Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Meanwhile, the UC Board of Regents has generously increased the pay of high level executives, including new deans and vice chancellors, even as it has been increasing registration fees for students, firing workers, ordering furloughs, and, of course, reducing the number of course offerings and increasing class sizes. UC students, workers and faculty have every right to be outraged at policies that will result in a further curtailment of education opportunity and decreased wages while UC executives continue to further enrich themselves at the top of the pyramid.
But there is something lacking in the macroeconomic analysis of the people who intend to participate in the walkout. They share a perspective that is, shall we say, California centric:
UC faculty, as well as those in the California State University system, a system facing equally draconian austerity measures, have effectively explained the state policy failures that have resulted in the current crisis, but have been consistently incapable of placing the crisis in a broader national context. UC budget cuts, registration fee increases, layoffs and furloughs have not taken place in a vacuum. They constitute a typical neoliberal response to the most severe economic downtown in the last 70 years. Of course, as many faculty have stated, including the ones quoted above in the linked Sacramento Bee article, the crisis is having a more severe impact upon higher education because of misguided decisions in the past.
Today's drastic budget cuts are the results of decisions by taxpayers and their representatives. A generation ago, in the midst of another recession, California spent today's equivalent of $327 per California resident on our higher education system, including the UC, California State University and community college systems. This level of commitment was adequate for sustaining a system that allowed any family in the state, no matter their financial means, to send their children to one of the highest-quality higher education systems in the world. This spending, in turn, drove the innovation that powered the economy of the state. This expenditure was 3.2 times as much as we spent on the entire criminal justice system, reflecting a clear priority of schools over prisons.
By 2008-09, spending on higher education had declined to $263 per California resident, down 20 percent from a generation ago. Among other reasons, this has meant that UC Davis receives only about a quarter of its revenues from the state.
Meanwhile, spending on the criminal justice system has skyrocketed – up more than 220 percent on spending per resident since 1984-85. California now spends nearly 25 percent more on our systems for arresting and locking up people than we do on providing quality education opportunities for our youth and students of all ages.
There is, however, much more to it than that. As spring turned to summer, the state of California faced a $25 billion budget deficit, despite substantial budget cuts over the course of the previous year. With both the Governor and the Legislature unwilling to consider any more tax increases, large higher education cuts were inevitable. None of the faculty recognize that if the federal stimulus plan had retained billions of dollars in assistance for state and local governments, there would have been a lower state budget deficit, and, hence, less need for higher education budget cuts.
In other words, responsibility for the severity of the current crisis at UC and CSU lies in Washington, with the President and the Congress, as well as with the California Governor and Legislature. President Obama and the Congress gave transnational financial institutions trillions, awarded billions in tax cuts as part of the stimulus plan, and failed to take meaningful action to forestall the blizzard of foreclosures taking place around the country, especially in California, an action that, by itself, would have significantly stabilized the California economy, an economy with an unemployment rate of 12.2%.
For those of us out here in California, Obama's response to our budget crisis was the same that President Gerald Ford gave New York City in 1975: Drop Dead. But don't expect anyone to point this out during the walkout tomorrow, because that would require UC students, workers and faculty to say that the UC system is in crisis partially because of the refusal of a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress to provide assistance. To acknowledge it requires a fundamental change in attitude that would not sit well with a more comfortable partisan way of thinking. Sometimes, though, you can't avoid it if you really want to engage with what is actually happening all around you.