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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tuesday, July 28, 2015
I'm tired of band-aids on university policy problems that never heal the underlying wounds, so I asked that we faculty do some new things in a piece that appeared in Inside Higher Ed last week.  Called "Time for a New Strategy," it argues that defenses of tenure and academic freedom will increasingly fail, as they did in Wisconsin this year, unless we call for the same protections for all employees.

The big advantage, I argue there, would be that we faculty would no longer base our claim to academic freedom on an exceptional status that most of the public doesn't accept. Another advantage would be that we would no longer have to rely on our university boards and executives to protect us, which is also not working well.  A third advantage would be that we could broaden our claims to public benefits beyond the competitive excellence that we generally mention first as tenure's product.

For a crib on all this, the Wisconsin-Madison School Education does a better job of excerpting it than I just did.  And I wrote a headnote to a link for the Universities in the Knowledge Economy (UNIKE) project of which I'm a part.  Do have a look at the piece if you have time. I was surprised that none of the IHE comments called it unrealistic, pretentious, impossible, overblown, or anti-excellence, so maybe I can drum up some of that kind of criticism a little closer to home . . .

Faculty Talking in Public: the case of Sara Goldrick-Rab

I know that direct public engagement won't always be easy or pleasant for faculty--but not for the reasons we may think.  Wisconsin provided another example this month with the backlash against the higher education sociologist Sara Goldrick-Rab's effort to contact incoming undergrads with information about the legislature's changes to the Madison campus where they were arriving.  In May, she saw some high school grads tweet pictures of themselves as happy #FutureBadgers, then contacted them with links to articles about budget cuts and the striking of tenure protections and shared governance from state law. "I hate to bring bad news but" began the first of these, with a link to a Wall Street Journal piece. As Angus Johnston's excellent overview at Student Activism explained,
Some of the students responded to her tweet, she responded to some of their responses — tweeting that she thought they should know about the recent events at UW because she assumed they would want “a degree of value” and she didn’t “want students 2 waste their $.” 
And that was it. The whole thing amounted to about a dozen tweets over the course of a little over an hour late one Sunday night, with pretty much nobody watching.
But one of the students contacted a member of the Madison campus College Republicans with the claim that Prof. Goldrick-Rab had harassed them, someone reviewed her abundant twitter feed and found a tweet comparing conservative Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to Hitler, which broke unwritten rule number 1 of the twitterverse ("never compare anyone to Hitler--not even Hitler"), and before you knew it there was a tell-all exposé in the College Fix that began like this:
Shocking new allegations emerged Wednesday against the University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who tweeted that Scott Walker and Adolf Hitler share “terrifying” similarities. 
The University of Wisconsin Madison College Republicans put out a press release alleging that sociology Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab also tweeted at incoming freshmen who support Scott Walker, antagonizing them about the Republican governor’s budget cuts to the University of Wisconsin system. 
“The College Republicans of UW-Madison call on the University of Wisconsin-Madison to address the harassment of these future Badgers on Twitter who were doing nothing but showing their excitement for attending this university,” the group’s chairman, Anthony Birch, stated on its Facebook page. “Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab: We find the way you have approached the dialogue around the intersection of politics and our university’s future disgusting and repulsive.”
Nothing surprising here: everyone is reading their assigned lines, the appointed roles are being played, and a good time is being had by all--except for Prof. Goldrick-Rab, who picked up some nasty tweets calling for her to be fired.   This is of course the kind of thing that prompts everyone to wield academic freedom like a police shield against the crowd calling for the democratic removal of an annoying professor.

So naturally the professor could count on her university to stick up for her right to send higher ed public policy information to the public, which includes incoming students, whom she'd found via public tweets.  Not.  After their meeting on July 20th, the Faculty Senate's executive body, the University Committee, released a statement (now removed from the agenda page) stating that Prof. Goldrick-Rab was a courageous defender of the shared governance that the Committee was charged to uphold and that had been so seriously weakened by recent legislation: “While claiming to stand for academic freedom, . . .[she] has in fact damaged that principle and our institution with inaccurate statements and misrepresentations.”

The committee members gave no examples and offered no evidence, but must have been censuring her claims that quality was damaged by budget cuts.   For they wrote, "we are deeply dismayed with the actions Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab has taken toward students and faculty on Twitter in recent weeks to discourage them from coming here."  The Committee, apparently lacking a member with expertise in academic freedom or higher education policy, seemed to assume that academic freedom should be limited by the needs of brand loyalty.  You can be a nationally-renowned expert on higher ed policy, as Prof. Goldrick-Rab is, but may not claim that the state's attacks on budgetary stability, tenure, and shared governance are hurting the quality of UW-Madison.

You might think I overstate, but when is the last time the UW-Madison University Committee issued a public admonishment of an individual faculty member?  Badger brand was clearly also on the students mind: "It's not a waste [of $] if you're going to Madison," a student replied to Prof. Goldrick-Rab.  (She answered back plaintively: "University is changing as we speak. Maybe look at info?")

The University Committee felt no apparent concern about Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank's claim  (as reported by Scott Jaschik) that the University had not been changed at all:
I feel compelled to respond to those who may question whether the University of Wisconsin-Madison is still a great place to learn and to teach. The answer is a resounding yes -- and I know that because I hear it daily from students, faculty members and staff as well as alumni, donors and friends. Any institution has its critics, and especially in social media, it’s important to remember that the loudest voice usually isn’t the most accurate. The Badger community is strong and continues to stand for excellence in education, in research and in community outreach.
As Joan Rivers would have said, "Can we talk?" Yes it's true--everybody's great.  The faculty are great, the staff are great, the students are great, the alumni are great--all just as great after the state budget was passed as they were before.  That's not the point.  The point is that the institutional infrastructure is less great, and the governance relations are less great, the job protections are less great, the resources that protect class size, professor interaction, individual feedback, and student learning are less great, and the institutional funding to support extramural grants are less great.   The point is that Wisconsin politicians made the UW System less great while denying their actions were doing that--and the Madison chancellor agrees that after budget cuts and tenure termination nothing is less great!  So does Ray Cross, UW System president, who in the aftermath actually thanked "legislators for their collaborative spirit and willingness to continue an important dialogue."  No harm done by cuts or deleted tenure! Ray heart WI leg!  There was no "dialogue" at all--or was there? And in the midst of this, the University Committee targets one of the small number of faculty voices that is independent of the legislative-administrative consensus that UW is as-great-with-less, and goes after her.

UC Faculty and the UC Budget

The practical consequence of this management by marketing is that it aborts public awareness of the need for public funding, tenure, and shared governance before it can be born.  This blog has often commented on the California version of the capitulation that undermines the university's public claim while demobilizing supporters (Mark Yudof was our great master).   It works in the fog of public relations that has replaced honest and open discussion within universities of real problems and of how to fix them.  Senior management's publicity culture forces candid assessments into a position of oppositionality (what Chancellor Blank calls "the loudest voice [that] usually isn't the most accurate").

Failed strategies persist through an imbalance of power that is partly organizational (administrators have decision rights and access to information that faculty, staff, and students do not).  Failed strategies also persist through a lack of accountability for disastrous results at the executive levels of academia, business, and government alike.  The consensus dogma that "the era of public funding is over" has guided university leadership for the better part of a generation, and it has conspired to suppress public funding. We have seen this for years in California, and it is happening now in Wisconsin. Same playbook. Same failure.  Same chin up carrying on irrespectively.

The UC Regents meeting last week offered another case in point. This spring and summer this blog offered a series of posts on what the state budget actually does to UC finances this coming year (Chris, Joe, Michael, Joe).  Were you to compare these analyses to the July Regents' Committee on Finance 2015-2016 budget document, you would find that this document paints an incomplete picture.  It omits the past history of Board of Regents budget requests, admits no downside, declares victory, and concludes as follows:
By adopting the provisions of the funding framework agreed to by the Governor and the University, the budget approved by the Legislature puts UC in a strong financial position that provides the University with predictable and stable support for the next four years and offers students and their families the certainty to confidently budget for the costs of a UC education. This outcome resulted from the spirited debate over appropriate funding levels for higher education in California sparked in large part by the plan adopted by the Board in November.  The University has come a long way since then, a result that should be welcome by all University stakeholders. (6)
Cue romantic music, like at the end of The Player.  The University has no funding problems, the funding gaps don't exist, the Committee of Two (President Napolitano and Governor Brown) was in fact a state-wide spirited debate, and everyone is in love and having babies who can all afford UC.  This is the official story presented to the Board that has formal fiduciary responsibility for the long-term health of the University.

Some of the missing pieces of the picture appeared in a statement from the co-chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association, English Professor Celeste Langan.  Among other things, she noted that the above document
misleadingly claims that the final budget “incorporates the funding framework developed by UC and the Governor.” If you’ll recall, the “framework” of the May Revise proposed that the state make a contribution of $436 million toward the unfunded liability of the UC Retirement Plan.  The final budget, however, promises only a “one-time payment” of $96 million; there is nothing in the budget that commits the state to two additional payments of $170 million.
Prof. Langan also noted that the legislature did not require the addition of a defined-contribution pension tier but that UCOP is advancing that idea anyway, for unknown reasons of its own.  She added a critique of strategy:  "The Council of UC Faculty Associations is opposed to the University making permanent changes in the structure of its retirement plan in exchange for a very modest one-time contribution from the State."

This presentation brought faculty "stakeholders" to the table and offered information that was missing or even misstated in the official documents.  And yet it was jammed into a 2-minute slot during the public comment period hours before the Committee on Finance meeting, and was cut off halfway through.  In this context, the faculty speaker who takes shared governance seriously, carefully analyzed the documents, and represents a faculty organization is rabble-ized by the governance format, the content is made oppositional, the consensus sails on without a scratch, and failures persist without being processed or having their tactics corrected.

The Function of Very Serious People

For years I've been noting the frustration and disappointment that many faculty and staff feel with the low standard of argument and debate in university affairs--with the secrecy, the withheld information, the exclusion of working faculty and professional staff, the closed circles of discussion, and the strategies that don't work but that are used again and again. It has reminded me of the impatience, disbelief, and occasional anger I started to see in Paul Krugman's columns around the time of the Iraq invasion in 2003, and that resurfaced with a renewed intensity in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis, where he watched already-refuted dogmas prevail regardless of their results.  Prof. Krugman started to refer to the people who could impose failed strategies again and again as Very Serious People whose status and influence made them immune from criticism, even when it came from the lofty pay grade of a Nobel prize winner like him.

Prof. Krugman is disturbed all over again by the application of failed austerity dogma to Greece, and recently linked to a Henry Farrell post at Crooked Timber that defines the VSP.
People whose beliefs are reinforced and widely circulated so that they are socially and politically influential, even when they are manifestly wrong, are Very Serious People. The system provides them with no incentives to admit error or perhaps to understand that they have erred, even when their mistakes have devastating consequences.
Prof. Farrell adds, "the problem with VSPs is not that they are biased (we all are) – it’s that the systems around them magnify that bias, reinforce it, and reflect it, creating the risk of vicious feedback loops of self-satisfied yet consequential ignorance (as in the Iraq war)."  He contrasts VSP syndrome with democracy, which has an epistemological advantage:
it harnesses mulishness and rancorous dispute, to reveal the information that is latent in the disagreements between our various perspectives on the world (which are inextricably intertwined with our value judgments). However, when certain people’s perspectives are privileged, the value of democracy is weakened. Their perspectives will continue to prevail, even when they are wrong. Weak arguments that they make will be treated as strong ones, while strong arguments made by their opponents will be treated as weak ones.
There's further interesting material there, but you see the connection.  Public universities also have a serious VSP problem. It  fuels our intellectual crisis of purpose and blocks good communication with the public.

We faculty have saved ourselves enormous time and effort by letting our own VSPs run the operation inside and out. But we can't afford this anymore.  We're going to have to practice open public argumentation instead, as I was trying to say in IHE.  What I mean is that we can't have academic freedom without organizational democracy.  Academic freedom's current decline is good proof of that.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 3

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Thursday, July 16, 2015
By Jennifer Ruth, Portland State University
Tenure is what makes shared governance real and shared governance is one of the primary reasons faculty need tenure so it’s no surprise that the University of Wisconsin System Omnibus Motion” explicitly guts shared governance while going after tenure: “Delete current law specifying that the faculty of each institution be vested with responsibility for the immediate governance of such institution and actively participate in institutional policy development.” Governor Walker’s target audience is not the higher education community: it is the Republican Party. In Locus of Authority: The Evolution of Faculty Roles in the Governance of Higher Education (2015), William Bowen and Eugene Tobin—two men with long careers in higher education—want much the same thing as Walker but since we (people involved with higher education in one way or another) are their audience, they’ve worded their arguments a little differently. Indeed, one might read their book and, along with Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Ed, conclude that it “offers neither a wholly faculty- nor administration-driven perspective [but rather] seeks to deliver a friendly but urgent message about the importance of shared decision-making to higher education's future.” However, this would be a serious misreading.

Bowen and Tobin argue that universities must rewrite their rules so as to meet the demands of the twenty-first century. If they intend to reclaim their role as “engines of mobility,” institutions of higher education need to feature strong leadership at the presidential level, to use technology aggressively, and to implement what they call a “professional teaching staff.” About this last, they write:

“There is, in our view, an important opportunity at this particular stage in the evolution of faculty roles for new thinking about structures. The benefits of new thinking could be substantial. . . . Universities would be well-advised to acknowledge (as some already are) that full-time faculty have been filling essential teaching roles for many years, and to move expeditiously to consider creating analogous ‘professional teaching staff’ structures. Tenure-track faculty should cooperate with such efforts and not simply bemoan reductions in their relative numbers. There is surely a place in academia, and it should be a respected place, for talented individuals who do not aspire to publish the truly distinguished work of scholarship that would make them top candidates for a tenured position...” (161)

Eligibility for tenure is not part of the deal: “We do not think the conferring of tenure is necessary or desirable for professional teaching staff, given institutional needs to preserve staffing flexibility.” (163) Note that they invoke “flexibility” only moments after citing the long-term (“many years”) and “essential” reality of current teaching faculty. 

Bowen and Tobin do not acknowledge the importance of job security for the exercise of academic freedom. Instead, they claim that faculty on fixed appointments can enjoy what they repeatedly refer to as “basic” academic freedom. The teaching staff should have, they write, “some basic organizational protections for the core elements of academic freedom.” (163) (It is telling and related that they never use the word “professor”—just “teachers” or “staff.”) Buried in the middle of the book is this: “Core values of academic freedom should not be tied too tightly or too narrowly to tenure-track or tenured faculty." (164)  Tenure does not make good on the promise of academic freedom; rather, it is a recruitment tool and reward, applicable only to the “truly distinguished.” In short, it is a status symbol.

Bowen and Tobin do not explain how their position on the undesirability of tenure for teaching relates to their position on shared governance. But we can figure it out by recalling that much earlier in the book they pointed out that the erosion of tenure has weakened the collective faculty’s power with administration. The fewer the number of tenure-track positions at an institution, the weaker its shared governance. By explicitly discouraging tenure for teaching, and telling tenure-track faculty not to “bemoan” their shrinking numbers, while simultaneously explaining that faculty’s role in shared governance has declined with tenure’s decline, they come down on the side of “strong leadership” not “shared decision-making.” Whereas “academic freedom” is airy and immaterial in this book, “shared governance” is just doublespeak. 

The locus of authority for The Locus of Authority is top administrators and their Boards while faculty authority is restricted to curricular matters narrowly defined; delivery methods, encompassing online development, are not faculty purview, for example. They add that one “critical” reason why faculty should be denied substantial influence in governance is that they have “a conflict of interest.” (151) Viewing tenure as a status symbol, they appear to willfully disregard its original rationale as developed by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP): the provision of a high degree of job security so that faculty can negotiate difficult matters with relative objectivity.

Bowen and Tobin take great pleasure in comparing and contrasting the leadership styles of various University presidents but their digressions about specific individuals should not distract readers from their overarching point: strong presidents who consult with faculty render shared governance unnecessary. Strong presidents are bosses – smart, charismatic, persuasive bosses but bosses. For them, this is a good thing, because shared governance is in fact the major obstacle preventing institutions from responding effectively to the challenges of the 21st century.

It’s not hard to connect the dots. A professional teaching staff “solves” the problem of a toxic labor system by legitimating faculty through regularized contracts and inclusion in governance. Inclusion in governance of non-tenure track faculty, in turn, “solves” the problems they perceive with shared governance by ensuring that the majority of faculty are not peers empowered to deliberate upon the university’s interests as a whole but are managed employees.

Since the American Association of University Professors issued its 2012 report The Inclusion in Governance of Faculty Members Holding Contingent Appointments, the idea that the majority of faculty participating in governance might be doing so without tenure has become increasingly accepted. Should the unlikely bedfellows created here --AAUP activists wanting justice for NTT faculty on the one hand, administrators wanting less interference from faculty on the other—give us pause?

As more and more non-tenure track faculty are involved in service and governance at various institutions, a new story is taking shape—that of a seemingly egalitarian world exposed as a cut-throat workplace under the strain of budgetary crises or hiring disagreements. In places where off-track faculty are involved in service and governance, equality has not somehow reigned but rather a pretense of equality that papered over a Glengarry Glen Ross reality.

Take a 2009 Academe article entitled The Unhappy Experience of Contingent Faculty.The anonymous author describes life at his or her university before and then after the 2008 recession:

“Working across disciplines in teams, the faculty appears cohesive, with little distinction made between those on and off the tenure track. In fact, NTT faculty serve on annual merit committees with tenured faculty and the same criteria used to assess the performance of the nontenured are applied to the tenured. In other words the college seems to run in a fairly egalitarian manner. In the 2008-2009 academic year, however, this egalitarian approach changed.” 

She or he describes an ugly post-recession world of secret ballots distributed only to tenure-track faculty, reductions of positions made for financial reasons passed off as curricular modifications, and the replacement of “Professor” titles with the term “lecturer,” etc.

The anonymous writer ends the piece by recommending that universities “treat [NTT faculty] with the same respect as tenure-track faculty” and that they be given “a voice in governance.” But this is what she or he argued they in fact already had before 2008-9. The next recommendation seems more to the point: “Administrations should review cuts to such faculty positions with the same due consideration they would give to tenure-track positions.” Is it realistic, though, to ask administrators to treat two groups of workers with different contractual status the same? Could they legally do so if they wanted to? The more logical conclusion for the writer to draw from his or her experience is that real equality means equal eligibility for tenure.

Like Bowen and Tobin, Michael Bérubé and I also argue that universities that turned to off-track faculty with higher teaching loads after 1970 must now legitimate these faculty. We contend, however, that the only way to do so honestly is through the tenure system. For shared governance to survive as the defining feature of the American university, the majority of non-tenure track teaching-intensive positions must become tenure-eligible.  The difference between a university in which the majority of faculty are tenure-eligible and one without tenure (or one in which tenure is reserved for a research-focused minority) is not the difference between one model of higher education and another.  It is the difference between an institution with academic freedom and one without it.

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 12

Friday, July 10, 2015

Friday, July 10, 2015
As expected, Wisconsin Republicans passed, and the UW Regents implemented, a budget that will impose approximately 250 million dollars in cuts on the system over the next two years.  In addition, the state legislature--at the urging of Governor Scott Walker--has effectively ended the tenure system and shared governance in the state system.

Although a good deal of attention has been focused on the Legislature's plan to move tenure protection from Statute to Regental policy that is not the most significant change they are imposing. Instead they are redefining tenure out of existence.  As laid out in the "University of Wisconsin System Omnibus Motion" the University's ability to fire tenured professors (that is to say without individual cause) will no longer be limited to financial exigency.  Instead, the state has determined that the University can fire "any faculty or academic staff appointment when such an action is deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision regarding program discontinuance, curtailment, modification, or redirection, instead of when a financial exigency exists as under current law." (7)

Put another way, any administrative decision to reduce or redirect a particular department could result in a tenured faculty member being fired so long as there was no evidence that that particular individual was being unfairly targeted.  Tenure remains tenure so long as you fit the vision of the campus administration (and the UW system involves a large number of campuses).  These visions, are of course subject to change.  To be fair, the Regents have insisted that they will, in fact, develop secure tenure policies.  But it is hard to see how they could ignore the explicit command of the State to expand the reasons for termination beyond financial exigency.  And as Lenora Hanson, Elsa Noterman, and Eleni Shirmer pointed out in this post administrators at Madison and in the UW system bear their own responsibility for the cuts and the reorganization that is accompanying them.

At the same time, the "Omnibus Motion" reduces the authority of faculty within their own institutions.
Shared governance, role of faculty: Modify current law to specify that the faculty of each institution would have the primary responsibility for advising the Chancellor regarding academic and educational activities and faculty personnel matters subject to the responsibilities and powers of the Board, President, and Chancellor. Inaddition, modify current law to specify that the faculty of each institution must ensure that faculty in academic disciplines related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are adequately represented in the faculty organizational structure. Delete current law specifying that the faculty of each institution be vested with responsibility for the immediate governance of such institution and actively participate in institutional policy development. (6)

And lest anyone have any doubts about what this might mean they "Omnibus Motion" also makes clear that  as concerns shared governance in general " specify that, with regard to the responsibilities of the faculty, academic staff, and students of each institution, "subject to" means "subordinate to."" (7)

Governor Walker is expected to sign the budget in the next couple of days because he wants to officially start his campaign for the Republican nomination for President.  Wisconsin's Republican legislators (as far as I can tell there was no Democratic support for the budget) have managed to turn their backs on the long history of the University of Wisconsin as a crucial site of faculty authority and socially controversial research and teaching.  Following other attacks on higher ed and on faculty in Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oregon and elsewhere it is clear that Wisconsin does not stand alone.  But they are at the center of the issue.

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 1

Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015
By Joe Kiskis  (UC Davis)

This note makes a few comments on the final UC budget for 2015-2016 and then focuses on points related to the UC Pension Plan (UCRP). To some extent, it updates previous comments here by including changes since then and information that was not available then.

The 2015-16 UC Budget and UCRP

To get good information on the budget, one must read both AB 93 and SB 97. The process this year was a little convoluted. On June 15, the legislature passed AB 93, the Budget Act of 2015. This was the Legislature's version of the budget and was passed on that day so as to meet the constitutional deadline. It was done before the Legislature and Governor had come to agreement. Their agreement was announced the next day. To account for that and other small items in the following days, SB 97 was passed on June 19. It makes many significant amendments to AB 93, including a number relevant to UC. Both AB 93 and SB 97 were signed by the Governor. However the Governor exercised his line item veto authority in a few minor ways that are not relevant to UC. To get complete information, there are, as usual, trailer bills to read. One of those, SB 81, has a few parts relevant to UC---most significantly concerning the Middle Class Scholarship Program.

The main features of the UC budget concerning tuition and the base budget came out as expected and as have been widely reported. However, it's worth noting that the final language on these points is less proscriptive than in the original version and that what is expected to happen in the out years is just that---an expectation that is not mandated in this budget. Briefly, per the Regents decision of May 2015, tuition for California resident students is to remain constant for two more years. Following that, modest increases comparable to the rate of inflation are possible. On the other hand, for non-resident students, tuition will likely increase by 8% in each of the next two years. System-wide Student Services fees (as opposed to tuition) are allowed to go up 5% ($48).  The increase in the 2015-16 UC base budget is the same as the Governor originally proposed, i.e. 4% or $119.5M. The expectation is that 4% increases will continue through 2018-2019.

There was an expectation that the Legislature would augment the Governor's budget with funding for enrollment growth and that the Governor would not line-item veto it. This did not turn out as well as was hoped. The amount is only $25M, and it is contingent on UC adding 5,000 resident undergrads by 2016-17. This is a short timeline, and the amount is far below that needed to educate 5,000 students for one year. On a per student basis, it is also substantially below the average State contribution to the cost of education.

Earlier versions of the budget had limits on nonresident enrollment. Those did not make it into the final budget.

In the trailer bill, the eligibility requirements for the Middle Class Scholarships have been raised and the funding for the program has been decreased.

UC Retirement Plan (UCRP)

As it turned out, there is a large discrepancy between the language related to UCRP in the publicized agreement from the Committee of Two (or equivalently in the Governor's May Revise statement) and that which actually appeared in the final budget product.

The original claim was that there would be a one-time payment of $436M spread over three years ($96M in the first year) to pay off a small fraction of the UCRP unfunded liability. In return the University agreed to make a permanent change to UCRP by adding another tier that would apply to new employees. In this new tier, UCRP eligible salaries were to be capped at the inflation indexed PEPRA/Social Security limit ($117k for the current year) rather than at the IRS limit of $265k currently used by UCRP. Employees in the new tier would have the option of either a defined benefit plan with the new cap in combination with a supplemental defined contribution part or a defined contribution plan with no defined benefit portion. The second option of a straight defined contribution (DC) plan is most troublesome. Fortunately, no language describing such options was incorporated into the budget bills signed by the Governor.

The Governor's May Revise letter to the Legislature suggested budget bill language. This suggested language said only that UC would get a one year addition of $96M in exchange for making UCRP consistent with the PEPRA cap. It said nothing about how that should be done. It made no mention of $436M, no mention of a DC supplement, and certainly no mention of a DC only option. This recommendation was followed, and the language that the Governor suggested is essentially that of the budget bills. However, to drive home the point that there is no larger deal, the amended version of the budget adds:

"This appropriation does not constitute an obligation on behalf of the state to appropriate any additional funds in subsequent years for any costs of the University of California Retirement Plan." (SB 97, p. 96)

Thus neither the Governor nor the Legislature are pressuring the University to introduce a straight DC option. The DC option is something introduced (most likely by UCOP) during discussions in the Committee of Two but done without appropriate consultation within the University. Nevertheless, the Office of the President intends to pursue the possibility of a DC only option. In the discussions that will take place in the coming months, it is worth keeping in mind that a DC option appears to be primarily a priority of UCOP and not of the Legislature or the Governor. Note also that the relative merits of defined contribution verses defined benefit plans were thoroughly, carefully, and widely discussed in the University about six years ago. The conclusion was that the excellence of the University was best served by continuing with UCRP as a defined benefit plan. Thus in 2010, when the President recommended and the Regents endorsed pension reforms, UCRP was preserved as a defined benefit plan.

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 4

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Thursday, June 18, 2015
As you have probably seen, the Governor and the Legislative Leadership have agreed on a final budget bill.  From a funding standpoint, there is little in the new bill regarding UC to change Chris's critical analysis of the Governor's May Revision.  UC is scheduled to receive up to $25M beyond the Governor's original call for a 4 percent general fund increase on condition of a continued tuition freeze.  CSU fared somewhat better.  It will receive approximately $50M over the Governor's May proposal.  It too, though, has a variety of conditions placed on the money.  For UC the key pages of the bill are 105-113 and for CSU 113-117.  I'm going to focus on UC in this post because I am less familiar with the implications for CSU. But I hope that people at CSU will use the comments section to expand the discussion.

There are several key points to make about the total budget package.

First, it includes a one-time payment of $96 million for the UC pension.  But this money is dependent on a dramatic reduction in the benefits of UC's defined benefit pension plan (as was clear from the Regents agreement with the Governor).  After a new system is put into place, the maximum salary that can be counted in a pension calculation for new hires will be approximately $117,000.  The Regents have proposed a supplemental Defined Contribution Plan and have also floated the possibility of allowing new hires to go entirely into a DCP.  If the latter should happen it is possible that the DBP will become unsustainable in any form.

Second, the Legislature was able to get the Governor to agree to an additional $25M above his May proposals.  But this money is contingent on the University enrolling an additional 5000 resident students by the 2016-2017 academic year (107).  There are a couple of things to be said about this situation.  First, as Dan Mitchell pointed out, UC is unlikely to increase numbers in a dramatic fashion for the upcoming year.  That means that these increased numbers will hit with great impact in 2016-2017.  Having been at UCLA when it attempted a dramatic increase in numbers I can say that without proper preparation and expanded faculty and student services the effects are quite serious. Secondly, the Legislature is assuming $5000 of the marginal cost of each new resident student.  This figure is even lower than the LAO calculation that, as I pointed out in an earlier post, would lead to the permanent under-funding of the University. In addition, the money will arrive long after the students have both enrolled and had their presence documented by UCOP.

Sacramento is also insisting that this money, itself inadequate for the simple increase without a lot of supplement, also be used to increase and quicken graduation rates.  Now increasing graduation rates is something that we can all support--but Sacramento appears to be concerned with increasing graduation rates no matter the effect on education.  It wants more students to pass through more quickly with inadequate support--a position that ties in nicely with the Governor's vision that costs can be driven down by pushing students into online courses or reducing requirements.  There is, in all of this, a general disregard for academic expertise and an apparent conviction that quantity is the most important variable.

Although less explicit, it seems as if the Legislature and the Governor are willing to make the University more dependent on non-resident students even as they insist on increasing the number of resident students.  Although the Legislature and the Governor have insisted on a continuation of the tuition freeze for resident students through the 2016-2017 academic years (106), President Napolitano has been empowered to increase tuition for non-resident students up to 8% annually.  Both the Governor and the Legislature have apparently agreed to the assumption that non-resident students can be used to underwrite resident students so that the State can continue its long-standing failure to support higher education in the state.

Thirdly, and more positively, the Budget Bill demands greater administrative and spending transparency (108-109).  The bill directs the University to finally clarify the nature and distribution of the Manager and Senior Professional category (long one of the black holes of administrative transparency), to clarify the financial sources it considers applicable to educational activities, and to provide forecasts of costs and resources through 2018-2019. Although this transparency will not accomplish anything in and of itself, it will allow for a more open discussion of priorities than has been possible in the past.  The bill also demands that the University include state employee salaries in any market calculation for the Senior Management Group.  In effect, Sacramento is challenging the University's insistence that its administrators should be paid more than other public executives. Given the University's recent practice of hiring administrators without prior background as educators it is perhaps not surprising that the Governor and Legislature are now wondering why they should be treated differently than other public administrators.


At this point in time, it is difficult to see how President Napolitano and the Regents efforts to provoke public support for the University were successful.  Nor is it clear that the continued willingness of the University to act as if the Governor is the only player in town makes any sense.  In the end, the University received approximately 25-30M extra dollars compared to what the Governor had promised in previous budgets.  But this additional money comes with some very crucial strings, including a drastic reduction of pension eligibility, agreements to look into reducing graduation requirements, increased auditing of faculty and staff, increased dependence on NRT, and the possibility of even greater state intrusion into university affairs. It is also true that President Napolitano was able to get the Governor to promise a longer-term funding commitment to the University.  But as we learned from Schwarzenegger's "compact," those promises are easy to make and easy to break.  So, the bottom line seems to be minimal increased funding, seriously increased auditing of academic life, continued pressure to sacrifice educational quality to cost cutting, and a commitment to substantial cutbacks in retirement benefits for future employees.  Not a good budget round.

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 0

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wednesday, June 3, 2015
by Joe Kiskis


As the Legislature and Governor enter the end game for the 2015-2016 budget, here is a review of provisions related to UC in the Governor’s latest budget proposal—the May revise, which is now being considered by the Legislature.

It appears likely that the final UC budget will have provisions that address access and affordability. What is missing are resources to ensure that the university can maintain quality. It is the hardest to quantify, the weakest politically, and is now the most seriously threatened.

This budget is another demonstration of the truism that the only way to restore access, affordability, and quality is through adequate State investment in public higher education. In spite of strong revenues to the State, the Governor’s budget falls well short of what is needed to reverse the negative trends in recent years. As it happens, it is well within the means of the citizens of the State to restore all of California public higher education to the levels of access, affordability, and quality enjoyed in 2000-2001.

The May revise budget summary starts the UC overview on page 28.

Many aspects of the May revise as they relate to UC are contained in the agreement of the “Committee of Two”  now endorsed by the Regents.

1) Systemwide tuition and fees for California resident students are to remain constant for two more years. Following that, modest increases comparable to the rate of inflation are allowed. On the other hand for non-resident students, tuition will increase by 8% in each of the next two years.

2) Increases in the UC base budget are to be the same as the Governor originally proposed, i.e. 4% per year ($119.5M for 2015-16) but are now continued through 2018-2019. This is much less than what the State should contribute to replace cuts since 2007 and is also substantially less than the needs identified in the UC proposed budget for 2015-2016. (Further detail is here).

The May revise also proposes one time funds of $25M for deferred maintenance and $25M for energy efficiency projects.

3) The May revise contains a tepid and ambiguous recognition of a State obligation to UC pensions. One-time funds of $436M spread over three years (with $96M for 2015-16) are proposed. However, this is Proposition 2 money, which can be used only to reduce the UCRP unfunded liability (about $7.6B in the last annual report). The one-time payment is only modestly significant in the long run and has negligible impact on the University’s operating budget in the near term. This is because the University has not planned to increase the UCRP contribution rate above 8% for most employees and 14% for the employer. Contributions at this rate cover only the current year additional liability and some of the interest on the unfunded liability. i.e. at this point, the regular employer and employee payments are making no contribution to retiring the unfunded liability. Thus in near term years, the Proposition 2 money does not reduce the large negative impact on the UC operating budget from regular UCRP contributions. The Proposition 2 money could be framed as a replacement for or enhancement to UC’s own occasional ad hoc payments to reduce the unfunded liability, but these have been very controversial, and UC has not revealed any plans to make another such payment.

Unfortunately this modest one time contribution comes with permanent strings. In return UC is required to introduce yet another tier to UCRP that would apply to new employees. The new tier will mirror state law for other state employees. In this tier, UCRP eligible salaries are to be capped at the inflation indexed PEPRA/Social Security limit ($117k for the current year) rather than with the IRS limit of $265k currently used by UC. Employees in the new tier will have the option of either a defined benefit plan with the new cap and an add-on defined contribution plan to supplement the defined benefits or a fully defined contribution plan. It is this second option that is particularly troubling.

The relative merits of defined contribution and defined benefit plans were thoroughly evaluated and debated during the extended review that led to the 2010 reforms of the UCRP. The conclusion was that a defined benefit plan is the more advantageous option for both the University as an employer and for its employees.

The main concern is not so much that UC has cut a deal on this issue but rather that it has made such a poor deal. For very modest one-time money, it has agreed to make permanent changes to UCRP including offering a completely defined contribution option that will put at risk the whole of the defined benefit plan. (Chris Newfield has previously made similar comments.) In addition the closed process by which this agreement between the Governor and the President was reached has undermined shared governance and collective bargaining.

4) UCOP has stated that the Governor has agreed not to veto additional appropriations for UC that come out of the legislative process. The University is asking legislators for additional funds to increase California resident enrollment.

5) There are several areas in which the President has committed UC to the implementation of additional efficiencies. These include transfers, time-to-degree, advising, and use of technology. Some of these Presidential promises relate to topics that are squarely within the authority of the Academic Senate, and all of them would normally be addressed through shared governance.

You can find more information on CUCFA's activities here

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 2

Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday, May 15, 2015
I'm sorry to rain on the parade, but even though the state continues to recover, UC does not.

In November 2014, Gov. Brown offered UC a 4 percent increase in state funding, or $119.5 million.  The UC Regents countered with their famous 5 percent tuition increase, which would have added another $131 million (not counting financial aid revenue from the state).  That might sound like a lot of new revenue, but it isn't. Were both pieces in place, UC would be getting about half of the16 percent annual increase it had estimated it needs for several years running to recover from the Schwarzenegger and the Brown cuts. See my November post on the Regents meeting for context and for UCOP's chart on the subject.

There are various ways to describe the problem: it   is a $1.5 billion structural deficit (2011 values) or it is the $1 billion in cuts since 2008 that CFO Brostrom uses in public statements. A third way is even more ominous: the last Independent Audit Report of UC's finances had UC losing $5.7 billion on operations in FY2013 and $4.5 billion in FY2014 (page 10).  These losses were partially offset by non operating gains (investment returns is the largest piece). Even so, the shortfall was $1.0 billion in 2014.

The Governor has again offered UC the same state increase and no more. He has added a compact-like agreement to do this for four years in a row.  At the appearance of a new headwind he can abandon this commitment as Gov. Schwarzenegger abandoned his, but more to the point is that this is a minimal increase that would likely have emerged from the normal budgeting process.  UC has agreed to freeze tuition for another 2 years, so that increment is lost. In 2017-18, UC can request a tuition increase, but one to be tied to an inflation rate that is likely to remain well under the 5 percent UC proposed. 

In other words, UCOP has agreed to several more years of austerity and shortfalls.  This will keep the deficit in place and, as far as I can tell, sustain annual operating losses.  

Students will be happy they will not be paying more. They will not be happy that they will still be getting less.  Educational quality became a clear student issue last fall. But the state's likely political calculation is that cost is still more important than quality, and that students will also take deal.

One possible compensation for bad operating budgets would be a structural fix.   Here we arrive at the pension announcement.  This Democratic administration has taken to describing UC's pension liability as both a gap to be filled and an affront to state budgeting.  It is not just a budgetary problem in this narrative but a moral failing on UC's part. UCOP wanted the state to start paying the employer's share of the pension as it had in the past, and as it does for Cal State. The state's refusal to do this was one reason why the restart of the contributions was delayed. 

The state continues to refuse annual contributions. What it has now offered instead is a one-time payment of $436 million staggered over three years. In exchange, UC is to tier its pension again by adding a Defined Contribution plan for new employees and capping the Defined Benefit pension at the state employee level of $117, 020. (See Dan Mitchell's rundown here.)

In budget negotiations, it is always a bad idea to make a permanent change in exchange for a one-time payment, and this one is no exception.  In addition, the amount received is very small: $145.33 million per year for three years, while UCRP, the pension fund, has a $73 billion net position for pension payments, which is up nearly $10 billion from the previous year, and paid out nearly $4 billion in benefits last year  (page 17).  Why would you restructure your pension, which your employees dearly love, in exchange for 3.6 percent of your annual pension expense, and for just three years?  

UCOP has already handed UC employees an 8 percent pay cut in the form of restarted contributions, and UC operating funds have been squeezed to do the same--with very good results for pension solvency.  So what is the real purpose here?  Perhaps the purpose is to convert UC's pension into a 403(b) over time, and that UCOP wants this as well. I don't know this, but I can't explain why UCOP would take this deal when the pension is actually on the mend.

I can see why the state would do it. It gets a chunk of UC operating expenses off its budget. State politicians can also divide up the UC employee body.  The Academic Senate already cooperated in one tiering of the current pension for ladder faculty; most unionized employees voted to keep younger employees with them in one tier while paying an additional percent of their income to help the fund.  Represented staff generally make less than the $117k pension limit, will thus be less affected by the cap, and have resented high executive salaries.  Thus the state may face little UC employee opposition overall.  

Ladder faculty, senior managers, and Management and Senior Professionals will be seriously affected. The cap would make faculty retention harder: in most disciplines, the cap will kick in at mid-career when the most visible faculty are most liable to be recruited away, and a capped pension will make it that much easier for competitors to beat UC's best offer.   (In some disciplines, assistant professors will start at or above the cap.) UC campuses have long been starved for internal funding for non-sponsored research, academic programming, and new teaching initiatives, but have been able to offer retirement security in the age of academic adjuncting and the "disposable employee."  As retirement benefits are cut and/or destabilized, faculty will lose the one clearly superior thing about working at UC.   

Jerry Brown has long been inserting himself into the middle of UC educational policy, most obviously with his campaign to convert some percentage of UC courses to online. This current deal sets the first actual quota for new students: one third of them must be transfer students from community colleges.  Listen to the clips of the governor and his budget director that Prof. Mitchell has posted.  They offer a good representation of executive branch aggressiveness, and also feature Gov. Brown saying that he wants UC's lower division to shrink.  

This idea is equally bad for students and for the University.  Resident undergraduates who actually want to go to a four-year university will be squeezed between non-resident applications who pay 3 times more and community college students who have seats set aside for them.  In addition, they will lose the lower division courses that form part of the integrated curriculum for the major they will eventually complete.  Putting the first half of college into some other institution's hands will make coherent sequencing and skills accumulation that much harder.  On their side, campuses have a budgetary ecosystem that a shrunken lower division will damage.  Lower division enrollments cross-subsidize graduate education, sponsored research, and student services, among other things, and provide graduates with teaching opportunities.  Shrinking lower division enrollments will shrink funds that support UC's status as a research university.
We'll have more to say about all this during the Regents meet next week and as the plan unfolds. But my main impression today is that this is another step in the state's half-unconscious plan called, "the UC reversion to the mean."  UC was for decades a spectacular, standout place.   It now seems slated to follow California's K-12 system down the national rankings--or would do were other states not busily pushing the rankings collectively down by slashing their university systems too.  

The higher community needs to say, if our senior managers will not, that all of these budget economies are false. Saving money as Sacramento would like simply reduces the quality and the quantity of the intellectual and human capital that UC can produce.  The economist Walter McMahon offers the most comprehensive quantification that includes the non-market and social benefits of higher ed. He shows they are together twice as large as the private, market benefits.  And yet the state, led by Jerry Brown, is trying to fund UC only for the latter, in which it is a three-year skills training service that starves both higher order capabilities and research. If this carries on, massive public benefits will be lost. 

In addition, the quantitatively larger portion of the benefits of higher education, these indirect and non market benefits, consist of deep, complex capabilities like powers of critical thinking and a capacity for democratic deliberation.  These are often generated by liberal arts and sciences disciplines that form the campus core. They depend almost entirely on state funds and tuition.  UC is now starving the core but sustaining the periphery, particularly the medical centers where so much of the administrative growth, pension liability, and high-end salaries have accrued.  One good feature of UC having lost two of its national laboratories to a private limited-liability corporation during the Bush years was that the federal government reimburses UC for pension costs at Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories.  It may be time for a similar spin-off of the medical centers.  

I think that would be too bad, personally--medical research and practice are obviously crucial academic and public services.  Unfortunately, this latest poverty deal makes the internal competition for dwindling resources even worse, and the campus core is not protected.

Photo credit: Onbeyond, LLC, 2003.  Sample public campaign ad for UC, declined by UCOP
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 11