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New: The University of California's Two Big Mistakes: The New Logo and the Berkeley Stadium (Opinion)

By Christopher Adams
Wednesday December 12, 2012 - 04:58:00 PM

I worked for 27 years at the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) and then finished my career at the new UC campus in Merced. So I think I know a little about what goes on, or at least what should go on. UCOP sets overall policy, but the campuses plan and propose projects, UCOP reviews, and the regents approve. Two terrible things have happened to UC this year: the design of an absurdly ugly and unnecessary logo that some have compared to a flushing toilet and the revelations about the huge and unpaid debt for the Cal football stadium. And both problems I would submit are a result of UCOP malfeasance. 

Writing to other UC alumni, faculty, and friends about the logo has made me aware that the logo reflects a much bigger and dismal picture of the new culture at UCOP. I learned for example that Regent Blum was responsible for UC hiring Bain Consulting for $12 million to recommend various useless and counter-productive changes to make the University more like a private corporation and less like an educational institution. I learned that the logo was designed in-house at UCOP by, quote, " 2-3 people on staff working on this over the course of several months at about 10% of their time while they were doing other things." I learned that the logo is planned to be printed in many pastel colors and for use on shopping bags and delivery trucks. I guess we are lucky that Bain wasn't hired for the logo and only a small amount of funding was devoted to its design, but by my calculation even this amount of staff time converted to professional salaries amounts to more than I was able to donate this year to a scholarship fund at Merced. It is pretty depressing to think that what I can give for scholarships is wiped out by salaries at UCOP so we can have a nice design for shopping bags. 

At the Berkeley campus the football stadium was remodeled and enlarged to include an athletic training facility and an elaborate new press box at a total cost, in round numbers, of about half a billion dollars. Some of this was to come from gifts, but most was to be paid for from the sale of bonds. The campus athletic director alleged that the debt service on the bonds would be covered by the sale of permanent seats to alumni. Some seats have been sold but not enough. Servicing the remaining debt is calculated at about $17 million annually over and above what seat sales will bring in. This money won't come from the state so presumably it will have to come out of student pockets. If my numbers are correct, paying this debt will increase each Berkeley student's fees by about $485 a year. My question is how did the Office of the President recommend and the regents approve a financial plan that has such a horrible impact? At one time my job at UCOP was reviewing campus borrowings for housing, parking, recreation centers, etc. I also worked on the approval of capital projects. Remembering what sorts of analysis we did before ever sending something to the regents for approval I am simply stumped as to what folks at UCOP are now doing, except we know that some of them are spending 10% of their time on logo design. 

The logo, for all the jokes about its bad design, is not a trivial issue. It is emblematic of where the University of California is going. While its board of regents directs its Office of the President to move ever closer to a corporate model, they are neglecting their basic fiduciary duties. The California State Constitution gives the board of regents almost complete independence. The regents historically have been captains of industry and finance, usually associated with the party of the appointing governor. Recent events--one thinks of Countrywide Mortgage, Lehman Brothers, and Hewlett Packard--show how badly these sorts of people may be at running their own affairs. Perhaps it's time to consider whether UC needs a new way of governing itself. UC is not a private corporation; the regents are not a private board of directors; UC is not a "brand" that needs an updated corporate logo like a UPS truck.