Friday, June 17, 2011

Excellence, Access, Affordability

The other day we posted on the legislative operations that have produced a series of austerity budgets for the state of California. Of course, the services that are on the chopping block are both significant and diverse -- the cuts will affect far more than public education. But for obvious reasons public higher education is usually our point of departure. Anyway, in that post we looked at the responses of the UC administration to the Democrats' proposed budget plan, which would have included another $300 million in cuts to the UC and CSU systems (if it hadn't been vetoed by Governor Brown). First came the statement of UC spokesperson Steve Montiel, which noted that "Any further cuts would threaten our ability to provide access, affordability and academic excellence." Then we turned to a statement signed by UC president Mark Yudof and UC regent chair Russell Gould, which asserts that "An additional $150 million in cuts will impair our ability to provide access at an affordable price while preserving academic excellence."

Access, affordability, and excellence. These qualities -- which, it's worth mentioning, are defined only in broad, meaningless strokes -- are what Yudof has called the UC's three "compass points." Here's how Yudof referred to them at the UC regents' meeting in January 2011 (this quote is under pretty heavy rotation these days):
Yudof said the university has long operated on three "compass points" -- access, affordability and excellence.

"We are moving dangerously close to having to say: pick two of the three. That’s my view, and the excellence is nonnegotiable," he said. "We are going to have to look at access and affordability."
Yesterday, the day after the statements from Montiel, Yudof, and Gould were printed, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau published his own statement, which was emailed to the entire UC Berkeley campus and is posted here. He writes:
As you know, Berkeley already faces extraordinary challenges for the coming year. Our share of the $500 million cut from the Governor’s proposed budget is about $70 million. On top of the proposed cuts, the campus has additional mandatory increased costs such as utilities and health care benefits for which we must find $40 million. Thus, in effect, we are already facing $110 million in cuts for 2011-12 and we cannot sustain any further cuts without placing an intolerable burden on our students and staff. Specifically, the legislature’s budget would have added as much as $25 million to this shortfall, an amount which we simply cannot bear. Not only would this be very painful for our campus, it would ultimately be damaging to the economy and future prospects of California.
As usual, the official response takes a specific form: it once again turns on the logic of the words further/additional. This formulation erases everything that has already happened, removes it entirely from the political horizon. As we wrote here last month,
In addition to erasing the violence of austerity . . ., this strategy charts a path of rhetorical retreat. Obviously this isn't a rousing defense of public education. But it leads to another danger: every time the budget is cut, it's a "disaster"... until the cuts go through. At that point it becomes the new normal. In effect, it represents an attempt to limit political struggle to a relatively minor question about what's currently on the table -- everything else simply disappears.
That's bad enough. But, to return to Yudof's "compass points," something unexpected goes wrong in the next paragraph of Birgeneau's statement:
I know that the Cal community cares deeply about public higher education and understands the importance to the state and to the nation of the education, research and public service that we provide. I want to assure you that we will not compromise on our principles of Access and Excellence. I urge you to join me in telling your local legislators, leaders in the Assembly and Senate, and Governor Brown himself that they must arrive at a budget agreement that does not require further cuts to the University of California.
Either Birgeneau didn't get the message (shhhhhh!) or the decision that Yudof was alluding to back in January has already been made. Not that we were under any illusions about the UC administration's commitment to "affordability." Tuition has skyrocketed, up 40 percent in the last two years and 300 percent in the last ten.

When even the rhetorical flourishes have disappeared, nothing will hold back the coming wave of tuition increases -- or stop the plodding advance toward privatization.

1 comment:

  1. UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau displaces Californians qualified for public education at UC Berkeley with FRoreign students paying $50,600.