California Trains Professors To Avoid ‘Microaggressions’

University of CaliforniaUniversity of California president Janet Napolitano’s office has been training faculty members at the University of California to avoid describing America as a “land of opportunity,” along with other phrases the school claims are offensive “microaggressions.”

According to activists, “microaggressions” are subtle actions, usually unintentional, that perpetuate discrimination against disadvantaged groups even in environments where overt discrimination has been abolished. Now, the UC system has fully committed itself to formally training faculty to avoid and root out these perceived microaggressions for the good of all.

The attack on microaggressions is the centerpiece of a series of faculty leadership seminars carried out by Napolitano’s office at several campuses across the UC system. One document used in the seminars is titled Tool: Recognizing Microaggressions and the Messages They Send, and lists dozens of menacing microaggressions for faculty to avoid.

One of the largest categories of microaggressions are those that that promote the “myth of meritocracy.” According to the document, this “myth” is spread by statements such as “America is the land of opportunity,” “I believe the most qualified person should get the job,” and “Affirmative action is racist.”

Other examples of sinister microaggressions, according to the guide, include:

  • Describing America as a “melting pot” (it orders people to assimilate)
  • Stating that “there is only one race, the human race” (denying the significance of a person’s ethnic or racial history)
  • Asking Asians, Hispanics, or Native Americans to speak up more (“pathologizing” foreign norms and treating white norms as “normal”)
  • Using “he” as a generic pronoun for all people (it makes the male experience universal and the female experience “invisible”)
  • Using forms where individuals must identify as male or female (it excludes the full LGBT experience)

The guide was used in faculty training sessions for UC faculty members throughout the 2014-15 school year, but its contents only recently drew more widespread attention when one professor notified The College Fix about the materials.

A PowerPoint used for seminar in April shows the dramatic tollvUC believes even a single microaggression take on students. Even a simple compliment, such as calling a student “articulate,” can set off a cascade of self-doubt and anxiety for the recipient

A second document instructs faculty on the proper ways to intervene against microaggressions. For example, if a person commits the offense of starting a sentence with “You people”, a suggested reaction is to say “I was so upset by that remark that I shut down and couldn’t hear anything else.”

Microaggressions aren’t the only threat faculty have been taught to mind. Another document, the Tool for Identifying Implicit Bias, instructs faculty how to avoid being biased in evaluations or hiring decisions. The document singles out phrases such as “hard worker” as being “euphemisms” for bias that must be rooted out.

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Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

Gov. Brown Walks the Budget Tightrope

jerry-brownGov. Jerry Brown has unveiled the highly-anticipated revision to his annual state budget, teeing up final spending negotiations in Sacramento — largely with his fellow Democrats.

Despite a resurgence in California’s fiscal fortunes, including tax receipts some $2 billion in excess of estimates, “analysts are warning that California could be headed for more fiscal headaches as soon as next year,” the Wall Street Journal observed. “The state is constitutionally required to spend more on public education as revenue increases. This year’s revenue will establish a spending base for next year, meaning it could be harder for the state to balance its budget if the state’s income declines.”

Brown has made his reputation as governor holding the line on spending against steady pressure from his left. But Brown’s own favorite projects, including California’s high-speed rail plan, received his unwavering support, even drawing money away from expenditures favored by activists.

A selective windfall

Now, Brown has chosen to walk the budget tightrope in a way that will encourage his more profligate allies. Beneficiaries of Brown’s revised budget were set to include poorer Californians, unlawful immigrants and college students, as the San Jose Mercury News reported:

“With billions in better-than-expected revenue, Brown unveiled a $115.3 billion general fund spending plan that creates the state’s first-ever ‘earned income tax credit’ and would pay for Medi-Cal for some immigrants living in the state illegally.”

Brown’s revision also slipped in the results of a long-belabored deal with UC President Janet Napolitano, “who had demanded tens of millions of dollars more for her system to stave off 5 percent tuition hikes in each of the next five years,” as the Mercury News recalled.

But the revised budget plan went well beyond those measures, touching policy areas that have bedeviled Brown throughout much of his time in office.

Prison reform

Brown, for instance, used the revision to forge ahead with reforms to California’s prison system, which has been a virtual albatross around his neck since the Supreme Court ordered the state to reduce its crowded incarcerated population.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, the new budget revision “calls for shrinking the number of inmates housed outside California in the next year by 4,000 — reducing related state spending by $73 million. As of this week, the state had a little more than 8,000 inmates in private prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma, and another 6,250 prisoners in contracted lockups within the state.”

According to the Times, the cuts became possible because of the impact of Proposition 47, which thinned prisons’ ranks largely by slashing penalties and jail time for drug-related offenses. As CalWatchdog previously reported, although relatively few donors fueled the measure, Prop. 47 won the support of a substantial majority of voters in November.

Mixed reactions

In what has become a hallmark of his tenure in office, reactions to Brown’s adjusted numbers mixed praise with criticism. “We applaud the governor for putting money back into the pockets of those who work hard every day and pay their taxes – it’s the right move,” remarked Assembly Republican Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, according to the Sacramento Bee. But, she added, Brown’s tax credit “will not end widespread poverty. That’s why Assembly Republicans have offered straightforward solutions to reform education and support the modern economy so every Californian can boost their earnings and quality of life.”

From the other side of the aisle, some Democrats registered disappointment with the limitations of Brown’s agreement on school funding. “We are pleased UC students and their families will avoid paying higher tuition next year,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles. “But CSU, the workhorse of our higher education system, has been shortchanged. We have to support both of our public institutions of higher learning to make sure college is accessible to as many Californians as possible.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Future of UC System in Hands of “Committe of Two”

Ironically, in the midst of Sunshine Week, designed to create more open government and freedom of information, the “Committee of Two” considering the financial situation of the UC system – Gov. Jerry Brown and University of California President Janet Napolitano – are not forthcoming in revealing details about their negotiations. Despite protests to the contrary, this may be a necessary thing.

Yesterday at the UC Regents’ meeting in San Francisco, both Brown and Napolitano did a two-step around whatever progress is being made in their talks about the proposed tuition increase. Napolitano and the Regents supported tuition increases if the university system did not get more money from the state. Brown refused to be bullied.

Now the two are working on a plan that will try to re-set some university finances without raising tuition or dramatically increasing the state’s contribution. Not an easy task, but they claim they are making progress.

That doesn’t stop critics from demanding the negotiations be more open. As one student was quoted in the Sacramento Bee, “We need a committee that not just represents a committee of two, but a committee of 240,000,” referring to the number of students in the system.

University business

Are private talks setting government plans ever the way to go? Historians have suggested that, if the United States Constitution was cobbled together in open meetings the document would be much different and, they suggest, not better.

Tackling tuition hikes is not the same as constitution writing. However, to continue the broad analogy, what comes out of these private meetings may set a course of change for the way the university does business, just as the long ago constitution-writers went beyond their original assignment of fixing the Articles of Confederation.

I know – a little bit of a grandiose comparison.  But it is quite possible the UC system might look and feel quite different if the negotiators come to an agreement and any proposed changes are approved after debate. Online courses, larger teaching loads for professors and a shorter time to graduation all may alter the university experience as we have come to know it over the last few decades.

Whatever the Committee of Two comes up with would have to withstand vigorous public debate. There is no guarantee any Committee of Two proposal will pass the test. I served on a half-dozen state commissions over the years and few commission recommendations were turned into state policy.

Pensions

One big issue that is affecting all government-related organizations is employee pensions and health costs. When the issue of raising tuition first surfaced, the university’s financial division pointed to pension costs as one of the culprits. That issue must also be part of the negotiations, along with rising retiree health care costs.

We will see if the Committee of Two can come up with any solutions on the pension/health care front that succeed and maybe set the course for reform in this area for other government entities.

One suspects big changes are coming to the UC system. Getting the ball rolling is happening in private.

This piece was originally publish by CalWatchdog.com

UC’s Perfect Storm of Unmet Budgetary Obligations Puts Pressure on Students

With the University of California system in the midst of a tense tuition standoff, budgets have come under renewed pressure in recent weeks. Not only schools, but students and parents, have felt the pain.

As CalWatchdog.com has been reporting, the UC system has been wracked with a series of fiscal setbacks, some self-imposed. A computer system overhaul designed to save $100 million through a $170 million investment has slippedout of budgetary control, currently two years behind schedule and $50 million in the red.

Meanwhile, UC President Janet Napolitano’s insistence on 28 percent tuition hikes over five years has spurred outrage and opposition from students across the university system as well as push-back from Gov. Jerry Brown, also a UC regent. Fueling the frustration, students and teachers alike have run up against such challenges as covering basic living costs.

Health care woes

As the Los Angeles Times reported, promises made to teachers about health care coverage have begun to go unmet:

“California Common Sense, a nonpartisan research group founded at Stanford University, estimates that state government, cities including San Francisco and Los Angeles and the University of California system contribute to $157 billion in statewide retiree health care obligations. Only about $7 billion has been set aside by those surveyed by the group, leaving $150 billion in debt.”

The problem extends throughout California governments. In a study released last December, Controller John Chiang (now the state treasurer) warned:

“The unfunded liability of providing health and dental benefits for state retirees under the current funding policy is $71.8 billion. The amount represents the present-day cost to provide benefits earned as of June 30, 2014, which is expected to be paid over the lifetime of current and future retirees.

“The total unfunded obligation grew $7.2 billion from the $64.6 billion obligation identified as of June 30, 2013.”

Faced with steep costs of living, including for health care, the student population in the Golden State has embraced the Covered California health exchange — the state’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

According to California Healthline, “Researchers released poll results that show dramatically low rates of uninsured students at California State University campuses, including a steep drop in the number of Latino students without insurance.” Since October of 2013, for instance, enrollment rates at Cal State Los Angeles dropped the uninsured rate from 41 percent to just 10 percent.

Free lunch

Just as students have flocked to subsidized health care, an increasing number have sought out free food options in an effort to balance out the cost of tuition and living expenses.

At some UCs, the cost of room and board alone exceeded $14,000 a year. At UC Berkeley, where housing is the fifth most costly in the nation, according to one survey, the figure topped $15,000.

As Southern California Public Radio reported, over the past four years about half of students polled “said they skipped meals to save money ‘occasionally’ to ‘very often.’

“And at UCLA, officials distributed in the last academic year some 3,884 meal vouchers for students in dire circumstances facing a food shortage. In 2012-2013, it gave out 7,562, and 4,652 the year before that. UC Irvine has budgeted for fewer than 100 in the first year of its voucher program.”

Ironically, SCPR observed, as the result of a hunger initiative spearheaded by Napolitano, most of the UC system’s campuses now offer students the use of food pantries.

Competing priorities

The perfect storm of budgetary strains has made its impact felt in Sacramento, where lawmakers haven’t made up their minds how much more cash to allocate to the UCs.

The most recent addition to the UC system, in Merced, opened its doors in 2005. Yet Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, has proposed a big new investment in yet another campus. According to the Sacramento Bee:

“The Los Angeles Democrat announced a bill Monday that would set aside $50 million for a feasibility study, land acquisition and initial building costs for a ‘UC-Tech’ campus centered on science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, as well as the arts.

“‘Now when we have these budget surpluses is the time for bold moves,’ Gatto said.”

But in all likelihood, for most Californians in and out of school, the state has already racked up enough unmet obligations.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Committee Hearing Exposes UC’s Bloated Budget

Tuition hikes marched to the head of the class at a recent hearing of California Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 2 on Education Finance. Assembly members balked at a 28 percent tuition hike advanced by UC President Janet Napolitano and approved by the University of California Board of Regents.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Neither the governor nor the California Legislature has the authority to force the UC regents to rescind the tuition increase.” However, the tuition hike is not included in the January budget proposal of Gov. Jerry Brown, himself also a regent, for fiscal year 2015-16, which begins on July 1.

Chaired by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, the hearing flunked the UC system for wasteful and deceptive spending practices. A video of the hearing is here.

UC’s overall spending has grown by 40 percent to $26.9 billion since 2007, according to a report prepared for the Feb. 18 meeting. UC’s expenditures for instruction grew by 27 percent to $6.9 billion.

Yet during that same period:

  • Undergraduate enrollment by California residents increased just 4 percent.
  • Overall enrollment, including graduate and out-of-state students, increased 15 percent to more than 248,000 students.
  • Inflation increased about 12 percent.
  • The Higher Education Price Index, which measures the costs of goods and services typically purchased by U.S. colleges, increased about 18 percent.

Tuition increase

To help pay for UC’s spending increase, tuition increased 84 percent between 2007 and 2011. In Nov. 2014, the UC Board of Regents increased tuition and fees an additional 5 percent annually over the next five years to $15,564 from the current $12,192, pending legislative approval. The compounded increase is 28 percent.

Much of that tuition is supported by state taxpayers in the form of Cal Grants, which have increased from $295 million in 2007 to $882 million currently.

Some of the biggest cost drivers are employee salaries and benefits, retiree benefits and an increase in the hiring of administrators, according to the report:

  • “The number of highly paid UC employees has grown significantly. Nearly 6,000 UC employees earn gross pay of $200,000 or more. [T]he number of these employees has grown by almost 100 percent during that period, and overall pay to this group amounted to $1.8 billion in 2013.
  • “[A]dministrative staff, both in academics and other areas, grew far faster than faculty and faster than overall staff growth.” Tenure-track faculty increased just 3 percent from 2007-14, while senior management ballooned 32 percent and academic administrators grew by 19 percent.
  • UC believes its faculty members are underpaid in comparison with other universities. On average, UC’s full professors receive $150,455, associate professors make $98,804 and assistant professors get $91,155.
  • Pension benefits for more than 61,700 retirees and survivors total about $1.3 billion in the current year.
  • Employee health care costs grew between 8 percent and 11 percent annually from 2007 to 2012. Cost increases have slowed since then, but are expected to rise 6 percent this year. In addition, UC spent more than $263 million on retiree health benefits in 2014. The current unfunded liability for retiree health care is $14 billion.

The UC spending boost, tuition hikes and requests for more state government funding have created pushback in Sacramento.Gov. Jerry Brown and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, are both UC regents and voted against the tuition hikes in November.

Brown has offered a 4 percent increase ($119.5 million) in General Fund support for UC. But only if there is no tuition hike, out-of-state enrollment doesn’t increase and UC begins to rein in costs. Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano have been meeting to work out their differences, with a report expected at the UC Board of Regents‘ meeting March 17-19.

Focus on students

At the start of the subcommittee hearing, Atkins emphasized the need for UC to get its spending in order.

“I announced in December that we would be looking at every aspect of the University of California’s budget,” Atkins said. “Every dollar appropriated [should be] spent for the intended purpose and in the right way. We will have open public hearings that are student-focused, looking at how much it really costs to educate students at UC and how we maximize UC’s acceptance of California students. No Californian should be priced out of UC.

“The state must do our best to make higher education a top budget priority. UC must do its part and become more efficient, enroll more Californians and not place increases on the backs of California students. Today marks the start of an overdue journey – a journey that will continue throughout the budget process for as long as it takes.”

Most of the testimony from witnesses at the meeting, with the exception of the UC representative, contended UC is not spending its money wisely or transparently. Paul Golaszewski, principal fiscal and policy analyst at the Legislative Analyst’s Office, led off by taking issue with UC’s contention that its professors are underpaid.

“We looked at data on faculty recruitment and retention over a number of years and concluded that it appeared that at the salary levels and the compensation levels they were offering, they had a very low turnover rate for faculty, something like 2 percent a year,” Golaszewski said. “It appeared that they were still able to get the types of faculty that they needed.”

He told the committee that it’s hard to know exactly what UC professors are doing to earn their salaries.

“Faculty workload data is much more difficult to come by,” he said. “We do have data on the student-to-faculty ratio. But that’s not telling you how much faculty are teaching. The University doesn’t track that data, the federal government doesn’t track that data. So that’s an area you might want to drill down and get a better understanding moving on.”

Undergraduates

Charles Schwartz, a retired UC Berkeley physics professor, has spent years analyzing and critiquing UC’s budgeting practices. His analysis concludes that UC spends an average of $7,500 per student on undergraduate instruction.

“They are charging undergraduates [tuition that is] almost twice what it actually costs them to provide undergraduate education,” said Schwartz. “That doesn’t sound right. What we face here is not just a UC habit of bad accounting, but a longstanding disease that infects all universities in this country. And this grossly distorts any discussion about student tuition, which is a big thing. People talk about it, but nobody says the truth about what’s going on.

“If you do not acknowledge the cost of that, and go about hiding that cost on the tuition bills of undergrads, this is not right. The challenge I bring to you is what can be done about it. The first thing you have to do must be to resolve the conflict between what I say about UC’s cost structure and what the president’s [Napolitano’s] office says it is. You need to find out which one of us is to be believed.”

AFSCME research director

Claudia Preparata, research director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 3299, accused UC of having bloated management and hiding its cost. AFSCME represents 22,000 workers at UC campuses and medical centers.

“While we support more state investment, it needs to be tied to improved transparency and accountability for how UC spends its money,” said Preparata. “This is particularly true for UC executive compensation and the growth of middle management, both of which have come at a real cost to our employees, students and taxpayers. The lack of transparency obscures a redirection of money that used to fund instruction and other student services to [now] increasingly funding six- to seven-figure salaries and a growing army of middle managers.

“The numbers speak for themselves. In 2008 just 293 UC employees received gross pay in excess of $400,000 at a total cost of just $160 million. By 2013, after years of budget cuts and tuition hikes, 793 employees received these paychecks at a total cost of $452 million. During the same time period the cost of extra perks that 250 of UC’s highest paid employees receive – including housing, car allowances, moving costs and cash bonuses – swelled from $17 million to $24 million per year.

“We welcome the Legislature’s increased scrutiny of UC spending alongside a reinvestment in higher education. We believe the scrutiny should not be limited to the explosion of executive compensation, middle management, but also extend to policy directives that have paved the way for decentralizing financial decision making, eliminating transparency and enabling campus administrators to squander scarce resources, including outsourcing of UC career jobs to the lowest bidder with no accountability.”

‘Complex budget’

“It’s a very, very complex budget,” said Nathan Brostrom, the UC executive vice chancellor-chief financial officer. He believes UC has been a good steward of its funds. He described how UC has improved its pension system, which had been neglected during the financial crisis.

“First, we started contributions and dramatically increased them,” Brostrom said. “In 2009-10 we contributed zero as a university. This last year we contributed $1.3 billion – 14 percent of our employer contributions. That also couples with 8 percent from each employee. Second, we introduced a new pension tier, which increased the retirement age from 50 to 55 and the maximum age factor from 60 to 65. Finally, we also undertook internal borrowing, $2.7 billion, which has helped leverage and shore up the pension system.

“As a result, we have achieved some good results. We are now 87 percent funded, up from the mid-70s just a couple years ago. But we are bearing this entirely on our own. We don’t get any funding from the state for it, unlike any other state agency or the Cal State system.”

Aggressive efforts have also been taken to rein in health-benefit costs, he said. A new system called UC Care “is centered around our own medical centers to curb the costs and keep it in house,” he said. “We also undertook family member eligibility verification. As a result, we were able to contain the costs to 2.3 percent last year and 5 percent this year. And we are forecasting a 5 percent annual increase going forward.”

UC is also ensuring the continuation of in-state enrollment growth of 1 percent per year, or about 2,200 students, at a cost of about $22 million annually, said Brostrom.

Student-faculty ratio

One area that the UC has fallen behind in, due to a lack of funding, is the student-faculty ratio, he said. The ratio has increased to 21:1 from about 19:1 a decade ago.

“We really have not been hiring to replace the faculty members who are either leaving or retiring,” he said. “So there’s a fairly sizable amount that needs to go into new faculty hires. We also want to reinvest in instructional infrastructure, classroom technology and other instructional equipment.”

Brostrom concluded his presentation on an upbeat note. “Something we are most proud of is we are a world class university with very hard working, high achieving students, but we remain accessible to all Californians,” he said. “That’s something we not only maintained but enhanced during the budget crisis.”

Asked about the progress of Brown and Napolitano’s committee meetings, Brostrom said, “It’s been a very constructive process. We’ve been able to hear from experts both within the university and across higher education on different models and ideas. I think there will be things that will be constructive and helpful for the university to serve more Californians. Things that may help us reduce the time to [complete a] degree or increase streamlining of transfers. They may not all lead to cost reductions, but will provide more access to UC for all Californians.”

During the public comments portion of the meeting, numerous students complained about the high cost of tuition. They said it’s forced some students to become homeless, skip meals or work longer hours at a job, shortchanging their studies.

The subcommittee’s next hearing in early March will go into more detail on the UC budget, said committee Chairman McCarty.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

The real reason behind proposed tuition hike at UC

Claiming impossible budget pressures, University of California president Janet Napolitano late last month proposed a tuition increase of up to 5 percent a year for the next five years. A divided university board of regents approved Napolitano’s plan by a vote of 14-to-seven. But Napolitano says the new tuition hikes could be avoided if the state legislature allocates another $100 million in funding to the university in the coming fiscal year. In some states, the former Homeland Security secretary’s demands would be considered extortion. Not in California. UC students and Golden State taxpayers will end up paying the price.

If Napolitano’s plan stands, UC tuition will eventually reach $15,564 a year, not including room, board, and other fees. That’s double the cost from just a decade ago. In inflation-adjusted dollars, UC tuition hasincreased three-fold since 1992. The university has come a long way since its 1960 master plan, which affirmed California’s “long-time commitment to the principle of tuition-free education to residents of the state.”

Napolitano’s proposal met stiff resistance from Governor Jerry Brown, who said at the November 19 board meeting that the university needs to look at cutting existing expenses before demanding more taxpayer dollars. He wants a special commission to convene in early 2015 to look at such cost-saving alternatives as online classes, three-year graduation programs, and course credit for work and military experience. Brown serves as a voting ex-officio member of the regents, along with Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and assembly speaker Toni Atkins. All are liberal Democrats and all voted against Napolitano’s plan. What does it say when even California’s typically profligate Democratic leaders want the university to boost savings rather than tuition?

The politics here are straightforward. In 2012, Brown campaigned for Proposition 30, an ostensibly temporary income- and sales-tax increase that voters approved in large part because of the governor’s veiled threats to slash education programs. The University of California pulled out all the stops to help the governor pass the measure, warning students that tuition could go up as much as 20 percent in a single year without the tax hike. At the same time, Brown agreed to boost the state’s contribution to the university’s budget by 20 percent in exchange for a four-year tuition freeze. But the university would like a larger slice of Prop. 30 revenues—hence the current tuition fight.

Napolitano says her $27 billion budget will allow her to expand course offerings and enroll 5,000 additional students across UC’s ten campuses. But the real driving force behind the tuition hike is the university’s woefully underfunded pension system, which currently serves 56,000 retired employees. It’s a generous system, despite some reductions the university made for new hires in recent years. An Associated Press analysisfound 2,129 retired UC employees collect pensions of more than $100,000 a year; 57 receive more than $200,000; and three receive more than $300,000.

The trouble is UC’s pension system is only 75 percent funded. Why? Because a budget crisis 24 years ago led California’s legislature to end taxpayers’ contributions to the UC pension fund. It was an easy decision to make in the early 1990s, when the university’s finances were still in good shape. But as the Sacramento Bee notes, the regents also “decided to stop making payments on behalf of the university and subsequently relieved employees from having to make contributions as well.” This continued for 20 years. Only during the Great Recession, when university officials found themselves in a deep fiscal hole, did they decide to ramp up pension contributions.

The UC pension fund remains awash in red ink. According to a new reportby Californians for Common Sense, over the past five years “the annual amounts required to fund [UC’s] retirement plans have more than doubled from $1.4 billion to $3.7 billion. The UC system has already borrowed $2.7 billion to help pay down its pension debt.” What’s more, the regents haven’t addressed UC’s unfunded health-care liabilities. As Californians for Common Sense points out: “The university’s retiree healthcare contributions are expected to more than double over the next decade, growing from $363 million in 2014 to $805 million in 2024.” University officials argue that such liabilities are not vested, meaning they can be cut at any time. That may be true, but the university has neither the interest nor the will to take such a dramatic course right now.

Failing to rein in retirees’ pension and health-care benefits only foists more long-term debt onto students. In a November 14 letter to undergraduates, university officials tried to sound a reassuring note: “[I]f tuition does increase, financial aid resources are expected to increase, too.” In reality, easy student financial aid is what drives university profligacy. Look no further than the construction of lavish new dormitories, the massive expansion of campus bureaucracies, and the millions of dollars expended on what City Journal’s Heather Mac Donald rightly describes as “mindless diversity programs.” And contrary to complaints from Napolitano and other university boosters about the state’s “disinvestment” in higher education, taxpayers between 2008 and 2012 contributed an additional $400 million to the CalGrant program, which helps students offset those rising tuition costs. So it’s easy for the university to spend money in the belief that students and taxpayers will keep footing the bill.

That belief won’t hold true forever. Universities are facing unexpected market pressures. As Ohio University economists Richard Vedder and Christopher Denhart argued in the Wall Street Journal, many universities—not just the University of California—face declining demand given students’ growing debt loads and diminished job prospects. That, combined with low-cost online offerings, could lead to some “creative destruction” in higher education. With all the new competition, Vedder and Denhart write, “Excessive spending on administrative staffs, professorial tenure, and other expensive accoutrements must be put on the chopping block.”

Napolitano appears unready and unwilling to hear such sobering advice. But given the pushback by UC students and top elected officials, the bloated University of California system might have to consider those options sooner rather than later.

This article was originally published by City Journal.

Pension crisis divides CA Dems on UC tuition hikes

 

 

Janet_NapolitanoA 14-7 vote yesterday by the full University of California Board of Regents made it official: Golden State Democrats are deeply divided on tuition increases, thanks to the intractable politics of underfunded pensions.

On one side are Democrats who favored the increases, including UC President Janet Napolitano, formerly President Obama’s secretary of the Department of Homeland Security; Regent Richard C. Blum, the husband of long-time U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; and the school’s overwhelmingly Democratic faculty, who seek the tuition hikes to fill their pension plan that is $25 billion underfunded and would benefit from the extra money taken from students.

Napolitano insisted the UC system could not maintain its “vitality” or “stability” without more money from students.

In the 14-7 vote, among those seven opposed were some heavy-hitters in Democratic state politics: Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson — all just re-elected to their offices; and former Speaker John Perez. Also in this camp would be many students who have protested the increases.

Brown went to the extraordinary length of offering his own counterproposal, falling back on the traditional idea of convening a panel of experts to recommend a policy.

Although the split among Democrats has dominated the news, tuition has not been the only issue to introduce party fractures in recent months.

State Democrats previously divided on education in the wake of the Vergara ruling, wherein Judge Rolf Treu ruled that California’s teacher tenure system unconstitutionally violated students’ civil rights. The controversy helped tee up a close and rancorous race between union-backed incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson and his challenger, Marshall Tuck. Both are Democrats.

But a broader range of issues also proved problematic. Environmentalists chafed, for instance, at Brown’s diversion of cap-and-trade fees into the costly high-speed rail project, which wouldn’t help reduce statewide emissions for years.

An open secret

The pensions crisis, however, has been quietly pushing Democrats apart. Outgoing controller and incoming Treasurer John Chiang, encouraged by Gov. Brown, developed a reputation for laying bare the abuses of pension funds like the California Public Employee’s Retirement System, whose pension-sweetening machinations recently drew the ire of the governor.

Chiang’s relatively bold stand has led some observers to speculate he could upset an anticipated struggle between Newsom and Attorney General Kamala Harris to replace Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate two years from now. For the moment, however, Chiang has helped drive a wedge into the Democratic Party by giving political cover to Democrats willing to object to California’s pension burdens. And though the pension issues at the heart of the UC tuition increase have been an open secret, they have yet to receive a commensurate amount of media attention.

As Bloomberg recently reported, the UC system operates an independent $90.7 billion pension fund, underfunded by about 20 percent. The state of California covers the employer’s percentage of pension costs for most state employees, but not for UC teachers.

Nathan Brostrom, UC’s chief financial officer, put the problem to Bloomberg in blunt terms. “Frankly, if the state were to pay that, we would not be proposing a tuition increase,” he said.

But Bloomberg pointed out, “Brown’s budget office says the pension system is independent and lawmakers have no input into how it is structured or the level of benefits provided. If the state were to pay more toward the university’s retirement costs,” Brown’s administration reasoned, “It would essentially be the same as giving them more funding.”

Given Sacramento’s current level of pension obligations — and the fraught politics surrounding the outcome of pension-fueled municipal bankruptcies in cities like Stockton — state Democrats have not been motivated to take on the UC’s massive pension obligations.

Student frustrations

Confusion and a sense of powerlessness among students have deepened the political impact of UC’s pensions.

At San Francisco’s UC campus in Mission Bay, where the regents gathered, “hundreds of students” staged angry protests, with some, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported, breaching “metal barricades and police security lines.”

Ry Rivard at Inside Higher Ed recounted the judgment of Student Regent Sadia Saifuddin, who told Regents she’d been obliged to take on four jobs to cover her schooling costs. Saying “students have always been taken hostage,” Saifuddin claimed “students have always had to pay the price of economic mismanagement by the regents and the state.”

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com