UC (and CSU’s) ongoing financial problems are not a result of the fact that alumni are not generous, they are the result of the failed policy of privatization that UC has been following since shortly after Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor. Schwarzenegger pursued an aggressive policy of privatization designed to shift the cost of higher education away from taxpayers on to students and their families. The increases in fees, while annually presented as a response to ongoing budgetary problems, were established as policy within the Compact for Higher Education that the governor signed with the presidents of the University of California and California State University in 2005. The Compact implemented the governor's free-market ideology: A college or professional education meant higher earnings, and if people wanted those higher earnings they should be willing to pay for the necessary. State funding for education was not viewed as a responsibility to the next generation of Californians but rather as a "subsidy" which distorted the free market for education.
While I do not believe that our current governor, Jerry Brown, shares former governor Schwarzenegger's ideological position, the reality is that he is not given public higher education priority and, indeed, has accelerated the budget cuts and push to privatization.
Some University leaders have welcomed the changes, sharing the previous governor's view that privatization was a good thing that would allow the University more freedom, unfettered by the responsibilities and constraints of a public institution. Others remained committed to the idea of a public university, but felt that, given California's requirement for a two thirds vote for taxes in the state legislature combined with a rabid antitax position of the Republican minority in the legislature, privatization was inevitable. These people reluctantly saw the idea of restoring the University of California to its preeminence as a public institution of higher education as unrealistic wishful thinking.
Whatever the reason, the university's leadership has been remarkably mute in making the case for the kind of high-quality, accessible public higher education institution at the University of California served the people of California so well since UC President Clark Kerr conceived the Master Plan for Higher Education over 50 years ago.
As a result, UC’s leadership sees increases in fees as the only “reliable” option for paying the bills. Raising enough money to restore the quality UC had in 2000 will require raising fees to over $17,000.
Meanwhile there has been a disconnect between the rhetoric and expectations of both political and university leaders. On one hand, the politicians have demanded that the university act like a public institution – keeping fees low, paying people as public employees – without providing the money necessary to keep UC a truly public institution. On the other hand, many in the University wanted to run it like a private institution while taking the public funds for a long as possible.
The reality is that this situation is a recipe for disaster. The simple fact is that the kind of support provided by the people of California to the University's academic mission and to its ability to serve as a truly independent source of research simply cannot be replaced with private funding or partnerships with business or other parts of government. The net effect of the failure to recognize this fact, which was spelled out clearly in the University systemwide Academic Senate Committee on Planning and Budget in its 2006 "Futures" report
The most frustrating aspect of this situation is that it would not cost all that much money to fix the situation. According to a calculation done two years ago, pushing the "reset" button on the entire system of higher education in California -- rolling fees back to where they were in 2000 (adjusted for inflation), returning the level of state support per student to where it was in 2000, and providing funding for all of the students who have been forced out of the system -- for the entire higher education system from the community colleges to graduate and professional education at the University of California would only cost the median tax return $32. And that's $16 a person for a joint return.
Yes, it would cause people who made more money more. People in the top 5% of California with adjusted gross incomes of $400-$500,000 a year, would pay $2800.
Unless they want to go down as the people who led UC off a cliff through a combination of accepting unrealistic right-wing ideology and political cowardice, it is time for the University leadership to stop acting like executives at a financially failing corporation and start acting like stewards of a public trust and, as UC leaders have done in the past, mobilizing the public to force the governor to provide the kind of high quality affordable higher education that he and the state’s other political leaders enjoyed.