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By JonMarcus
arved from the rust-colored PalomarMountains
along the coast of the churning Pacific, the University of
California at SanDiego seems as close to paradise as any
public higher education institution is likely to look.
A racial and ethnic rainbow of students stroll beneath
clear blue skies wearing T-shirts and flip-flops in the 80-degree
heat.The student newspaper prints the surf report on page
one. Butterflies flit around the eucalyptus trees while hundreds
gather on amanicured athletics field for the Chancellor’s
Challenge, a 5K road race.
The race has been organized to raisemoney for scholarships
to help the poorest students afford the quickly escalating cost
of attending this university, whose price increased almost ten
percent this fall and will soon rise again by nearly a third.
In all, this event will generate about $200,000, an
inconsequential amount compared to the $2.6 billion in cuts
and added costs suffered by this and California’s other public
universities since the start of this recession, which came on top
of a 40 percent inflation-adjusted drop in state support since the
early 1990s.
“What I see in California and around the rest of the country
is an emerging catastrophe,” said California State University
systemChancellor Charles Reed.
The Golden State has stumbled fromhigher-education
success story to poster child for the crisis at American public
universities. Its university system—by far the nation’s biggest,
divided into 110 community colleges, the 23 campuses of the
California State University, and the tenUniversity of California
campuses—has traditionally also been among the best,
including as it does UCLA andUC SanDiego, both ranked
among the nation’s top 20 research universities, and flagship
UCBerkeley, consistently named the best public university in
America. Faculty at all the UC schools combined have won 55
Nobel prizes.
But huge and continuing population growth of about 50
percent since 1980, corporate tax cuts, a largely dysfunctional
state government, an enormous increase in spending on
prisons, and overdependence on income tax, capital gains
and sales taxes—exactly the revenue streams most affected by
recession—have combined to leave California with a staggering
$26 billion shortfall this year in revenues for public services.
The result has looked like something out of a Hollywood
disaster movie. State buildings were put up for sale, healthcare
services were cut for the poor, office equipment was auctioned
off on eBay to raisemoney, parks and beaches were closed or
left unsupervised, and departments had to resort to issuing
creditors IOUs.
State allocations to California universities and colleges
were slashed by up to one-fifth, with $680million cut from the
December 2009
Calamity in California
State’s battered budget leads to huge fee increases and less access to public universities
community colleges, $584million from the
Cal State system, and $813million from
the University of California—creating,
as the university figures it, a $1.1
hole, when increases in utility costs, health
benefits and overenrollment are taken
into account.This even after California’s
share of federal stimulus funding was
applied against the leak—funding that will
eventually run out.
“Higher education is in a competition
it has never been in before,” Reed said in
his office in Long Beach, counting the
many problems on his fingers. “It’s in
that competition with healthcare, and the
burdenMedicare andMedicaid have put
on states.” But mostly it’s in competition
with prisons, he said, in a folksymanner
that evoked the years he spent in
Tallahassee overseeing Florida’s now
equally troubled public university system.
“Somewhere in themid to late ‘80s,”
Reed said, “legislatures all around the country…began to try to
figure out how they could ‘out-crime’ each other.They didn’t
look at the consequences and the outcome of these severe
penalties for nonviolent crimes.” An inmate in a California
prison, Reed said, costs the state five times as much as a student
at a state university. “It’s nuts,” he concluded. Yet when the state
Senate passed a bill that would have released 34,000 prisoners,
the Assembly balked.
Most of the 180,000 faculty and staff at the University of
California are being forced to take unpaid furloughs of from
11 to 26 days, depending on their salaries. At Cal State, faculty
are being furloughed for about two days
amonth. “To call people profoundly
demoralized is to be kind,” said Lillian
Taiz, president of the California Faculty
Association. “Those who can leave are
Recruitment of new faculty has
skidded to a halt. At Berkeley, which
typically hires 100 new professors, only
ten positions will be filled this year.
At UCLA, the number of courses was
reduced by 165 this fall, or ten percent.
Average class size there has soared to 60. UC Irvine has halted
admission to its doctoral program in education, UCDavis has
eliminated 44 humanities and cultural studies courses and its
liver-transplant program, andUC Santa Cruz has canceled
courses with fewer than 100 students and deferred planned
majors in earth sciences and environmental sciences. San
“When people start to be denied—and
denied access for their children—
they’re going to get mad as hell,”
says Charles Reed, chancellor of the
California State University system.
“What I see in California
and around the rest
of the country is an
emerging catastrophe.”
—California State University
Chancellor Charles Reed
Axel Koster for CrossTalk