Problematic allies and UC tuition

University of California students don’t want their tuition to increase.  I saw the protests outside the Board of Regents meeting and on my campus, and I heard the students in my classroom explain just what an extra 5 percent might mean to them in terms of work outside of school and in terms of debt.  They’re pretty reasonable.

UC President Janet Napolitano says that the state of California doesn’t provide enough money to keep a top university system operating and enroll new students.  She says that capacity to increase tuition steadily is needed in order to guard against the deterioration of the university–if the state doesn’t pony up enough money.  She’s right too.

Governor Jerry Brown says that tuition hikes are outrageous, and that UC can save money by putting more courses on-line and getting students out in three years–and by abandoning the notion of competing with other top universities for administrators and faculty.  In essence: UC doesn’t have to be like other institutions.

Who are the likely allies here?

For now, Governor Brown and the student regent, Sadia Saifuddin, are on the  same side, unsuccessfully opposing UC’s right to hike tuition.  They agree on “no,” but maybe not much else.  The LA Times reports that Ms. Saifuddin was very clear on this:

Saifuddin sharply rebutted Brown’s ideas about online classes and a three-year degree. “We want a four-year university. We want to talk to our professors. We want to learn in real time,” she said.

For students, a victory on tuition could well be a set-back on other issues.

In real time: I asked my students in a course on protest about their ideas on this controversy.  They were steadfast in the opposition to tuition hikes–and to very high salaries for administrators.  They were, however, reluctant to sign off on promoting online education or having more courses taught by adjuncts or lecturers.  They didn’t want to reduce the library (further) nor cut interscholastic sports (further) or campus maintenance or student services.  They’re also critical of UC’s increasing reliance on out-of-state and international tuition dollars–that come at the cost of spots for Californian students.

They want it all: a world-class university, with top-flight research, courses taught by tenure-ladder faculty, and affordable tuition.

Note: that discussion would not have taken place in the same way if they were simply watching a lecture on youtube at some convenient moment.

Hmm.  Anyway:

Governor Brown’s task here is the simplest: emphasize keeping tuition low; others can take the fallout from the execution of efficiencies.

President Napolitano’s job is a little tougher: emphasize a vision of a great university system and clearly link state funding deficits and politics to the pressure on tuition.

The students have the toughest job (here as on other things): fight for their interests on tuition without letting it obscure the quality of education they’re struggling to pay for.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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7 Responses to Problematic allies and UC tuition

  1. Jason Werbics says:

    Post Secondary Education needs to be Postmodern Education

    The problem with the demands of today’s student, is that she/he can only want what one knows existed in the past.

    While for those who find themselves in administration or the faculty of the university, the problem for them, is that they can only compromise as far as their ideology will allow.

    From my perspective then, this need to dwell on the past and conform to ideology are remnants and by-products of a failing modern perspective. Therefore, the first step in addressing the tuition issue, is for both sides to acknowledge that the modern educational system is dead.

    And it is time for all who find themselves within this system to embrace and demand postmodern reform.

    J.R. Werbics is a Canadian writer and philosopher

    • I don’t know what the “post-modern” university is, so I can’t explain that to my students, colleagues, or family. I understand lots of ways that you can spend less money on my university: cut faculty, facilities, maintenance, courses, all for example. None come without consequence, and the abstract debate isn’t helpful.
      It certainly costs less to put lectures on youtube and let students take scantron exams based on those lectures, again, for example. At least the students who show up to my classes don’t think that’s such a good deal for them–and I agree. But that’s where the informed debate should be.

  2. Jason Werbics says:

    Professor Meyer wrote:
    I don’t know what a “post-modern” university is…

    All I can say is…. why not!?!

    The postmodern world is all around us in the West today. Right now, you and I are using a postmodern tool to communicate.

    When your car tells you via GPS where you are, and then relays that information to Onstar and then on to GM, you are solidly within the realm of what postmodernism calls the “digital estate.”

    When you network on-line with your colleagues and friends on your digital smart phone, you are participating in what postmodernism refers to as digital association.

    Naturally, this does not specifically define or help to describe what a postmodern university is…

    Thus, I will offer a first step that could help everyone, including you professor, in getting a grasp on what a postmodern university could be.

    Get the English-speaking philosophy departments of the Western world to look beyond their analytic paradigm, and acknowledge the existence of postmodern philosophy.

    I and Professor Richard Rorty would be very grateful.

    J.R Werbics is a Canadian writer and philosopher

    • In our era, the philosophy department, with relatively low enrollments, is exactly the kind of unit ripe for cuts. But, what’s a university for?
      Calling something post-modern–or not–is really of little use in figuring out how to deliver a good public university education with declining state support. Of course, new media matter, but the growth of new media means that universities need servers and staff and lots of computers on the library desks. Those aren’t cost savers.
      So, how do you want to save money?

  3. Jason Werbics says:

    Professor Meyer wrote:
    In our era, the philosophy department, with relatively low enrollments, is exactly the kind of unit ripe for cuts. But, what’s a university for?…

    Now you are getting to the crux of the matter.

    The real problem you face about your university is more existential than material.

    And in this type of debate, it is very important to know what is modern and what is not. Do you wish to work and learn at a university that is stuck within a collapsing modern model, or one that is forward looking in both structure and content?

    Just for the record, postmodernism is a lot more than just servers and computers…

    Intellectually for example, when problem solving, it demands solutions that work around the four major ideologies of socialism (progressivism), liberalism, conservativism and capitalism that consume modernist thinking.

    J.R. Werbics is a Canadian writer and philosopher

    • When the state of California is paying for a diminishing share of a student’s education over time and students make up the difference with extra hours working and debt, there is a material problem.

  4. Jason Werbics says:


    Perhaps. When only considered from a modern perspective.

    Well…I have a rule.

    No discussion of politics over the Holidays.

    Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving Professor Meyer.

    I enjoyed this discussion very much.

    Looking forward to your next post.

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