Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Analysis of Governor Brown’s May 2015 Proposed Budget and Its Impact on the University of California

it's been awhile, but we have many updates to share with you...


public education
[A] tuition-free, publicly funded system that must provide an education to each [person] within a publicly governed school system. The academic standards, the teachers and administration, the values and methods of operation employed are all subject to oversight and direction by public policy-making bodies. Public education means that a wide range of decision making resides at the community level through the operation of locally elected school boards and through other avenues of direct [community] participation. Public education also means a system in which the general public can obtain detailed information about their schools.
from Center for Public Education, “An American Imperative, Public Education”

The transfer of ownership of property or business from a government [or a public entity] to a privately owned entity. One of the main arguments for the privatization of publicly owned operations is the estimated increases in efficiency that can result from private ownership. The increased efficiency is thought to come from the greater importance private owners tend to place on profit maximization as compared to government, which tends to be less concerned about profits.
from Investopedia, “Privatization”

campus real estate and capital projects
We continue to invest in our revenue generation and expense reduction efforts… A primary motivation for utilizing PPPs [Public Private Partnerships] is access to capital. UC, however, has robust financing capability… As we continue to integrate capital needs into our operating budget, we recognize that each dollar the campus devotes to capital is one less dollar we have for student aid, faculty pay, campus maintenance, or a myriad other needs… External funds, student fees, and auxiliary funds comprise the primary sources of capital for new construction… An aggressive and entrepreneurial approach to Real Estate operations and revenue can significantly improve our bottom line.
from UC Berkeley Real Estate Department, “Public Private Partnerships at the University of California”, “2013-14 UC Berkeley Budget Plan”, and “The Evolving Real Estate Portfolio at Cal”

The University of California has signaled an aggressive shift toward privatization, taking many simultaneous forms: increased “revenue generation” in the form of selective tuition hikes and Real Estate investments, decreased compensation for UC workers and/or hiring temporary workers as an “efficiency” measure, and leasing public land to private developers with “Public-Private Partnerships.” The following analysis examines how Governor Brown’s recent budget proposal further enables each of these processes.


On May 14, Governor Brown announced a revised budget proposal, which will be the subject of discussion at the Regents’ meeting on Thursday, May 21. While the budget proposes a two-year tuition freeze for in-state students, put in context, the proposal as a whole presents a concerning advance toward UC privatization.

Tuition Hikes: One Source of New Revenue Generation
2014-15 UC tuition levels:
            in-state tuition and fees:            $13, 878
            out-of state tuition and fees:     $37, 902

2020-21 projected UC tuition levels:
            in-state tuition and fees:            $16,869
                        (assuming 5% annual increase starting in 2017)
            out-of-state tuition and fees:     $60,146
                        (assuming 8% annual increase starting in 2015)

In reality, the tuition “freeze” for in-state students is only a two-year deferral of hikes already built into the plan. Beginning in 2017, the cost of attending UC for California residents will rise by at least the rate of inflation, a very open-ended figure that will enable to Regents to vote on increases above this rate in order to generate maximum profit. This subtle phrasing turns out to be quite significant: as our economy continues to recover from the 2008 real estate crash and subsequent global financial collapse, the U.S. inflation rate this past year was actually negative, averaging -0.1%. If the cost of attending the UC were actually pegged to inflation, there would be a tuition reduction this year—not likely in an era of privatization.

While we don’t yet have a clear picture of the actual rates of increase for in-state students, we do know that beginning this fall, out-of-state and international students would be subject to up to 8% annual increases indefinitely. This hike will bring their cost for a UC education to up to $60,146 per year just five years from now, a 59% increase in the current cost. The relative profit generating potential of non-California students provides a structural incentive for UC to accept more out-of-state and international undergraduate students who can afford to pay this high price. UC President Janet Napolitano confirmed this preference when she proposed an increase of out-of-state enrollment as UC “campuses have been instructed to keep their enrollment of California students flat…If we wanted to, we could make Berkeley and UCLA 50/50 (resident and nonresident), easily, just by snapping our fingers. The demand is that high.”

But with a looming sticker price of $60,000+ before even factoring in the ballooning cost of living in California, can the UC just “snap” non-resident students into ponying up? What will they receive in return for this high sticker price?

Rationing Education
Equally concerning is the Regents’ plans to reduce the time-to-degree to three years. This reduction may seem appealing at first blush for middle and working class students who often take multiple jobs while in school to reduce their education debt. And with the Governor’s proposed $18 million cut to the Middle Class Scholarship Program, poorer students will likely welcome spending less time at the UC.

According to Reclaim UC, “The reduction of time-to-degree is presented as a solution to a problem that would not exist absent university privatization.” In other words, the shortening of time at UC Berkeley is appealing only in a context in which students cannot afford to stay on campus for very long. In addition to loading up on summer courses, some analysts speculate that this reduction in time-to-degree would be accomplished by eliminating core undergraduate curricula, which would starve many departments that depend on significant student enrollments in lower division courses of critical funding. It increasingly seems as if the UC Regents and the Governor imagine a very narrow range of majors within an overall college education that does not include foreign language courses; coursework in ethnic studies, sociology, gender and women’s studies, and anthropology; or education in art, literature, or music, to name only a few of the likely programs that would succumb to such a restructuring plan.

We instead call for increased funding to these departments, whose classes are typically over enrolled and in high demand. Increased financial support would enable them to hire additional full-time professors and offer more and smaller courses, moving the UC away from the mega-class model it has instead forced on many students, faculty, and GSIs. Can the UC continue to offer quality, affordable, and accessible education, where students will be able—and will even want—to pursue their educations at a more reasonable pace?

Why would the University pursue three-year degrees? What is in it for them? One analysis might connect the shorter stay on campus with students’ diminished institutional memory and capacity to form meaningful political associations that might challenge the process of privatization. And students aren’t the only ones who will feel this squeeze.

How the Budget Impacts UC Workers
Perhaps the most egregious part of the budget contains a significant blow to workers’ retirement benefits, which has recently taken the form of forcing new employees into separate and less secure pension plans or “tiers.” That the Governor has recommended the creation of yet another tier with significantly reduced retirement benefits signals very deep structural concerns within the UC system. In addition, we have seen a dramatic undermining of union contracts, where the UC in increasingly hiring underpaid temporary workers and denying them benefits that typically come with UC employment. The UC is now cutting very basic mechanisms of support—this is what they mean when they say “efficiency”—while increasing tuition in perpetuity—we are the “revenue generation”—leaving us to ask if not on education or staffing, then where is the increased profit going?

UC Berkeley’s Real Estate Department: The New Face of Privatization
These changes in tuition, education restructuring, and cuts to workers’ benefits are happening alongside another very aggressive and relatively novel dimension of privatization. This marks a radical shift in the UC’s role as an institution of higher education to a large real estate development and investment firm. Following the expansion of Berkeley’s Real Estate Department and the formation of “The Berkeley Real Estate Management Company,” this unfortunate situation is not hyperbole.

The cost of renting a shared room in one of UC Berkeley’s large multi-story dormitories is currently approximately $15,000 per year, the fifth costliest student housing in the nation. And what do students get for this exorbitant price? This description by an undergraduate resident in Unit 2 is telling:
I am typing this in a boxy, stuffy, fluorescent-lit room in Unit 2…[I]magine living in a hotel room for months—it gets depressing. These walls, this furniture and these windows are all but personalized. You can tell from their very essence that they are meant to last past you and past the person who will pass you…I simply cannot adjust to a living residence monikered “Unit 2.’” The very name makes me feel like I am living in a cookie-cut cubicle. I realize that I am just a trivial life in one of the many windows that fill the walls of Unit 1, Unit 2 and Unit 3…These dormitories make me feel inauthentic, average and every other sad adjective you can imagine…I wonder what feeling indistinguishable will do to my self-image when I step out into the future.

We should be appalled that students are paying such high prices to live in anonymous concrete boxes. Who would build such things? The answer is that UC has been contracting these types of construction projects to private firms owned or managed by friends of a new class of UC administrators, such as Bob Lalanne, founder of the SF architectural firm Lalanne Group and now Vice Chancellor of Real Estate at UC Berkeley. These kinds of private business deals have seriously indebted the University to the extent that it can no longer borrow money to support core functions: we are now running an approximately $15 billion deficit, up from about $1 billion just over a decade ago. At the same time, these construction projects reap immense profits off of students and tenets, profits for which there is no obligation to spend on education. This is the new face of UC privatization.

Why Is This Happening and What Do We Do about It?
This shift towards UC Real Estate speculation has largely taken place under UC Regent Richard Blum, Chairman of the world’s largest Real Estate development firm, CB Richard Ellis. Since his arrival on the UC Board of Regents, the University of California has enabled him cheap access to public land for private development companies. Blum is an expert in preying on indebted public institutions like the US Post office or the University of California, forcing the latter to construct buildings it cannot afford. In the process, Blum helps create real estate bubbles through rapid development and gentrification, and after these bubbles burst, as they did in 2008, Blum and his allies reap profits again buying up cheap land, leaving many in debt and displaced.

The face of UC privatization is multi-faceted in 2015. We need not only to resist tuition hikes across the board, but also address the corruption embedded in real estate development and support campus workers who are fighting to reverse their own impoverishment. As long as administrators continue to call the UC a “public” school, we need to be here to hold these individuals accountable to the public.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Open Letter Urging SF Mayor to Defend City College: Be There August 20th

When: August 20, 4pm
Where: SF Civic Center
An Open Letter to Mayor Ed Lee:

As students, staff, faculty and community members of San Francisco, we share the sentiment you expressed at the July 9, 2013 Board of Supervisors meeting that allowing City College of San Francisco to close would be “devastating.” Indeed, as the largest working class institution in San Francisco, a school of immigrants, workers, adult learners, the formerly incarcerated, and others who depend on it for personal transformation, City College must not close. But neither can we allow its transformation into an elite, undemocratic school serving the needs of the few.

At the July 9th meeting, you said that we are in a hurry, and that we must act swiftly and decisively to meet the accrediting commission’s demands. But we ask that you pause for a moment to consider why an institution that has been educating San Francisco residents for seventy-seven years is, in the span of one short year, in danger of being dismantled. We ask that you consider why the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, an institution that should want us to succeed at the tasks it outlines, imposed such a severe timetable on meeting those tasks and then administered the disaccreditation death sentence.

In a San Francisco Chronicle piece you wrote recently with California Community College Chancellor Brice Harris, you said: “What’s needed now is a stronger hand, a single individual with the experience, trustworthiness, and focus to turn City College around.” As a mayor elected by democratic vote, we are alarmed that you would advocate such a wholly undemocratic solution to CCSF’s present ‘crisis.’ The City College Board of Trustees was democratically elected by the residents of San Francisco; the macabre sounding “Super Trustee with Extraordinary Powers” Robert Agrella has never been approved by San Franciscans and has now been granted absolute power to dictate the futures of the college and its beneficiaries – the people of San Francisco.

In a foreboding display of secrecy and authoritarianism, within two weeks of his appointment Super Trustee Agrella kicked CCSF Student Trustee Shanell Williams off the chancellor search committee. When the democratically elected Williams attempted to attend a meeting she had been directed to, campus police barred her from entering. This silencing of student voices cannot be tolerated.

The rapid transformations occurring in San Francisco since you were elected in 2011 - a booming tech sector, massive land development, and a devastating housing crisis – have not gone unnoticed by members of our community; certainly not by those who would be shut out by the transformation of City College from a working class institution to a two-year junior college. When asked about the increasing number of evictions, rising homelessness and sky-high rents in our city, you recently said that you “didn’t realize we had a housing crisis.” Perhaps, then, you have also not considered the history of the ACCJC – its lack of transparency, violation of federal, state and even its own laws, and its relationship to a national push to privatize public education. We urge you to visit, where much research and work has already been compiled.

Perhaps you heard the voices of those concerned San Franciscans who marched to the U.S. Department of Education on July 9th: “Where’s Ed Lee?” they asked. This is because the community members, students, staff and faculty who care deeply about City College were hoping that you, their top elected city official, would stand with them in support of the college, in defense of the attacks and threats of the ACCJC. When many elected officials, including Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and Supervisors Avalos and Campos, have already taken a stand with us against the ACCJC’s attacks on our city, we ask that you join our defense of City College by making a public statement in support of the following points:

  • City College of San Francisco must remain an open, accessible, affordable and democratic public institution serving the diverse needs of all San Francisco residents.

  • Call on Chancellor Bryce Harris and the California Community College Board of Governors to immediately reinstate the democratically elected Board of Trustees and remove the position of the undemocratic so-called “Super Trustee with Extraordinary Powers” Robert Agrella.

  • Call on the ACCJC to immediately remove City College from sanction status.

  • Support an investigation of the ACCJC in regard to conflicts of interest, lack of transparency, violations of federal and state laws, and violations of its own formal policies and procedures.

  • Do not close campuses. Full and immediate reporting of steps that have already been taken to sell off City College property to private real estate interests. Public accountability for City College common property, which belongs to the past generations who paid for it through their taxes and to future generations in perpetuity.

  • Democratic community participation in the creation of the CCSF Road Map.

  • Full and open participation in the hiring of the CCSF Chancellor and Vice Chancellor.

  • Release Prop A funds as promised and voted on by San Francisco residents.

City College of San Francisco reflects the values that have made San Francisco a refuge for so many people – one of opportunity, not just for the wealthy and successful, but for those who have struggled to turn their lives around. Individuals with little and few places to go come to City College as an opportunity to transform themselves, to better their own lives and those of their communities. We see this in grave danger of being undone, not only if City College is closed – which would be devastating – but also if the college capitulates to the devastating demands of the ACCJC.

We urge you to stand with us in defense of City College. We are sure that you will.

Students, Staff, Faculty and Community Members of the Save CCSF Coalition

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Statement in Opposition to the Appointment of Janet Napolitano as the Next UC President

Our objections to Napolitano’s presidency begin with the very process by which she was selected. Her appointment was announced to the public suddenly at the end of a secretive, closed-door process conducted by the UC Regents, themselves an undemocratically selected body in no way bound to the will of the students, faculty, or workers of the UC system, but riddled with conflicting private interests that include the increasing militarization of UC campuses. It is hardly a coincidence that the Regents’ search led them to the head of an organization that also notoriously thrives on secrecy and militarism. This collaboration marks an alarming acceleration of the degradation of democracy—not only at the university level, as students and workers are deprived of the right to meaningful participation in their schools’ governance, but also at the state and national level, as the sovereignty and independence of education are explicitly handed to agents of privatization and militarization.

Napolitano began her experience with “public” education in her gubernatorial campaign to expand “oneof the nation’s largest…charter schools,” a movement that has left K-12 public schools ravaged across the nation. This laid the neoliberal foundation for later atrocities that made Arizona—and especially its school system—an infamous beacon of racist inequality. As the head of DHS, Napolitano mainly interacted with higher education only to channel ever more of its research and funding away from the public good and towards surveillance and war. She has implied that she will continue her regime of surveillance and privatization by hastening the forcing of online education upon the UC. 

Also, for a university that claims to be pro-immigration, the choice of Napolitano is quite odd. During her tenure as the top administrator of the Department of Homeland Security, she oversaw the deportation of nearly 1.5 million immigrants—the most in any American administration. Furthermore, she implemented policies that further militarized the borders, and she expanded U.S. drone and surveillance programs. In the face of these facts, the appointment of Napolitano is a glaring contradiction to the UC’s supposed immigrant-friendly stance. Napolitano has proven that she is no friend of immigrants, and if the UC really were an advocate of immigrant rights, then the Regents would revoke her appointment.
As a former Governor of Arizona and Secretary of Homeland Security, Ms. Napolitano may be an expert at running large organizations, but she does not have the depth of experience with and investment in California public education that befits a leader of the UC system. The UC was built and funded by the residents of California to educate new generations of Californians. As students, we want the leader of our universities to be a California educator, one who has dedicated a lifetime to California pubic higher education and reflects our values. The shocking choice of such an imperial privateer, whose salary will triple as she becomes the head of a supposedly public institution, to lead a state school ravaged by austerity is only conceivable when one considers that this choice was first made by an executive search firm hired by the Regents behind closed doors. The university community simply will not stand for it.

 From the expansion of funding for weapons development in Berkeley labs, to the distressing investment in the Israeli occupation of Palestine, to the brutal suppression of free speech and free assembly on our campuses, we see the very ideals that draw distinguished students and faculty to the UC now fully undermined. Based upon these and other concerns, we demand that the UC administration revoke Ms. Napolitano's job offer and re-open the process of selecting the next President of the University of California. We further demand that this process take place as it should: visibly and democratically with input from all members of the university community as we search for a fit president who will be accountable to us. 
UC Students and Allies in Dissent

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Booz Allen and Online Surveillance...I Mean Education

In the wake of former Booz Allen employee Edward Snowden's revelation about the NSA's massive (and uber creepy) surveillance scheme, I've started to wonder what else this strange company has been up to. A lot, it turns out.

Partnering with institutions like Farleigh Dickinson University and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton @ Work program, Booz Allen has apparently been a major (and powerful and wealthy and, yes, still creepy) force in the disruptive shove towards internet-based education. This is particularly significant when we take into account that they've also worked alongside the NSA to monitor and record virtually all communications and exchanges over the net and our phones. This online education partnership presents itself as a new tool to monitor and constrain free speech, this time in our classrooms. For a sense of what's on offer at one of these education businesses, check out this list of FDU courses.

And they've got people of color especially in their sites. In what reads as a plea for black colleges to just get online already, Reggie Smith III, Chairman of the Board of Directors for the United States Distance Learning Association and employee at Booz Allen, writes, "HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] have an imperative to take their programs online."

Finally, I'll leave you with this extended quote from a Booz Allen position paper on "Effectiveness and Efficiency: Reimagining Government," which makes clear how Booz Allen sees online education as a strategic surveillance tool and the current climate of budget cuts as the perfect time to prey:

"The aging workforce and record budget deficits require an end to business as usual, which means federal leaders...have a window of opportunity to enact change. Not small, short-term, wait-out-the-storm changes, but transformative change that reorients government [or education] to expanding missions, new workforce requirements, and new budget realities. This kind of change is possible because new technologies such as cloud and mobile computing, advanced data analytics, and virtualization solutions provide numerous opportunities to streamline government operations and improve mission performance across the entire spectrum of civilian, defense, and intelligence activities...

"Continuous monitoring also mitigates costly security risks. Best practices are increasingly shared among agency CIOs, so they can be built into new technologies and solutions. In fact, the collaborative model is the basis for how DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] is building out its cybersecurity guidance: Academic institutions [albeit unwittingly], agencies, and CIOs are sharing insights on cyber practices that are evaluated for government-wide adoption."