Monday, July 18, 2011

Methodology for the Study of UC Capital Projects

Photo: Lower Sproul Plaza could be the heart of student activity if the renovation plan goes through. This is an artist's rendering of how the area would look. The other day, we wrote a brief post on the renovation of Lower Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley, reading it (following Bob Meister's now classic exposé) as yet another capital project funded by UC construction bonds that are, for their part, backed by student tuition. Mostly we were interested in the way UC administrators imagined their accountability to the students who increasingly "foot the bill" for pretty much everything the university does, and we didn't get into the technical details of the project because, well, we aren't so great with that kind of stuff.

Fortunately, it turns out we didn't need to. After a brief back-and-forth in the comments of that post, Zach Williams has written an incredibly useful and detailed investigation into the funding mechanisms for this particular project. Think Charlie Schwartz with a killer instinct. Williams's analysis is not only useful for understanding this particular case, but more generally it serves as a framework or methodology for understanding UC capital projects, for seeing through the obscure complexity of these financial deals. This complexity offers the UC administration another rhetorical weapon to be deployed in its war on students and workers. We're going to post the conclusion here, but we highly recommend reading the full post:
The Lower Sproul renovation is funded, almost entirely, by payments from the students, despite University protestations to the contrary. . . .

13 million is from campus funds -- some of which is sourced from student fees, though not student tuition.

200 million is externally financed. This 200 million in financing is backed by two sources:
1. 112 million in special student fees, proposed and approved by the students themselves.
2. A General Revenue Bond
So, half of that external financing (which is, if you recall, nothing other than a general revenue bond, though it may be a federally subsidized one) will be financed by . . . another general revenue bond. The rest will be footed by a sort of ‘complicit in one’s own domination’ decision by the ASU to help turn a basic safety retrofit into a project to increase space for students, student organizations, and student run revenue streams.

And that general revenue bond will be financed by student fees. Quite clearly, none of the 35% of funding from grants is going to this capital project. Rather, it will be financed entirely from auxiliary and student fees. And the bulk of auxiliary fees are . . . oh, right, student fees.

So, let’s list no bullshit sources of revenue for this project.
1. Student fees (campus funds)
2. Student fees (special student fee)
3. Student fees (registration fees)
4. Student fees (auxiliary fees from housing, dining, parking, and so on)

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