Jerrry Brown and UC

Pub date January 14, 2013
WriterTim Redmond
SectionPolitics Blog

So the guv is going to start showing up at UC and CSU board meetings, where he will be able to sit next to his pal Gavin Newsom. And he’s going to tell the administrators that they have to start getting serious about cost-cutting — as if they haven’t whacked billions out of their budgets in the past few years.

I’m with Jerry on one thing: The Number One, absolute, top priority of the institutions of higher education in this state has to be avoiding hikes in tuition and fees. In fact, I’d put a five-year moratorium on anything that would increase costs for students. It’s already too expensive to go to a state school, middle-class parents are getting priced out, and kids are graduating with so much debt that they’re financially paralyzed for years.

The promise of an affordable, quality college education that Jerry’s dad created in this state is gone, and it’s not coming back until the price of a four-year degree comes back into synch with what Californians can pay. (Yes: UC is still a huge bargain compared to private schools. But you can go to college in Canada for half the price of UC, even if you’re an American. If you’re a Canadian citizen, you can go to really great colleges for almost nothing. That’s the way California used to be.

And no question: There’s bloat at UC. Administrators make too much money. I refuse to believe that you have to pay such giant salaries to attract people who can run the schools.

But that’s a small part of the overall UC and CSU budget. And Brown has to understand that higher education isn’t like most businesses. The productivity increases that corporate America (and that many other parts of state government) have seen in the digital era don’t translate directly to colleges. A company can lay off lots of staff that did things like answer phones and replace them with (annoying) voice-mail robots, and accountants can work faster and machines can make cars better than (expensive) labor forces did. But it still takes one full human being to teach English Lit, and he or she can still only teach a certain number of students, and grade a certain number of papers. And if all the smartest physicists and electrical engineers want to go to work for Oracle or Google, you have to pay more to get them to get a few to pursue careers in academia.

Brown’s proposal seems to be online classes, which would allow one prof to reach thousands of students, without anyone showing up in a classroom. Nice idea, but teaching isn’t just giving a lecture. Sure, some classes work fine on the web, but a lot don’t and never will.

Seriously, guv: Would you rather have this bloody fight that could damage your dad’s enduring legacy, or go along with an oil severance tax?