A day-long conference held this past Saturday on the UC campus addressed the California public education crisis. In late afternoon of the same day, about 200 students, workers, and community activists visited UC President Mark Yudof’s house in the Oakland hills. On the hillside below his residence, the protesters built a mock cemetery, in keeping with Yudof’s recent comparison of the university to a cemetery.
According to the protesters, the rent that UC pays for Yudof’s home in the Oakland hills, $10,000 per month, exemplifies the university administration’s priorities: enabling a luxurious lifestyle for the executives of the system, while slashing workers’ salaries and students’ education to the bone.
By all accounts, Mark Yudof is a man cut of different cloth from that of his predecessors such as former UC President Clark Kerr. Kerr presented himself to the public as a leader dedicated to the ideal of delivering university education to ever-increasing numbers of high school graduates. And he oversaw the opening of new, well-funded UC campuses to achieve this liberal aim.
Mark Yudof, on the other hand, presides over the university in a time of national and statewide fiscal crisis. He brings to the administration of the academy a different agenda and a different style. Whereas Kerr resisted the private funding of public education, Yudof invites it. He is compelling the university, the protesters say, to do the bidding of conservative interests such as those represented on the Board of Regents.
Unlike Clark Kerr, who addressed the public in measured tones of reason and sober reflection, President Yudof uses language that is more spontaneous and colorful. In a recent interview with the New York Times, Yudof lamented that although he listens to the faculty, no one listens to him: “Being president of the University of California is like being manager of a cemetery: there are many people under you, but no one is listening.”
What is the message that, according to Yudof, is not being heard? It is that the university is caught in the crosshairs of a belligerent campaign out of Sacramento that is targeting all public education: Given that state government has reduced university funding by over $800 million for 2009-2010, UC has no choice but to economize. “We need to cut down on the rhetoric and all the angst,” Yudof remarked at a recent statewide teleconference on education. “These problems are structural. The problem is not with any individual. And the problem cannot be solved if no one is willing to share in the pain.”
Yudof’s critics see the predicament of the university quite differently, although for them too, the cemetery metaphor is a telling one: compared to the roar of conservative politicians demanding cutbacks, the voice of education’s advocates is not getting through to the administrators.
Maricruz Manzanares, a senior custodian at UC Berkeley and an officer of AFSCME Local 3299, says that current policy “favors UC executives at the expense of students, workers, and the community. Instead of raising student fees, cutting classes, laying off workers, and offering less services, President Yudof should be giving attention to the alternatives that the union has offered.” Manzanares reports that staff cutbacks have made it impossible for custodians to do the work that is necessary to keep campus buildings clean and usable.
Another university employee, Mike Rotkin, who has taught at UC Santa Cruz for 40 years and used to be the mayor of that city, points out that the total UC budget cut “affects only 4.1 percent of the total UC budget. The university has recovered over half of that budget cut by raising student fees … effectively pricing the children of working-class families of California out of UC and effectively privatizing the institution ... UC’s real problem is that it has bad budget priorities. UC provides large bonuses to top administrators while cutting the pay of the faculty and low-wage workers. President Mark Yudof’s salary is almost twice that of his predecessor.”
Maricruz Manzanares says that AFSCME has shown how UC can compensate in a sensible way for the $813 million funding shortfall: reducing the salaries of the top 2 percent of UC’s top earners will save $220 million. The union claims that an additional $465 million can be saved by utilizing UC’s medical center profits, managing the University’s investment portfolio and bond debt more effectively, and cutting wasteful spending.
George Lakoff, professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley, also questions the validity of the administration’s budget calculations, and points out as well that “the university is a lot more than an economic engine: it is a quality of life engine …. Education is about more than making money. It is about coming to know the world, about learning to think critically, and about developing the capacity to create new knowledge, new social institutions, and new kinds of businesses. It is about each of millions of people becoming more of what they can be. That is the real promise of California.”
It is this traditional promise of a public education, Yudof’s critics believe, that the university administration should be vigorously defending in Sacramento and statewide.
Raymond Barglow, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the founder of Berkeley Tutors Network (www.berkeleytutors.net), which prepares high school students to take the SAT and ACT exams.