions) to help improve the long-term stability of UCRP.  Importantly, at that time employees agreed to what was, in effect, a pay cut through resumption of employee contributions to a retirement system that had been poorly managed by the Regents.  These debates were heated and the results controversial.  But they resulted in what current Senate Chair Chalfant has called an implicit "social contract."  UCOP is now seeking the authority to shred a significant part of that agreement.

Just as striking has been the lack of genuine consultation with either faculty or staff, let alone serious public discussion of the implications of further shifting the burden for retirement costs onto employees.  There was no formal proposal distributed to the Senate for systemwide review; the relevant systemwide Senate committees were only consulted about a related issue concerning a proposed limit of 3% annual cost increases, a proposal not included in the current UCOP request (2) I do not know if any of the staff organizations have been consulted. The Regents item offers no justification for the action: no modeling to suggest its real financial effects on the University or its employees, no consideration of its implications for recruitment and retention and certainly no acknowledgement of the labors and reasons for the establishment of the 70% floor in the first place.

Nor is there any explanation for why circumstances have changed so drastically that UCOP is asking for what seems to be unchecked authority to reconfigure retiree health care.  Indeed, as the Senate notes, it "is also troubling that the proposal will be presented to the Regents Finance and Capital Strategies Committee rather than the Governance and Compensation Committee, which has the topic of benefits in its charter" (2).  The new Regent organization was supposed to provide clearer lines of responsibility and greater transparency of decision making.  This treatment of an issue of broad workplace concern as a technical financial issue does not inspire confidence that that is the case.

For all of these reasons, the Senate, CUCFA, and the CUCEA have opposed this proposal.  They are right to do so.

I cannot leave without noting that, whatever one's perspective and judgement about the State's Audit of UCOP, one clear lesson that I would have thought had been learned was the need for greater transparency about decision making, more open debate about important university issues, and the increased importance of providing reasons.  In pushing this proposal at the July Regents meeting (and it is an action item not a discussion item) UCOP instead is suggesting that the Regents approve an ill defined, inadequately justified rush item whose real implications for the University have not been seriously debated.  If UCOP insists on moving forward with this proposal it cannot be surprised if its already damaged legitimacy among faculty and staff shrinks even further.

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 6

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wednesday, June 28, 2017
If there was ever any doubt that the results of the UCOP audit and the University's response has damaged UC's political standing, the 2017-2018 budget should put those to rest. The Budget displays a remarkable suspicion of UC.  In this post, I want to indicate 3 of the crucial indications of that suspicion.  I hope to discuss some larger questions about the state of UC governance and ways to overcome its evident difficulties in a follow-up post soon.

The bottom line is that the new budget provides less state money directly to campuses while increasing the demands that the State is placing on the system. Let me explain.

1.  The 2017-2018 budget provides an additional $132.2 million increase to the university's base funding.(21)   But at the same time, and contrary to previous practice, the State has declared that $296.4 million of the General Fund support will be used to support the Office of the President. (An additional 52.4 million will go to the ever increasing costs of UCPath). (21) Crucially, these set asides mean that the $348.8 million are not additional monies but must be taken out of the base state funding.  In other words, less General Fund money--which is crucial to support the core--will be going to the campuses.

The Legislature has taken this step because they believe it will provide them greater leverage over OP and also eliminate the burden of the campus assessments that have previously funded the President's office.  I am not persuaded that we want legislators deciding which systemwide programs UC should pursue.  But leaving that issue aside, there are important unintended consequences here. Previously UCOP had been funded through assessments according to calculations on total campus funding, personnel, and students.  This system meant that OP tax was levied on all of the auxiliaries, medical centers, and businesses of the campuses in addition to the core.  Now, in effect, OP is being funded solely by the core. Eliminating the assessments and funding OP through the general fund is designed to lessen the demands on campus resources.  But because auxiliaries are no longer being taxed to support OP this shift may increase the financial constraints on placed on the core functions of teaching and research.  This particular line item does nothing to reduce the costs of UCOP.  The same amount of money is simply being drawn from a more narrow range of university functions--in fact the functions that make a university a university.  Whatever its intent, the legislature has effectively shifted funding from the core to auxiliaries.

Now it is possible that individual campus chancellors will work out some sort of internal tax to transfer money back to the core from the auxiliaries.  But that will be a matter of internal politics and power.  It is also an even less transparent system than we have now since these transfers will differ campus by campus. It will face potential legal obstacles if monies are shifted from overhead to undergraduate teaching.  How all of these changes will effect the uniformity of funding per student that has resulted from rebenching is unclear to me.

2.  At the same time, the budget withholds an additional $50 million until the Director of Finance certifies that UC has met certain specific legislative and gubernatorial demands.  Some of these are easy to accomplish and unobjectionable: progress on implementing the 33 recommendations of the State Auditor that UCOP has already agreed to; eliminate retirement supplements for senior managers; and provide better justification for presidential and systemwide initiatives and clearer budget presentations.

But two are deeply problematic.

The first is the completion of pilot programs in Activity Based Costing already underway at Riverside's College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and to be expanded to two other campuses.  As Chris has discussed, ABC, though claiming simply to be a tool for ensuring that funding goes where it is needed, in practice its effects are to drive universities towards the reduction of costs and the establishment of arbitrary benchmarks (otherwise known as speedups) while sidelining the question of quality.  Equally importantly, as Academic Chair James Chalfant has pointed out, the budgetary demand for ABC intrudes upon the autonomy of academic decisions, "the delivery of the curriculum is an Academic Senate function and the allocation of teaching resources is an academic decision; such decisions are based on academic priorities, and any methods used or choices made to optimize the educational enterprise with available resources must be left to academic departments and schools."

The second is a demand that all campuses achieve a 2-1 first year/transfer ratio in applications (with the exception of Merced and UCSF).  I suspect that this demand has its long term roots in the original Master Plan expectation that lower division students would make up only 40% of the overall undergraduate population. (24)  To achieve that goal, something like a 2-1 structure would have been necessary.  But that expectation was for the system as a whole not for every campus.  UC as whole is on the verge of achieving this 2-1.   The sticking point appears to be that Riverside and Santa Cruz have not been able to meet this benchmark. But all evidence suggests that both campuses have admitted as many transfer students as have met UC requirements (I will leave aside the ridiculous idea of thinking that Riverside, which for decades has been the most important campus for achieving social mobility, is turning away eligible transfer students).  If there was some evidence that these campuses were dragging their feet it would be one thing.  But instead we have an overly rigid demand threatening to reduce UC funding even further.

Both ABC and the Transfer demands are examples of the imposition of ahistorical and non-contextualized demands far removed from the actual practices or local conditions of the university's campuses.

3.  Finally, the budget demands a 1500 undergraduate student increase.  There are no additional funds for this increase, simply a command that money be shifted from systemwide and presidential initiatives. (6440 sec2.2)  Despite all of the talk over the last few years of the growing state support for the system, in reality the state has not been providing adequate funding for the increased student populations and the University has not been directing adequate funding towards faculty and front-line staff to meet the enrollment growth.  I think that all of us are aware of growing class sizes, increased demands on staff, inadequate housing for students etc.  This budget will make things worse.

I'll discuss internal governance issues in my next post.  But for now I think that it is clear that this particular budget is a step backward in maintaining UC quality.  It is a dramatic display of the increasingly broken relationship between UCOP, the Regents, and the State that affects all of us who work or study at the University.

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 3