SUBMITTED BY: Robert Samuels
In an interview with student journalists, UC President Mark Yudof showed himself to be an expert of spin and the fine legal art of parsing words. He seems to claim that student fees are going up in order to protect instructional quality and access: “When we increase fees, one-third of that goes to scholarships, so there’s more money in the bank for scholarships. Actually, we spend only two out of three of the dollars that we spend out of student fees. Two-thirds of it goes to the instruction program and the like, and the other one-third goes to increasing financial aid.” The key phrase here is “and the like.” This phrase gives him the wiggle room to hide the fact that there is no way of knowing if students fees will go to instructional costs.
One way that Yudof tried to scare students into accepting increased fees was to tell them that if they do not accept the increases, the quality of undergraduate education will suffer: “We can make your classes bigger; it can take you longer to get your degrees; class access is worse; we can do a lot of things to achieve mediocrity. In fact, mediocrity is fairly easy to achieve. But we’re not going to do that.” However, class sizes have already gone up and the number of classes has already gone down. In other words, the system is both raising fees and lowering the quality of education.
One of his most questionable moments comes when Yudof acts surprised that class sizes are expanding and programs are being reduced: “We are getting more and more reports of large classes and closed sections.” It seems that he has forgotten that throughout the summer he was telling everyone that due to the state funding reductions, there would be expanded class sizes and fewer class offerings.
As Yudof indicates, most of these eliminated positions will be the lecturers who teach a majority of the undergraduate courses: “We have a number of choices. We could pass cuts along to the campuses and say that you just have to administer it. “¦ They’d look at library hours, number of lecturers they hire ““ they could look at whatever they wanted to look at.” We have already seen hundreds of courses taught by lecturers cancelled, and we might see thousands of courses disappear next year.
Of course, Yudof says that these drastic measures have to be taken because the university has no extra money to spend on instruction. In his interview, he first declares that reserves do not exist, and then later he qualifies his claim: “One myth is that you have a pile of money in your reserves. We don’t even really have reserves. We have a checking account. And the truth is we’ve cut by way of furloughs $184 million and we used $300 million out of our checking account.” By moving from using the word “reserves” to the term “checking account,” Yudof tries to hide the fact that he has just contradicted himself.
The secret history of the UC is that, while the per-student contribution from the state has stayed the same for the last 30 years, the UC has expanded its income from external grants, medical services and fund-raising. Currently, the state portion of the overall UC budget is less than 16 percent, but part of the reason for this is that the non-state parts of the budget have expanded so much. It is thus highly misleading for Yudof to blame all of the instructional reductions and fee increases on the fact that the state has reduced the UC budget.
Moreover, the following claim is completely false: “What we have is a mixed model where the state gave us $15,000 per student in 1990 in today’s dollars, and gives us $7,800 today.”
If you take the amount of state funding in 1990 and divide it by the number of students, you get $13,690, and if you do the same thing for 2008, you get, $14,707. What Yudof is really saying is that the state has not increased the amount they fund each student to match up with rising costs and inflation. However, since 1990, UC has reduced instructional costs by relying on lecturers and grad students to teach the majority of undergraduate courses.
In another important admission, Yudof appears to indicate that by raising graduate and professional fees, the UC can shift state money to support undergraduate instruction: “Professional schools are getting less and less of the state money. That’s basically what’s going on ““ pulling the state money out of the schools that can be self-supporting, “¦ primarily business and law schools. The money that’s being pulled out can then be deployed in liberal arts and so forth.” The truth of the matter is actually the opposite: undergraduate fees are already subsidizing graduate education and research. In fact, in a study of instructional costs, I discovered that it only costs $6,000 a year to educate an undergraduate, and the university gets $14,000 from the state and will get $10,000 from the students, and this does not include the high tuition for out-of-state students.
Instead of limiting enrollment and raising fees, unions and student groups argue that UC should just use the money it has to get itself through the current reduction in state funds. The total UC budget is $20 billion, and the state reduction was $600 million, which is less than 3 percent of the budget. While Yudof usually says that the UC cannot borrow its way out of the situation, he does admit here that they could if they wanted to finance their way of the current problem: “We could restructure our debt some more, our debt is like a mortgage so we could refinance, you know if you have a mortgage and you owe $1,000 a month if you can’t afford it, you can refinance and only pay $800. … We probably would refinance some of our debt ““ wouldn’t be smart financially but it would help get us through the year.” The UC has billions of dollars worth of debt that can be restructured to deal with a fiscal emergency, but Yudof simply chooses not to do this, and instead, he is using a 3 percent reduction to radically restructure the UC system.
We should not forget that right after the state reduced the UC budget, the university turned around and borrowed and then lent $200 million to the state, and so the question is why did they not lend themselves money to make up for the state reduction. Actually, UCSD just lent itself $40 million, and every other campus could do the same, but the reason why they will not follow suit is because a decision has been made to raise fees, increase out-of-state enrollments, eliminate programs, layoff teachers, reduce the pay of thousands of workers, and shift money away from undergraduate instruction.
The first step in stopping this process is saying “No” to new fees and demanding that the university starts representing its financial status in a clear and consistent manner.
Samuels is a lecturer in the writing programs and President of University Council ““ American Federation of Teachers.