Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sure, Let Me Help

I had been stewing the past few days about the multiple mailings I've received from Cal, the Alumni Association, and other Berkeley related sites. Just about the time I thought I was the only curmudgeon in town, UC alumnus Victor Davis Hanson posted a rant that exactly mirrored my feelings. So, if you will indulge me, I'll pass our biggest gripe on.

Aside from the regular ads for alumni cruises I can't afford by a long shot (is every Cal grad except me a millionaire?), I've gotten message after message about the plight of the poor students who were forced to demonstrate (violently, occasionally) over the issue of the University raising tuitions. Hanson's reaction was: "There is no money left. It does not grow on trees. Look in the mirror." I'll go with his reaction, largely because mine was laced with obscenities.

So the propaganda gives us all the sad stories that are supposed to open our hearts and our wallets (preferably the latter). Omigod!--we're going to have to turn deserving students away, cancel classes, cut programs, eliminate many [union] "support staffers," and generally turn California public education back to the stone age. And for good measure, they drag in the public schools as fellow victims of the budget holocaust.

So where's the part about Cal's top-heavy administrative staff, including more vice-chancellors, provosts, associate provosts, assistants to the president, and more other non-academic positions than you can shake a stick at? Why do UC professors teach only two classes per semester while Cal State University professors teach an average of four classes per semester? They could easily eliminate half of the non-academic positions and support staff without feeling a thing.

Meanwhile the other driving forces that have caused tuition to be raised (again and again) include increased taxes for schools, guaranteed federal loans that rise to meet increased tuition, state borrowing to help pay for increased tuition, and alums who are foolish enough to fork over their cash without asking why it's costing so much. Just eliminating all new and useless majors and programs to accommodate students who could just as easily attend the Cal State campuses and two year colleges could save millions. Sure, a Cal degree is prestigious, but does everybody need one? Do half the students even qualify?

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Campbell suggested awhile back that tuition at the two premier campuses of the University of California system (Berkeley and UCLA) should be raised to meet the demand for cream-of-the-crop students, and lowered for the other UC campuses to a level comparable to those at the Cal State campuses. Currently, all UC campuses charge approximately one-third of what it costs to attend Stanford or USC, even though only Berkeley and UCLA qualify to be listed with the elite schools.

Berkeley and UCLA students currently pay about $15,000 to $20,000 per year (as do all UC students), for all college-related expenses (including room and board), whereas Stanford and USC students are paying closer to $50,000 to $55,000. By raising the Berkeley and UCLA tuitions and fees and lowering them for the other UC campuses, a great deal of money could be saved. Are they getting a better education at the two premier campuses today than I got for about $1,600 back when Berkeley allowed only the top of the top students in? The rates of increase at the UC system have greatly exceeded the rates of inflation in every year since 1972, when they were approximately equal.

None of this matters to the student complainers and their enablers. The students march, they riot, they block a busy freeway to declare their destitution. In the latter case, local police report that about half of the protesters arrested aren't even students at Berkeley, or anywhere else. As for the instructors who marched with the students, it should be pointed out that much of their actual work is done by grad students working for less than half of what the professors are getting paid per hour of actual classroom instruction. As Hanson says: "Remember that the next time a tenured Cal or UCLA professor rails about pay inequity at Wal-Mart."

As for the lower grades, California teachers get paid on average the highest salaries in the United States. They are paid thousands more than in Massachusetts or Connecticut, and about $20,000 more than the average in Maine and Kansas. In addition, California public employees, teachers and professors included, earn about 50% more in salary, pension and benefits than their counterparts in the private sector. And you wonder why California is broke? Needless to say, I'm not losing any sleep over the plight of any of these blood-suckers. Sure, the top level of private businesses can earn more, but they don't generally have the minimal hours, security, quickly-earned pensions and cushy working conditions of the public employees. Many middle-class taxpayers, facing the highest income taxes in the nation, are leaving at the rate of nearly 3,500 per week, in part because their taxes are going to support public schools which score 46th to 48th in national rankings.

While fees go up, quality of education goes down, students and teachers (including those UC professor) demonstrate and hold their hands out for "more, please, or else," not a single person of importance within the system is coming up with any realistic solution, though many are available and obvious. Hanson says: "I have talked with a few students and employees over the last year and I think the angst behind the student protests runs something like this. In sum, apparently state employees, teachers, and students believe that there is either (a) a stash of money somewhere that is unspent and could easily ease their pain . . . or (b) we could raise income taxes, along with sales and gas taxes to even-more record highs (why do some people need BMWs or private planes when 'we' need cheaper tuition?)"

The ultimate question to be posed is why are Californians the highest taxed state populace in the country, and yet have some of the most dismal infrastructure and schools to show for it? Some of those answers are what are driving people like Hanson and me into total exasperation. As he said, that question is not rhetorical, and "it is logical, not a paradox."


AndrewPrice said...

I have no sympathy for them whatsoever. When the economy goes down hill, people become more careful with their spending. They cut costs and they work harder. Businesses cut employees and cut salaries.

The only thing that refuses to take a cut is government and unions -- which seem to have become the same thing.

That unions are so stupid as to resist economic realities has been proven in economic wastelands like Detroit, where union bosses can claim that they never gave in. . . even as the world around them collapsed.

Colleges are the same thing, only they've had the government to bail them out. Now they don't because the government is broke.

So they whine and they protest. They don't want to accept any cuts of any sort. They aren't even willing to cut out unwanted, i.e. unprofitable, departments. So I say boo hoo. You can't protest away reality. And the more they try, the more it just makes me hope that these organizations will collapse, tossing these losers out on their butts into the real world, and making way for better schools and better students to take their place.

StanH said...

When I saw the photos of the Berkley students protesting my first thought, change you can believe in, I want my stuff, and what’s in it for me. Maybe this will be an opportunity to break the vicious cycle of dependence, believing that somehow simply being born entitles you to someone else’s property…pitiful.

In Georgia we have a shortfall of $326 million in our state college and university system. No mention of cutting back, in academia, the answer is, we simply need to raise taxes. Oh well, this is Georgia where we must balance the budget by law, and cuts are coming, and the stuck pig chorus is in harmony…for the children…students rights…yady, yady, yak.

Joel Farnham said...

The State of California is the precursor to what will happen all over the nation for the next 3 years. It is similar to what is happening to Greece right now.

Cuts will be made and the ones who have been growing fat on the largess will complain the most. What you need really is a Governor who doesn't mind breaking up UNIONS. I don't see that happening and I forsee it will get worse.

LawHawk, I hope you have made plans for a quick exit.

Writer X said...

I think a good reality program would be watching a University professor start/run a business. It's amazing the such supposedly smart people can't figure out the answer to their financial problems--and it isn't throwing more good money after bad. Amazing. And they have the student protestors trained perfectly.

Unknown said...

Andrew: Government and unions, the two organizations which have absolutely no concept of how wealth is created or where money actually comes from. This would be a perfect opportunity to glean out students who don't belong in college, let alone in an elite university. It would also be an opportunity to get rid of professors and curricula which have nothing to do with academics or intellectual development. And for those who remain, hard work and genuine accomplishment.

Unknown said...

StanH: You have no idea just how bad things are in California. Your debt for the Georgia state colleges and universities is smaller than that of Berkeley and UCLA alone. We have eight other UC campuses, and twenty-three California State Universities and Colleges. And we have no balanced-budget requirement--obviously.

Unknown said...

Joel: California has always been proud of its place as the leader of the nation. As California goes, so goes the nation. Well, it's not what we intended, and let's hope that this time we're wrong.

The combination of government and unions in which "educators" join unions and have civil service protection, and tenure on top of it all is a near-absolute guarantee of never being able to get rid of the deadwood, or even cutting back on good people when economic times require it.

The University of California and California State Universities could cut back by 35% - 40% in useless expenditures, tighten their collective financial belt, require professors to do more than bask in their own brilliance, eliminate every non-academic curriculum, and say bye-bye to students who shouldn't be there in the first place. Having done that, the quality of education would rise appreciably.

I'm working slower on things these days, but I am working on getting out of the left coast socialist Mecca.

Unknown said...

WriterX: I'll go you even one farther. Watch a university professor of economics try to start a business. Most of them are Keynesians who haven't realized that anyone who has ever run a business knows that Keynesian economics are totally discredited. They all support green initiatives, because they think money grows on trees.

As for the students, they're terrified they might have to leave school, go out into the real world, and do something actually worthwhile. Mommy and daddy gave them an allowance, why shouldn't Uncle Sugar (aka "the gummint")?

HamiltonsGhost said...

Pampered students who've never done anything useful on their own behalf are getting ridiculously expensive educations that train them largely to go into academics, default on their taxpayer-funded loans, or become politicians who will spend even more of the public funds for projects which either don't need to be done or could be done better, cheaper and more efficiently in the private sector.

Unknown said...

HamiltonsGhost: I want to make clear that I have immense respect for my old alma mater (Berkeley) and that of my son (UCLA). They are still among the top schools in the world in the sciences, medicine and law. For the serious and qualified students, the facilities are among the very finest. The UC Bancroft Library is the second-largest in the world (second only to the Library of Congress). My complaint is with the ever-growing group of unqualified students admitted under social engineering guidelines, professors of useless curricula who think they're too good to put in a full work day, and support staff for the support staff that supports the lazy academics.

A huge portion of the UC payroll goes to people who have absolutely nothing to do with teaching or academics. We could save millions just by eliminating the "diversity officers" from each of the campuses.

Unknown said...

Lawhawk. As a Californian, I have multiple reasons for being willing to pay for excellent professors and excellent students. As for the rest, I'm unwilling to do so, and if they keep requiring me to do so, I may soon become unable as well as unwilling. Californians are overtaxed and underserved, and academia is just one example of how frivolously they spend our money.

Unknown said...

CalFed: Well said, and I agree wholeheartedly. Although I have a special interest in UC Berkeley (and tangentially UCLA), my complaints about the university system were triggered by the mailings I've received from the University and the alumni association. The University is just a microcosm of everything that's wrong with California's use of the taxpayers' money and the attitude of the beneficiaries of that undeserved largess.

Tennessee Jed said...

Higher education, like our healthcare system, best exemplifies what happens when people don't have to pay themselves for services. Yes, that's right, no incentive to control costs. Why should universities lay off staff or ask faculty to take a pay freeze when they know the good old government will lay an automatic budget increase on the poor taxpayer. It is so much easier to raise tuition if nobody fights back.

If we have to have government subsidizing tuition, I say make it in the form of a student loan, with payback automatically deducted from the individual's paycheck until the loan is retired.

Tennessee Jed said...

p.s. College today is like high school when we were going, Hawk. A Masters is like a bachelors degree in terms of being an entry into the job market. For so many in this country (hmmmn, let's call them, oh I don't know, how about progressives?) education, healthcare, luxury housing, filet mignon, are considered a "right." What the . . .

Unknown said...

Tennessee: I hate it when people tell their personal stories, so I will now proceed to do so anyway. When I was at Cal, I had a National Defense Education Act loan which partially covered my room and board, and also served a dual purpose. If the student later went into teaching for five years or the military for four, the loan was forgiven. If not, you paid it off with interest. I didn't go into teaching until well past the deadline, so I paid the loan and interest off. My tuition ($86.50 per semester at UC Berkeley) was covered by my academic California State Scholarship. Anything else, I paid for myself (like for a residence with indoor plumbing).

So I worked nearly fulltime in college, and fulltime + in law school. When I emerged from academia, I was very much prepared to enter the real world. Most of these academically-deficient money-eaters can't say the same.

Unknown said...

Tennessee: The truly sad part is that the students who are coming out of our better high schools and going into the elite universities are actually as well- or better-educated than we were. My son's academic decathlon high school team answered questions that I didn't even understand, let alone have the ability to answer. His extracurricular activities included, but were certainly not limited to, heading the Moot Court team that he conned me into coaching. Those kids were smarter and better-prepared to act as lawyers than about half of the actual lawyers I've encountered over the past few years. They had to make their cases and arguments in front of some of the most-respected and toughest judges in California.

UC Berkeley and UCLA still are in world leadership positions in the genuine and useful majors that used to comprise the vast majority of curricula at those schools. Those who consider Western Civilization as important to their development as Americans now have to cherry-pick the courses, but they're still available, and among the very best. I still remember to this day having to research what Shakespeare meant by "the sledded pole-axe" in Henry IV, Part I.

That covers maybe 10% of high school students and probably 30% to 40% of students at the elite State schools. It's the other 90% of public high school students and 60% to 70% of current students at the state universities and colleges that I'm concerned with. They are the ones you're referring to, and they are the ones who are taking up space learning in their senior year of college what they should have learned in their last year of high school. And they are the ones who are costing us immense sums for no good purpose.

A UC Berkeley BA in physics today is leaps ahead of one who got the same degree in my year of graduation (1966). The same is largely true of a history major, or an English Literature major.

But what use in God's name is a BA in ethnic studies or gender studies except to perpetuate those two curricula that didn't even exist in 1966? And why do the two elite Universities of California admit large numbers of students who are academically unqualified? When I was working in the Berkeley undergraduate admissions office, those were the students we would ask "have you considered Chico State College or UC Riverside?" It was our way of saying that they were simply academically unqualified to be at Berkeley or UCLA.

Unknown said...

Lo and behold, my favorite (and only) conservative columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, Debra J. Saunders, had a similar take on the subject. You might find it interesting, coming as it does from a California contrarian MSM writer: March Forth Means: Pearls Before Swine.

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