Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mobilization Against UC Crisis Administration

In a now-familiar series of events, the collapse of the housing finance bubble in 2008 led to what is generally considered the worst economic recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

In California, the recession has meant drastic losses in both state revenue (based primarily on personal income and sales taxes) and local revenue (based partially on property and other taxes). Some municipalities, which have a greater ability to raise user fees or surcharges to partially compensate for the loss of tax revenue, have been able to adjust to the economic downturn better than the state itself, whose tax provisions require voters' approval in order to be altered. The inflexibility of the state's tax code and its excessive reliance on personal income tax (due to cuts in property taxes implemented in 1978) have combined to make California extremely vulnerable to a recession.

One of the myths perpetuated by media is that California is a 'welfare state' with high taxes and that its budget crisis was precipitated by excessive government spending on education and social services. In fact, California's personal income tax is below average for industrial states, its per-pupil spending for K-12 education is 47th in the country, funding for the University of California system has decreased by 40% since 1990, and uninsured children are being dropped from state health programs.

Much political hay has been made of California's budget crisis. The state's economic problems are not unique, however. They have only been exposed somewhat earlier than in other places, due to the state's tax structure and legislative gridlock. As the world's seventh-largest economy goes, so goes the nation.

In reality, California's problems stem from a much broader trend. Since the late 60s, the global economy has undergone massive transformations, often subsumed under labels like globalization, deindustrialization, or post-Fordism. One interpretation of these transformations is that they respond to an underlying crisis of value, in which the efficiency of productive labor has developed to the point that the profitability of commodity production in general can no longer be sustained. Whatever the case may be, the global economy has grown increasingly dependent on speculative bubbles to create the illusion of growth. As the events of the past year have shown, this sort of fictional economic expansion does not lend itself to stability.

The University of California's response to the current crisis has largely mirrored that of governments around the world, with an important difference. States can disguise the nature of their 'stimulus packages' by printing money or promissory notes to increase cash flow to moribund financial institutions. The real impact of these stimuli is thus deferred, and will appear sometime in the future in the form of higher taxes or runaway inflation. Unlike national governments, a university cannot set monetary policy and must simply adjust to the crisis by firing employees, slashing wages, cutting programs, and raising fees. Just as the UC system has inherited California's budget crisis, it inherits many of its methods of dealing with decreased revenue.

The University of California has other revenue streams. A direct result of the state of California's disinvestment in its public universities has been the privatization of higher education. Some campuses, especially the medical centers, receive considerable funding from industry. But corporate funding is no substitute for California's commitment to providing quality post-secondary education to its residents. It favors certain disciplines (it's hard to imagine Raytheon funding Berkeley's English Department) and cannot hope to offset the decline in state support. Likewise, astronomical fee increases for students cannot prevent the inevitable decline in educational quality. Universities in dystopian, neoliberal Texas are already salivating at the thought of attracting top-notch faculty otherwise destined for UC. If the trend of privatization continues, the University of California will be public in name only.

The University of California Office of the President, in concert with the Regents and Governor Schwarzenegger, instead of attempting to reverse these damaging trends, have tried to accelerate them. By portraying a crisis that has been decades in the making and is the result of a policy of progressive defunding of California's institutions of higher learning as an emergency, the board of Regents granted President Yudof 'emergency powers' to impose cuts without normal oversight procedures. UC faculty are now mobilizing against these administrative maneuvers which pay lip service to the ideal of shared governance while laying bare their fundamental fiction. With what remains of their illusory autonomy, professors are beginning to resist privatization, which has gone a bridge too far.

Graduate students, under union protection and not directly affected by the imposed furloughs, are nevertheless organizing in support of the faculty walkout, scheduled for 24 September. We have already begun to see our funding move upstream to administrative units to protect the vested interests of managers in a process that employs accounting arcana to cloak the looting. We have seen the MENE, TEKEL, PERES appear before us as President Yudof promises to perpetuate budget cuts beyond the current academic year. We are forming a coalition, composed of students, faculty, and both union and non-union workers, to oppose the UC crisis administration. This coalition transcends mere class and labor interests and seeks to draw attention to the gaping abyss between economic pragmatism and the needs and desires of people. We must exhibit absolute intransigence in the face of the budgetary logic of the crisis managers.


Davis Grads: There will be an assembly in Voorhies 126, Monday 9/14 @ 6p

We write because we're concerned about the destructive cuts that the UC administration has begun to implement in response to declining state funding. Our experience of these cuts is various, as their application is diffuse. Some of us have lost teaching positions, or face steep pay cuts; some of us have lost fellowships; some of us are simply uncertain, and worry we too may soon face like losses; some of us see the wolves at the door. We all share concerns about what this means for our future prospects. The threat to our livelihoods—along with the livelihoods of undergraduates, faculty and staff—is equally real for all of us.

In this threat we face a crisis both real and artificial: real in that the severe recession and the regressive California tax structure has meant an $813 million drop in state funding; artificial in the sense that furloughs and layoffs for faculty and staff, as well as increases to undergraduate tuition and fee hikes—all mandated by UCOP and the Board of Regents—vastly exceed the $813 million shortfall. This is the case even as undisclosed and unrestricted funds remain allocated to revenue-generating wings of the university. The issues are many and complex, but depend upon a principal confusion: The state fiscal crisis and the "state of emergency" declared for UC are not one and the same.

These cuts announce an appalling retreat by the administration from the 1960 California Master Plan and its vision of tuition-free education for all Californians. The state of emergency declared by the Regents signals a drastic re-imagining of the mission of the University, under cover of a real economic crisis. The drive to privatize the University of California is an attempt to shift state costs of education and job training directly onto the shoulders of students and their families.

As graduate students, we are curiously positioned in this state of affairs. Currently staff, undergraduates, and faculty bear the brunt of cuts and job losses. It is clear, however, that as departmental budgets are slashed, faculty and lecturers released, staff laid off, and undergraduate tuition increased while enrollments are decreased, the precarious positions we occupy are being made less way-stations for us than permanent realities for everyone in the UC system. As a result graduate students systemwide have begun organizing in concert with faculty, staff, and undergraduate groups, to protest decisions made by the administration in our absence.

They made the crisis—as political as it is economic. We make the University.

Major collective actions are already being planned for the first day of classes: On September 24, UC faculty are planning a systemwide walkout, in solidarity with 12,000 UPTE represented employees who will strike that day. As TAs we can legally honor UPTE's picket lines by refusing to teach on that day and by joining all workers, including faculty, in their protest actions. Graduate students at UCB and UCSC have already joined together to support this joint faculty and union action.

Never before have staff, undergraduates, graduate students, lecturers and faculty joined ranks to stand for the rights of all to education and decent treatment in the workplace. The crisis we face is already a major moment in the history of the University of California: The only question is what we make of it.

If you want to be involved, but can't make this meeting, please send an e-mail to or


The Organizing Committee