Public Comment

Commentary: Ah, Collegiality!

By David Kaun
Thursday July 23, 2009 - 09:55:00 AM

The ethnic diversity of faculty across the campuses of the University of California is the subject of debate and controversy; however there can be little doubt about ethical diversity. It abounds. We need look no further than the present university budget woes, and in particular two competing proposals offered by faculty at Santa Cruz and San Diego.  

The initial proposed salary cuts coming out of the president’s office, a reduction of 4 and 8 percent for faculty and staff making below and above $45,000 respectively, evoked considerable opposition at Santa Cruz. Many consider any salary cuts for those at the lower end of the scale to be obscene, and countered with a far more progressive scale, a scale in which faculty making the proposal would themselves see cuts in excess of 8 percent. 

Farther south, leading faculty members at San Diego spurned any sense of progressiveness. Rather, they sought a draconian solution, as regressive as it is simple. After all, they argue, it is obvious that the entire university consists of three “tiers”—upper, middle, and lower. To save the system and maintain UC’s greatness we must protect the best…the top tier, namely Berkeley, Los Angeles, and, yup, San Diego. If that means jettisoning those too weak to swim in today’s economic and political rapids, so be it. Solution? Close Riverside, Santa Cruz and Merced. Problem solved. 

While unlikely here, systems of triage are not without merit. Indeed, at times they are the only solution. As it turns out, San Diego’s three-tier triage system is simultaneously overly complex and too simple.  

Simply put, there are only two tiers within the UC system. At the top is Berkeley. On some level, all of us know there is one “crown jewel” in the system, located across the bay from San Francisco. The rest of us—yes, San Diego, right along with Santa Cruz, Riverside and Merced—will forever look up to the Bears.  

On the other hand, we do rank every element of our lives, from T-Ball to our universities. Within the UC system, there’s a natural desire to rank our nine campuses. And while recognizing the arbitrariness, expanding San Diego’s three-tier scheme by one would provide a superior guide, should the regents ultimately revert to triage.  

Interestingly, such a ranking has an obvious geographical dimension. Berkeley remains at the top of the system academically. Over 400 miles (light years?) south, in second place, is UCLA. The distance between UCLA and number three, San Diego, is less than 400 light years...uh, miles...further south, but 125 miles is no small distance. Indeed, once we’ve gone so far south, the geographical/quality relations break down. But the distances between the remaining six campuses pale in comparison to the San Diego-Berkeley gap. Given the subjective nature of the exercise, and the ensuing political turmoil, the resulting ranking may not be worth the effort.  

Thus, while not that much more sophisticated than San Diego’s three “tiers” version, the above ranking provides an honest estimate of the chasm separating San Diego from Berkeley. It may also induce a modicum of humility at our southernmost campus, and in doing so move the university a small step away from ethical diversity. Certainly a worthy goal! 


David Kaun is a professor of economics at UC Santa Cruz.