During my twelve-year term as a Regent of the University of California (UC), I served for several of those years as Chairman of the Committee on Finance, which has jurisdiction over the budget of the UC system.
Adopting a budget was among the most complex and painful tasks that confronted the Board. For me, the “teachable moment” from that experience was that fewer things are more complicated and mysterious than a multi-billion dollar budget of a university that has numerous sources of public and private funding – restricted and unrestricted, that respects “shared governance,” and which allocates budget authority to its campuses and other operational units. I always doubted that the Central Intelligence Agency could unravel the mystery of a UC budget.
While many in the nation are focusing for the first time on the serious fiscal dilemma of the State of California, UC has had to deal with cycles of financial shortages for much of the past two decades. In fact, belt-tightening has become the norm rather than the exception at UC. It is because of this experience that the current State budget “shortfall” is not hitting UC with the same effects as might otherwise have been the case.
To place matters in context, there are several salient features that must be acknowledged. First, UC is a vast enterprise with multiple sources of funding. This fact serves to cushion the university from the consequences that would be devastating to other universities faced with similar circumstances. Second, instead of just cutting costs to match revenues, the UC Regents and the administration have always sought to have nearly all its constituent parts share the pain during harsh budgetary times. For example, during the current UC budget year, in addition to staff furloughs – which are expected to achieve roughly 25% of the almost $1 billion “hit” on the UC budget from the State, and a 9.3% fee (tuition) increase, the university is looking at fewer course offerings, deferral of salary increases for most UC employees, layoffs, fewer faculty hires, fewer teaching assistants and elimination of a 2.5% increase in freshman enrollment that is a part of the Higher Education Compact between the State of California and the university. This approach will result in all segments of the UC community – students, faculty and staff – experiencing some degree of economic harm.
The most obvious problem with this approach is that it does not enable the university to establish and implement priorities; and, raising fees during an economic downturn is the worst possible time for students and their families to “share the pain.”
Yet, with all of the above effects on specific parts of the UC community, all of which are enormously painful to virtually every segment of the enterprise, as an institution UC is not fundamentally being altered. What amounts to bonuses are still being given to administrators and “star” faculty recruits and competitive compensation packages are being provided to those whom UC seeks to attract and retain.
It was and remains my fervent hope that the harsh realities of the economy might compel the university to examine its curriculum and eliminate the multitude of “soft” courses that are designed to bolster “diversity.” Many of these courses were created 25-30 years ago, often with the grudging acquiescence of the faculty, to attract and provide a “welcoming environment” for black and Latino students. While many of these courses were of questionable value at the outset, with the profound changes in the racial attitudes of most Americans, it is certainly reasonable to now seriously question the continued need for such courses. At the very least, one would think that economic realities would force the university to reevaluate whether there is much justification for continuing to grant departmental status to a handful of ethnic studies and women’s studies faculty that serve a handful of students.
There is no hint, however, that the race-obsessed nature of UC that gave rise to its multicultural curriculum will diminish and thereby prompt the university to objectively consider its options with respect to multicultural “academic” offerings. In fact, race-consciousness runs so deep at UC that thirteen years after the passage of Proposition 209 – a ballot initiative that constitutionally prohibits preferential treatment in admissions on the basis of race – the likelihood is quite high that UC somehow continues to use race in its admissions processes. For example, the following statement may be found on the UC website: “Despite decreases in admissions offers on some campuses, the University was able to maintain or enhance proportional representation in admissions offers to African American, American Indian and Latino students on campuses.”
Tooting its horn about racial and ethnic “proportional representation” is like a flashing neon sign proclaiming the use of race in the decision-making processes of admission offices at UC campuses. Until the lights go out on that sign, no level of State budget cuts will compel the university to make the essential budget cuts that must be made to bring the university into line with respect to race issues.
And, lest we forget, race frequently defines a significant part of the culture of a university community and guides its use of financial resources, regardless of how limited those resources become. By this yardstick, the University of California is riding the turbulent waters of the California economy virtually unchanged as an institution.