Tuition at the public universities in California, including the University of California, Irvine, which pays my salary, continues to skyrocket, even as operating budgets in the University of California and California State Universities erode. The president of the University of California, Mark Yudoff, has asked the Board of Regents to approve an increase of nearly 10 percent, the eleventh tuition hike in the last ten years. (Cal State is considering a tuition hike of more than 12 percent.) The UC administration has announced that these hikes will cover roughly a quarter of the last round of budget cuts from the state.
Students are, rightly, angry at paying more for less. The protests about this latest round of budget increases have already begun. Last week, a group of about 100 protested outside the offices of La Opinion, whose president, Monica Lozano, sits on the Board of Regents. When the Regents meet, she will hear President Yudoff say something like: these tuition hikes are awful, as are the budget cuts coming with them. We’ve been raising tuition and making cuts for years now, and we’re also increasing the number of international and out-of-state students, who pay much more. Now, it’s more important to preserve the quality of the university than to maintain low tuition. Tuition can be lowered in the future; at least in the land of hypotheticals: all it takes is money. Restoring quality and reputation will be harder and take longer.
Talk like this is a gross provocation to students, who are working more hours, taking out more loans, and having a harder time getting the courses they need. That doesn’t mean Yudoff isn’t telling the truth.
The twin mantras of access and excellence that public university administrators chant really operate at cross-purposes. (We’ve discussed this before.) Great libraries, active and engaged researchers, and accessible and committed teachers cost money. If the state won’t pay, someone else has to. If students have to pay the full cost of what they receive, access will certainly be compromised. (Let me stipulate: if you throw a rock in any direction on my campus–or any other–you’ll hit something someone regards as wasteful spending!)
If the past is a guide, Yudoff and campus administrators will take more flack from students than the state legislators who refused to put a tax extension on the ballot. In effect, one of the president’s jobs is to absorb the flack from students when someone else hands them an awful deal.
But how to explain the costs of excellence in populist politics? Days earlier, the Los Angeles Times ran a piece on the “brain drain” that university faculty and administrators fear, focusing on three cancer researchers leaving the University of California, San Diego, for Rice University. Rice offered the faculty members raises of more than 40 percent (and they’re currently earning $180,000-$330,000!), plus commitments for research funds, lab space, and work loads that would allow them to focus on their research. They’ll be taking their labs, their post-docs and students, and their millions of dollars of grants to Texas.
Even as those salaries are a fraction of what a top professional athlete or hedge fund manager earns, they’re much (much!) higher than what most faculty earn, and much (much!) higher than the salaries of most Californians who worry about paying taxes–and tuition to the University of California. How to justify?
The University of California could hire people to teach their classes at a fraction of the cost. They could take away tenure, research support, and health benefits, and still find someone to stand in front of the room and run powerpoint slides. Would the courses be the same? Would it be the same university?