"Behind the headline-grabbing brutality of the pepper-spray video lies a decades-long story of the gradual privatisation of California's public college and university system - even as resources shifted to building a massive prison system instead. On the one hand, students face skyrocketing tuition costs - up more than 1,000 per cent in just over two decades, if current plans go forward - while tax increases on the wealthy are anathema.
Exhibit A on the latter point is UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi, on whose orders the riot police were deployed. Katehi is both a member of the 1% and an overt supporter of police repression on campus. Although she has tried to disavow any responsibility for the pepper spraying of students, it has quickly emerged that she was a co-author of a report used to justify the recent repeal of a 1974 law, banning the police from Greek universities. That law was passed following the overthrow of a military junta. The repeal came just in time, earlier this year, to help suppress Greek protests against the imposition of harsh austerity measures.
As for her economic status, Katehi was hired in 2009 at $400,000 per year plus substantial benefits. That's the same base pay as the American President, and well more than double the pay of California's governor, who makes less than $175,000. Katehi holds numerous patents and her husband also teaches at UC Davis - more than enough to place her solidly in the 1%. Her salary represented a massive 27 per cent increase over the pay for the previous chancellor - the very same year that student fees were being hiked by 32 per cent, while classes were being cut. The reasoning was... well, it's not reasoning, really. It's just how things are done within the 1% - a procedure based on comparing pay for the heads of various different colleges, public and private, including Johns Hopkins, Yale and the University of Chicago.[...]
Now UC Davis is a very good school, but even UC Berkeley isn't Yale. It's not so much a question of educational quality - it's a question of founding mission and purpose... which are not very well served by the sorts of people sitting on the Board of Regents, none of whom has a distinctive educational background. The UC system is part of a three-tiered college system - universities, state colleges and community colleges - that according to California's 1960 Education Master Plan is supposed to provide affordable higher education to every high school graduate in the state who wants a public college education. Indeed, technically, it's supposed to be tuition-free. But student "fees" now make a mockery of that. The 32 per cent fee increase mentioned above was just a tiny fraction of the enormous fee increases since 1992 - roughly 1/16 of the 534 per cent total increase in dollars through 2009 - or 1/10 of the total when adjusted for inflation. It's now even higher, and current plans would jack that increase up to more than 1,200 per cent over 1992 levels in just the next few years.
Fee hikes haven't been smooth. They've skyrocketed in stages as public funding from California's state budget has plunged in a series of successive budget crises. But the dynamics are more complicated than first meets the eye, as UC Santa Cruz politics professor Bob Meister explained back in 2009. There are actually incentives for university officials to welcome state budget cuts, explained Meister, President of the Council of UC Faculty Associations. State budget money comes with strings attached, prioritising education. But money from student, ironically, has no such restrictions, and hence is perfect for empire-building, he explained.
"How does UC sell $1.3bn in construction bonds immediately after declaring an 'extreme financial emergency,' slashing funds for teaching and research and cutting staff and faculty pay? By using your tuition as collateral," Meister wrote online at KeepCaliforniasPromise.org. "Higher tuition lets UC borrow more for construction even while it cuts instruction and research." And this is only the beginning, he explained.
"UC's most recent (post-"emergency") construction bonds are just the beginning of a long-term (10-15 year) plan to borrow very much more against very much higher tuition in order to fund individual projects that no longer have to be approved by the state or paid for out of each project's own revenue."
In short, rather than the university existing to serve the students, it's the other way round. From the Board of Regents' point of view, the students are - above all else - a revenue stream to secure Wall Street funding. Hardly a surprise, really, when you consider the makeup of the Board."