UCLA celebrated the early fulfillment of The Centennial Campaign for UCLA’s fundraising goal July 25. More than $4 billion has been raised from private sources since 2014, and the university will continue its fundraising campaign through 2019.
At first glance, this milestone appears to be a positive and necessary approach to addressing the chronic funding crisis plaguing the University of California. In actuality, however, the use of private funding for public institutions creates more issues than it solves.
UCLA’s private fundraising campaign represents an unsustainable and counterproductive route to address the university’s long-term funding needs. In fact, involving private donors exacerbates the problems that have led to the current crisis: namely, the systemic assault on our public institutions, and the misallocation of existing funds within the UC.
These developments are representative of neoliberalism, a political philosophy which prioritizes the generation of profit over the promotion of the public good. Neoliberals seek to defund public institutions, while advocating for laissez-faire economic policy, deregulated and privatized industry and the expansion of the country’s military and police state.
The United States’ public education system has long suffered under neoliberal policies, with budget cuts compromising the needs of students, teachers and workers alike. While politicians tell the public that these cuts are necessary, it is clear these funding shortcomings are an issue of priorities, not scarcity.
Consider the story of California’s prison system. Since 1980, 23 prisons have been built in the state, compared to the construction of just one UC campus. This rapid expansion has occurred despite the fact that crime rates have significantly declined since 1980, both on a national and state level.
The 2018-2019 state budget, for example, allocates comparable amounts of money to education and corrections programs, despite the great disparity in their respective development. Los Angeles alone has earmarked nearly $3.5 billion toward jail expansion, against the vocal concerns of community advocates and the surging #ReformLAJails campaign.
California and Los Angeles have thus prioritized the rapid and unnecessary expansion of our carceral system – which disproportionately targets black, Latinx and Native communities – over the expansion of educational opportunities for our youth.
UC regents and chancellors could easily advocate for the reallocation of precious state funds, demanding that our state legislators support schools rather than prisons. Yet they don’t. Ignoring this systemic barrier to funding, UC administrators focus on the symptoms and not the root of the problem.
Private fundraising is a Band-Aid solution at best, and a slippery slope that encourages further state divestment from higher education. This is the neoliberal feedback loop we find our institutional leaders falling into, and that the UC needs to fight back against.
The solution is not a one time reallocation of funds, but a paradigm shift from harm to healing and from incarceration to education. It says a lot about our priorities as a city and state when our tax dollars are used to feed an inhumane prison system in California, rather than to invest in and expand our public university system and other life-sustaining resources for our communities.
Student tuition hikes and private sector investments are the cowardly approach to funding the UC. Administrators can play a bold role in one of today’s most urgent civil rights struggles. The clear pathway to systemwide solvency requires advocating for less police and prisons and greater funding for public education.
Moreover, private funding and tuition hikes allow the UC and its campuses to misallocate the resources they already have. UCLA’s internal structure reveals its own troubling priorities as an institution.
The university has devoted its resources to building an unnecessary and expensive new dining location, raising massive amounts of private dollars to build an expensive new athletic stadium and forging multi-million dollar contracts with individual athletic coaches. The UC has even hidden tens of millions of dollars in a secret slush fund. All of this has happened while students struggle with massive tuition costs and food insecurity that will not be solved with a meager $60 tuition decrease. Plus, UCLA denies its workers a fair contract and racial and gendered pay equity.
Our university knows basic-needs issues plague students and workers, yet it puts its energy into private fundraising for departments that benefit UCLA’s profit motive, knowing full well it can’t devote those funds to addressing fundamental student and worker problems. And within the departments where funding could be more efficiently used to address student needs – say, addressing food insecurity for students who can’t afford dining plans, or lowering the cost of dining plans altogether – it instead uses those funds for unnecessary ventures to make the school more marketable to prospective students.
Meanwhile, only about 10 percent of the $4 billion raised through the Centennial Campaign has been flagged to go toward UCLA students – and it’s unclear how exactly that funding will be deployed to benefit us.
What is clear, though, is that the UC and its campuses are deeply embedded in a process of corporatization and commercialization.
UCLA has demonstrated that it is more concerned with generating revenue and making itself more marketable to prospective students than educating our youth and providing stable middle-class jobs for Californians.
For the good of higher education system, the university must reprioritize its concerns.
Hatun is a rising third-year history student and member of the Student Labor Advocacy Project.