Thursday, July 16, 2009

CALIFORNIA COLLEGE CRUNCH: Budget cuts, fee hikes, forced days off -- the Cal State system is under siege + UC system: Lay-offs, not pay cuts


Budget cuts, fee hikes, forced days off -- the Cal State system is under siege.

By Vincent J. Del Casino Jr. | Opinion From the Los Angeles Times

July 16, 2009 -- In just under two months, students will start the new academic year at 23 Cal State campuses across the state. They'll encounter a new university, one that shows the effects of cutting $584 million from the budget.

If they are lucky enough to get the courses they need and want, those classes will be more crowded than ever before. Teachers and support staff will be less available and more stretched and tired, as they educate and advise more students with fewer resources. The latest money-saving proposal from the chancellor would add two "days off" a month -- the equivalent of four weeks of campus closures for the school year, with all services except emergency management and the dormitories shut down.

The students' 2009-2010 fees, which already have been increased by 10%, are likely to go up another 15% to 20%. Cal State will put 33% of that increase into student financial aid. Still, most students will face a real tuition increase of 16% to 20% this year, even as they're expected to pick up the slack and teach themselves while their access to professors, libraries and technical support is decreased.

Given California's budgetary crisis, there is no doubt cuts can and should be made in the CSU system. And structural adjustments will continue to take place in the wake of the changing (and challenging) California economy regardless of what the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger do.

But the depth of these cuts means we're facing more than simply modifying Cal State's approach to education; we're looking at the potential wholesale abandonment of the master plan, California's commitment to providing a college education to all its young people who qualify. Enrollment alone won't take the hit, but it's instructive to see the cuts in those terms: Cal State's loss of $584 million is the equivalent of cutting 95,000 of the system's 450,000 students. As a department chair, I spend day and night trying to determine the best places to slash our very modest teaching budget to balance the needs of students with the realities of decreasing resources. What can be sacrificed? What must we protect at all costs?

Trust me, the faculty can and already does teach with the bare bones. But what happens when there is no money to replace failing technology or retiring experts in our fields? What happens when this institution's greatest assets -- its people -- either drift away, demoralized, or are shunted aside as the system downsizes? All because the state can't manage its affairs and fulfill its own policies and goals.

So what is the cost of gutting the Cal State system? Fewer nurses. Fewer teachers. Fewer engineers. Fewer poets and artists. Fewer film and electronic arts experts. Fewer MBAs. Fewer people to drive the future of California, including fewer geographers trained in my department. These reductions in educated human capital will hit California at a time when the state needs 2 million additional college graduates by the year 2020.

I have always looked forward to the first day of classes, but not this year. This year, I am going to have a hard time looking students in the face as I have to tell them: "Sorry, you probably won't graduate this year. We don't have the money to run all the classes you will need to complete your degree."

How do you explain to students that the state has given up on them? Governor, any good one-liners I might use?

Vincent J. Del Casino Jr. heads the geography department at Cal State Long Beach.


UC system: Lay-offs, not pay cuts

Rather than across-the-board salary cuts, getting rid of unproductive people makes more sense.

By Robert Cooter and Aaron Edlin | Opinion From the Los Angeles Times

July 16, 2009 -- The University of California remains outstanding. By some rankings, three of its schools are among the top 20 universities in the world. But for how long?

The budget has been cut by 20%. The Board of Regents votes today on UC President Mark Yudof's plan to deal with the shortfall.

Yudof's original proposal included salary cuts across the board of 8% or furloughs leading to an equivalent reduction. This at a time when UC salaries are already 10% or more below those at peer institutions. The current proposal is more nuanced, with cuts ranging from 4% for low earners to 10% for high earners.

The basic choice, though, is to cut employee salaries rather than lay off employees.

Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau has thanked his faculty and staff for agreeing to this shared sacrifice. He says the alternative would have been to immediately eliminate hundreds of staff positions, which would have made some units dysfunctional.

A colleague at dinner the other night quipped that some units are already dysfunctional.

We don't doubt the chancellor's arithmetic, but we wonder whether Birgeneau and Yudof are ducking even more difficult, but more effective, options.

Across-the-board salary cuts are the simplest way to balance the budget, but they are rarely the best. In the corporate world, smart organizations more often choose layoffs than salary cuts. And with good reason.

A crisis is a time to rethink what we do, how we do it and who does it.

Consider what the proposed salary cuts would mean. With employees paid up to 20% below what peer institutions pay, the best will leave. Yes, even in this recession, the best people will leave for other jobs or retire or switch professions. And those who remain will suffer from low morale.

Growth has led to bloat at UC. The bloat and bureaucracy stifle creativity and productivity. The bloat is in unproductive workers and unproductive jobs. Many jobs have little to do with our core missions of teaching and research. Within jobs, there is task bloat -- mission creep creates too many assignments of little import.

These problems are endemic to most large organizations, but they are particular problems for one like UC, where it is almost impossible to fire an unproductive worker, whether staff or tenured professor, and always easier to hire a new one.

Our plan would be simple. To meet Yudof's savings targets, a number of employees would be laid off sufficient to save 8% of the payroll. The choices in staff cuts would be difficult, but they are necessary if the regents are unwilling to raise tuition further. Specific decisions on whom to lay off would be decentralized to campuses, and within campuses to schools or departments.

In the case of tenured faculty, for better or worse, they have a good measure of protection. But if an entire unit is eliminated, tenured faculty within it can be fired. Thus, while tenure means that we cannot be fired for writing this Op-Ed article, the university can decide that it does not have the resources to have a law school.

Those who remain would get full pay but be asked to pick up much of the slack by cutting out their least productive 8% to 10% of activities. Together, these two steps would make UC stronger and more efficient, and we might get done nearly as much as before.

The budget cut is enormous, and if people and units are cut, mistakes will surely be made. But sometimes the only way to find out if you really need something is to have it gone and feel the pain. If the pain is severe, you rebuild it. If not, the organization is more streamlined.

Perhaps there is now only time to cut salaries and not people or units. In that case, the regents could cut salaries for only six months and demand employee reductions to start in January.

Then, those like our dinner colleague who are frustrated by UC bureaucracy might even come to view the current crisis as an opportunity. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

Robert Cooter is a professor of law and Aaron Edlin is a professor of law and of economics, both at UC Berkeley.

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