BUDGET NONSENSE AT UC


by Charles Schwartz, Professor Emeritus, UC Berkeley
schwartz@physics.berkeley.edu           January 8, 2009


     The University of California Board of Regents has scheduled a Special meeting for January 14, 2009, to vote on a plan to Curtail Enrollments as part of the 2009-10 budget. That means they will close the door to some number of qualified freshmen students next fall. Why are they doing this? They say it is because the state government will not provide the amount of budget that they have requested. These are hard financial times all around; so let us look into this matter more closely.

     The total UC budget for next year is estimated to be around $18 Billion. That money comes from many sources: State General Funds appropriations ($3 Billion); Federal, state and private research money ($4 Billion); Medical enterprises ($6 Billion); Campus enterprises - dorms, meals, etc. - ($1 Billion); and Student Fees ($2 Billion).  Some of that money is restricted as to use but most of it is within the Regents’ authority to allocate. The big question is: What are your priorities when financial times go hard?

     The UC budget office says that there is an excess of undergraduate enrollments that have not been funded by state money and, therefore, the Regents may decide to reject a number of qualified freshmen in the Fall 2009.

     Does this make economic sense? Does it make political sense? Does it make moral sense?

     UC says that they should receive $11,000 from the state for each additional student they enroll. They call this the marginal cost of instruction. In truth, that number is calculated in a very deceptive manner. The cost they refer to is the university’s cost for all its core functions: undergraduate education and graduate education and faculty research throughout the academic year.  Those are all important missions which UC performs for the state; but how much of that cost may be fairly assigned to undergraduate students? Clearly, much of that whole bundle of costs belongs outside of the undergraduate curriculum. According to the best available calculations, undergraduate student fees at UC now cover the entire cost of undergraduate education. That means that any new undergraduate students will pay for themselves. It makes no economic sense to turn away entering freshmen.

     So why should undergraduate students be targeted (punished) in the event that the state is unable to support that entire budget sought by UC?  One suspects that the UC administration has a hard problem to deal with, and so they solve it by putting the burden on those people who are farthest down the ladder of power – incoming undergraduate students and their families.

     There are intelligent alternatives. There are substantial resources of money within UC that the Regents could move around to manage this financial crisis. (This is detailed in the paper http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~schwrtz/FinU17.html) But they seem bent upon this juvenile idea of standing tough before the Governor and the Legislature by punishing new students. It doesn’t make political sense and it doesn’t make moral sense. This is still supposed to be a public university, not a private club.

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Charles Schwartz, a retired Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, has been a continuing observer and critic of the University’s administration. His writings may be seen at http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~schwrtz and he has a blog at http://UniversityProbe.org

This Op-Ed was rejected by the Los Angeles Times and also by the San Francisco Chronicle.