UC Berkeley Professor’s Letter to Students

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit: Network-Democracy

As a recent graduate, I can empathize with the college students of California and their situation. As an upcoming master’s students–well, it’s also my problem and my situation. And despite reports of the Great California Garage Sale, I’m not sure if it’ll help us students out. Please read the letter by Catherine M. Cole, a professor at UC Berkeley. In her letter to students, she talks about the current state of the California budget crisis and how it relates to the faculty, to students, to the UC Office of the President, to the Academic Senate, pay rolls, current actions that are being taken, and so much more. University senates from other campuses are also mentioned.

The following letter is not my own, nor was it sent to me. It was simply a repost to spread the word. Please also repost this and share it withother students to let them know the current state.

August 30, 2009

Dear students,

As you know, the State of California and the University of California are presently in a major funding crisis. The full landscape of this situation only really became clear in late June/early July 2009, which was precisely the time I (like many other faculty_ was leaving the country to conduct my research. I followed as best I could the emerging situation via email: The State of California failed yet again to pass a budget, so the university along with a host of other social services must cope with a sudden and very large cut in state funding. The President of all ten campuses, Mark Yudof, went to the UC Regents in July to ask for the power to declare a state of fiscal emergency, a power which was granted. And furloughs have been instituted along with an 8% pay reduction for all staff and faculty, along with fee hikes for students. We are all reeling from the suddenness and unprecedented nature of these changes.

I write today because there is a great mobilization effort going on at this very moment, including a union-organized “no confidence vote” for UC President Yudof being held on our campus right now through September 2 (details at the end of this letter). The coming months are going to be a time of tumult, and this is going to impact our educational activities together.

There is talk of a UC-wide system walk out in September. There is talk of “teach in” about the budget crisis in October. And there is talk of a formal Academic Senate vote of no confidence.

We face a complex and confusing set of challenges, and while I cannot claim in any way to be an expert, I present below as succinctly as possible my assessment of the situation, and the basis for my opinion that President Yudof’s handling of this situation is deeply disturbing and destructive. I can live with a budget cut. I can live with a pay decrease for one year, two years, or even three. But I cannot tolerate a fundamental alteration of the core values of the University of California, the institution I have chosen to make my academic home—and that is what I see President Yudof enacting in the past few months.

As someone who has worked for the University of California for 13 years, I can say without reservation I LOVE this university and have chosen to work here, turning down offers to work other places. I believe deeply in our public mission, and the twin values of access and excellence that are central to our goals. I am proud to work for a campus of the UC that is ranked by many as the number one public university in America. I am especially proud and honored to have the opportunity to teach our extraordinary graduate students here at Berkeley, and I know for many of them, Berkeley’s twin values of access and excellence are the main reason they chose us over other institutions. I deeply value the fact that our undergrad student body is remarkably diverse. Berkeley has more students on Pell grants (government grants that fund students with the least economic resources) than all the Ivy League schools put together. Many of my undergrad students are the first in their families to get a higher education. Many of them are working, sometimes even full time, to put themselves through college. They approach our exchange together in the classroom as a privilege rather than an entitlement, and it is MY privilege to teach them because they are so committed, bright, and curious. I went into university teaching because of the ideals and values that guide my encounters with students every day. I did not choose this job for the money. I am distressed and deeply concerned that administrators at the top level of the University of California are using the present budget crises of the University of California to fundamentally alter the focus and mission of the university in ways that are instrumentalist and utilitarian, and show little respect for the role of the liberal arts in producing effective and thoughtful citizens.

I am also concerned about the way the current administration shows a lack of respect for shared governance. Each UC campus has an Academic Senate whose membership includes all tenure-track faculty members. This body shares power with the deans/chancellors and other administrators, with various committees intimately involved in decisions about budget, hiring, promotion, tenure and all matters in regards to curriculum. “The Academic Senate operates as a legislative body and as a system of faculty committees. UC has a dual-track system of authority and responsibility which presumes that faculty are best qualified to chart the University’s educational course, while the administrators are most competent to direct its finances and organization. In practice, these domains overlap and are interdependent. To function successfully, faculty and administrators depend on a high level of consultation, trust, mutual respect and a tradition of collegial collaboration.” (From UCSC senate website)

The mechanisms in place for our university operations are relatively transparent and democratic, and because of this the University of California has been, historically, a fair and good place to get tenure. This is something that I love to brag about when we are recruiting new junior faculty. Unlike most private universities, one’s path through the tenure process is clearly articulated. There are checks and balances all along the way. A candidate can request copies of pivotal assessment documents, and he or she has recourse to appeals. What this means is that one’s future is not contingent upon one key relationship: that between the untenured professor and his or her chair or dean. Compared to many private universities, UC faculty is relatively protected from having personal vendettas or patronage relationships determine their futures. This shared governance system doesn’t operate quickly. It’s slow, deliberate, with a lot of smart people weighing in, keeping the organization’s eyes both on the fiscal bottom line and the core values of academic excellence and integrity that are central to our mission.

Shared governance was suspended on July 17 when President Yudof received the endorsement of the Regents to declare a State of Emergency. (See Regents’ Item J1:http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/regents/aar/julj.pdf) At the same time, he formed something called the “Gould Commission” which is supposed to redefine the future of the University of California. This commission is to “change how we do business,” in the words of Yudof. (See http://www.newu.uci.edu/main/article?slug=letter_to_the_editor195 for a thoughtful grad student response to this). It is the centrality of the word “business” in Yudof’s phrasing that sends a clear indication of the direction that future will take if we decide to follow his leadership. I didn’t go into a “business” when I decided to pursue a PhD. I went into a profession—the profession of higher education. This profession is built around the core values of teaching, research and service.

The composition of Gould Commission included in its first iteration not one professor from the Colleges of Letters and Sciences on the 10 UC campuses. Faculty representation on the commission (which was minor) came only from the professional schools: business, law, and medicine. The signal this sends is that professional degrees will be central to the future of the UC, but historic disciplines like biology, art, physics, literature, math, anthropology, sociology, linguistics, theatre and rhetoric are not important. Such a commission would historically within the UC NEVER have been formed without consultation through the shared governance structures, which include Academic Senates on all 10 campuses AND a UC-wide academic senate. But since we are in a state of emergency, the President has the power to do, essentially, whatever he wants, and he can do so without consultation, transparency, or any kinds of checks and balances. The question is: will we let him do this? And for how long?
As if the agenda of the July 17 Regents meeting wasn’t full enough, in addition to declaring a state of emergency and instituting a mandatory furlough and pay reduction for staff and faculty, the Regents also spent time approving executive pay increases for a number of senior administrators. So at the very time the Regents are asking the faculty and staff to accept lower salaries and asking students to accept significant fee increases, the Regents are rewarding senior administrators for a “job well done.”
On the issue of UC executive pay see:

SF Chronicle Article on UC exec pay
“Who are the high earners in the UC system?” from President of UC-AFTE union

To quote one excerpt from website: “What all of these statistics tell us that that UC does not have a budget problem; it has an out-of-control compensation problem. Moreover, it is the people at the top, just 1.5% of the employees (out of a total of 240,000 workers) who make 11% of the total compensation, and this group increased its wealth by close to 40% in just two years.”

And just fyi: all UC salaries are a matter of pubic record: http://ucpay.globl.org See for yourself how much our sports coaches make!

The rationale for executive pay increases is, apparently, a desire to retain our top administrators. What does not seem to register with President Yudof is that retention of quality faculty is something he should be extremely concerned about. It is the research and teaching prowess of this faculty that have given the University of California its top ratings. Other universities are now looking to California as a place to raid faculty talent, as this article from Texas makes clear:
“Texas universities should capitalize on California’s budget shortfall”

To build up a world-renowned faculty with researchers and departments ranked number one or within the top ten nationally takes decades to achieve. But such a reputation can be undone in a very short time. If the administration mismanages a fiscal crisis–as is clearly happening under President Yudof’s failed leadership in his short but destructive tenure as President of the University of California—this will be our future. And the consequences of this impact everyone who has the University of California’s name attached to their resumes and degree qualifications! Students and alumni have a very particular role to play in protecting the reputation of the institution that confers their degrees.

President Yudof’s handing of the implementation of the furlough plan has been confusing and contradictory, and shows little respect for the consultative process of shared governance upon which the University of California is founded. In response to the Regent’s/Yudof’s furlough legislation, the system-wide faculty Academic Senate Executive Council made the following recommendation:

“Council weighed the benefits and limitations of using and not using instructional days as furlough days, as well as the appropriate level of campus flexibility in making these decisions. While Council members acknowledge that students are already being negatively impacted through increased fees, staff reductions, and loss of services on furlough days, the Academic Council unanimously supported the concept that furloughs should affect instructional days. In particular, Council members noted that faculty members perform the following three activities—teaching, research, and service, and that all three should be affected by the furlough program. It also is important to acknowledge that faculty are evaluated in terms of their performance in their teaching, research, and service; excluding furlough days from any one of these areas may unfairly hurt the faculty in merit and promotion reviews. Finally, the Academic Council felt it was important to send a message that budget cuts do in fact negatively impact the University’s instructional mission.”
But the Office of the President did not agree. Despite the fact that the original language on the furlough vote by the Regents indicated that each campus would have latitude and flexibility to devise their own furlough implementation plan, the UC Office of the President recently declared furloughs could not be taken on instructional days—and this pronouncement came just days before those of us here at Berkeley had to begin teaching, after our syllabi had been written.

The tone and nature of such pronouncements from the Office of the President on this and other matters (including a new fee policy for non-resident graduate students that presents significant hardships for international students) shows a consistent lack of respect for the consultative, democratic way in which the University of California has historically conducted its operations. In addition, Yudof’s new policies and decrees are not being delivered in a timely, coherent fashion, and thereby the administration is creating additional confusion and stress. Not surprisingly, the Office of the President’s high-handed, authoritarian (not to mention disorganized) approach has met with swift and vociferous objections by the executive of the Academic Senates at UC Santa Cruz and UCSB. See their open letters:

Santa Barbara Senate Response

Santa Cruz Senate Response
(See “Senate Executive Cte on Interim Provost Pitts’ Furlough Plan”)
I believe that the way in which the President Yudof is operating is deeply destructive to the values and mission that have guided the University of California for over 140 years, and have made it one of the most respected, leading centers of learning in the world. I have never witnessed anything remotely like what is going on now in my 13-year career in the UC system, and those who have worked here much longer than I have (like 30+) feel even more dismayed.
California has been in trouble for along time financially. And this history is not President Yudof’s fault, nor is it Governor Schwarzenegger’s. Our problems date back at least as far as the 1970s when Proposition 13 was passed. This legislation put a cap on property tax rates and reduced them by an average of 57%. It also instituted a new policy that requires a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses for future increases in all state tax rates or amounts of revenue collected, including income tax rates. It is the 2/3 majority that has severely hampered our state’s ability to pass a budget as of late. In addition, since 1991 the state has consistently cut corporate taxes, so that the tax burdens falls disproportionately on individuals.

What has been the impact of this on education? Here are some details that give a sense of the larger implications:
1. California is ranked very low in terms of per capital spending on K-12 pupils:

2. California’s K-12 classrooms are the most crowded in the country

3. California students’ ability to participate in our own higher education system has been severely eroded.

So clearly, the problems we are facing are substantial and far bigger than the failures of one incompetent senior administrator. However I would argue that it is precisely because the problems in the State of California are so significant and their implications for higher education are going to be so profound we need at this moment more than ever to have competent leadership in the Office of the President of the University of California. We need leaders who will keep the historic mission that has led our university to such greatness firmly in view. Yes, we will need to change our operations. Yes, we will need to streamline. Yes, we will need to reconsider fundamental structures and procedures of our operations. But our mission of public education and shared governance is not the source of our current problems.Our historic priorities of access, excellence and shared governance must be, at this moment, more central than ever to our administration’s handling of this crises. These values are the source of our greatness. I do not believe that the current University of California President, Mark Yudof, shares or respects these values, and for this reason I urge you to cast a vote in between now and September 2 that reflects our University community’s lack of confidence in him.
You can do so via the following voting stations:

Berkeley Campus Polling Schedule
AFT and CUE will host tables for polling in front of Moffitt Libary/Free Speech Movement Cafe during the noon hour on
Monday, Aug. 31
Wednesday, Sept. 2
Other unions:
AFSCME-hosted polling places, Thursday, Aug. 27
11:30 am to 6 pm Bancroft & Telegraph
12 to 1 pm University Village
8:30 to 9:30 Dwinelle Hall
2:30 to 3:30 LBNL cafeteria
UPTE-hosted polling places
Aug 27-Sept 2 at Westgate (Center/Oxford) early morning before work
Aug 27-Sept 2 at Telegraph/Bancroft, noon-1:00
Aug 28-Sept 2 at Northgate (Hearst/Euclid) noon-1:00
Sept 2 at College/Bancroft at noontime
Sept 1-2 at Yali’s/Stanley Hall at noontime

The text of the resolution is located at this website: http://www.upte.org/noconfidence/UnionsCallforVote.pdf

Catherine M. Cole, Professor
University of California

Photo Credit: Network-Democracy


Leave a comment

Filed under Issues/Causes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s