Wow. We never thought the city of Berkeley was such a major philanthropic organization. You probably didn’t know that Berkeley citizens annually provide scholarships to at least 1,100 UC students, but this figure was confirmed last week by Chancellor Birgeneau himself. He told the Regents that if UC Berkeley paid $3 million toward what it costs the city of Berkeley to host the University of California, that would mean depriving 300 UC students of an education. You can do the math, no matter whether your S.A.T. math scores would have gotten you into Cal or not. Since the city actually subsidizes the University to the tune of more like $11 million in uncollectible property taxes, according to Birgeneau’s figures we are now providing 1100 students with a education that they’d have to forego if UC paid its own way, as do other universities like the University of Michigan, Stanford and Yale. If we take the population of Berkeley to be in the neighborhood of 110,000 (give or take a few thousand for ease of calculation) that means that every man, woman and child in Berkeley contributes about $100 a year to this scholarship fund. Pretty generous, wouldn’t you say?
Administrators like Birgeneau aren’t quite as public spirited as Berkeley citizens. They expect to be paid, and well paid, for their contribution to education. The recent flap over the cushy job offered to the partner of the newly hired UC Santa Cruz chancellor spotlighted the handsome compensation packages now being delivered to University of California administrators. UCSC Chancellor Denton will be paid $275,000, and her domestic partner will get an administrative position created just for her and worth $192,000 a year. The couple will also get a total of $118,750 in moving costs, for a grand total of pretty close to half a million dollars, enough, in fact, to fund about 50 students at Birgeneau’s rate.
UCSF’s LGBTI Resources Director Shane Snowdon rightly criticized the lurid headline the San Francisco Chronicle put on the story: “Post for Santa Cruz Chief's Lesbian Lover.” In a letter to the Chronicle’s editor, he complained that “I have never seen the hiring of a husband or wife receive similarly prominent mention.” He asked “Will UC spousal hiring be front-page news under headlines like, ‘Post for Chief's Sexual Consort’?”
It’s not the public’s business what UC administrators do in bed, but it’s very much the public’s business how much they’re paid, and if their partners are part of the package. If this particular partner hadn’t been describable as a “lesbian lover” the deal might not have made the news at all.
Snowdon noted that “it is routine for academic institutions to hire the spouses and partners of those whom they recruit for critical positions.” Maybe so, but UCSC union leaders, as quoted in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, don’t agree with the practice. “Arrogant…unethical…insulting” were some of the adjectives they chose to describe the Denton deal, even though big compensation packages for all concerned seem to have become routine in the UC system.
UC administrators are fond of citing the number of jobs the institution provides for the city of Berkeley as an excuse for not paying a fair share of the city’s costs. But jobs just create demand for housing and services, particularly the poorly paid jobs that the unions represent. Since the city of Berkeley is now subsidizing the university to the tune of $11 million a year, more jobs just mean more unreimbursed expenses. Housing for workers with families has been tight for years, though we’re already suffering from a glut of the kind of fancy dorms (aka “luxury student apartments” or “cash register multiples”) which quickly become tomorrow’s slums. Case in point: the ugly building on Telegraph familiarly known as BOB (Big Orange Building) which was developed and sold to students’ parents as condos. After the first couple of ownership generations, the condos got harder to sell, and they’re now rented out by an assortment of absentee owners who don’t much care about maintenance or tenant behavior, if you believe the neighbors. Since most UC workers aren’t paid well enough to live in Berkeley, and since UC does little or nothing about subsidizing their transit costs, they drive to work, and the city pays, in the form of traffic and air pollution.
Birgeneau revealed that the city of Berkeley’s “demands” on the University, although touted by the politicians (with major spin) as very gutsy, actually amount to not much more than $3-$5 million tops, and cheap at the price. Even so, he says, he won’t pay. That’s why it’s time to get a full accounting of what the University actually owes the cities it’s in, and to press the legislature for real compensation.
Citizen organizations to oppose university expansion have been formed in both Berkeley and Santa Cruz. They’re asking civic leaders to hold out for genuine comprehensive environmental impact reports which will reveal the full extent and document the actual cost of University of California expansion in their towns. But some Berkeley citizens are starting to fear that our mayor and council have just been using the threat of a lawsuit over the EIR for U.C.’s Long Range Development Plan as a bargaining chip in a small-stakes deal. They’re afraid that the politicians are preparing to settle for a million or two on the bottom line to bail out Berkeley’s current deficit for a year or two. That would be a major mistake. According to a widely believed story, it’s the same one made by then-Mayor Loni Hancock and then-Assemblyman Tom Bates when they agreed to settle with then-Chancellor Mike Heyman on the 1990 LRDP. If true, that’s what got the city of Berkeley into the budget hole it’s in today. Let’s not do it all over again.