Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Rare and Important Victory for Public Higher Education in California?

It’s not often that good news comes out of the higher education world in California.  The University of California is underfunded, its students overburdened with tuition and debt.  Administrators get pay raises and the Regents hand out bonuses while they continue the decades-long process of privatizing California’s flagship public institution.  Learning is being instrumentalized, teaching casualized, and the institution monetized. 
Californians themselves took a back-seat in their University when it admitted record numbers of out-of-state and international students, whose higher fees pour into the coffers that the state disdains to fill per its duty.  Nearly a third of incoming students at Berkeley and UCLA came from outside of California. 
But that was a bridge too far, both for legislators and California’s public.  The Los Angeles Times reports that the outcry “recently prompted UC President Janet Napolitano and other system leaders to consider putting limits on out-of-state enrollment”.
How UC will make up the funding shortfall that such a move would create remains to be seen, but the fact that the University has been forced to respond to its critics is a positive development and indicates that at least some Californians are aware of the problems associated with privatization and the danger of losing control over their institutions. 
This tentative victory came about because of backlash from parents and legislators.  But California’s public and their representatives will have increasingly little clout over UC because of their refusal to restore funding to make the University truly public.  The more money is associated with student tuition, private sources, and federal funds, the less California’s students and citizens will matter to the University.
Parents, students, legislators, and the public at large should use this potential victory to demonstrate their understanding that just as they expect UC to do right by the state’s students, they need to live up to their responsibilities to the University system. 
The primary obstacles to increased funding are our conservative Governor and the Republican Party.  The Los Angeles Times quoted Jean Fuller, the Republican Senator from Bakersfield, as reminding UC that “the university’s job is to educate Californians first, the California taxpayers who pay for it”.
But the dim-witted Senator, correct as she might be in theory, is overlooking the fact that the reason that UC is seeking alternative funding sources is that her party has systematically refused to fund the University commensurate with its expanded mission over the past decades.  Her party introduced tuition and supports initiatives that restrict the state’s ability to rationalize its revenue streams.  Their actions, and their de facto rule over California from the minority—a situation created by Proposition 13—has the state on autopilot towards a crippling austerity program, one implemented reluctantly by Governor Schwarzenegger and zealously by Governor Brown.
For the time being, UC’s mission is to educate Californians.  But California taxpayers are no longer making a particularly significant contribution to the University, which relies on alumni contributions, federal funds, and student fees for the great majority of its funds.  Hypocrites like Fuller—and more importantly, her constituents—need to reflect on what they have done over the years to California’s University system, and their own role in creating a situation where the University is under pressure to sideline Californians. 
The window during which Californians have an ability to check and reverse the privatization of UC—a project about which many of the Regents seem to be quite enthusiastic—is shrinking, but this small victory might help to keep it propped open just a bit longer.  Californians should vote for representatives who support funding higher public education, against pledge-signing, oath-swearing right-wingers who have no interest in the public sphere, and against measures which would squirrel away money for “rainy days” when the state has yet to repair the damage done by the last storm.

Californians still have time to re-build their public sphere before it is transformed into a harsh marketplace.  But they must act with conviction and consistency—and quickly. 
Fiat Lux.  

No comments:

Post a Comment