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October 06, 2009 10:23 AM As Goes California…

By Jesse Singal

Given that the United States prides itself on having the greatest higher education system in the world, and given that California’s state school system is the biggest and best in the country, calling that state’s budget catastrophe “worrisome” would be an understatement.

Things are so bad that The New York Times’ Bob Herbert wants us to sit up and take note of what’s happening at U.C. Berkeley:

Berkeley is caught in a full-blown budget crisis with nothing much in the way of upside in sight. The school is trying to cope with what the chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, described as a “severe and rapid loss in funding” from the state, which has shortchanged Berkeley’s budget nearly $150 million this year, and cut more than $800 million from the higher education system as a whole.
This is like waving goodbye to the futures of untold numbers of students. Chancellor Birgeneau denounced the state’s action as “a completely irresponsible disinvestment in the future of its public universities.”
(The chancellor was being kind. Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes watching the chaos of California politicians trying to deal with fiscal and budgetary matters would consider “completely irresponsible” to be the mildest of possible characterizations.)

He also gets at what makes Berkeley such a uniquely great school:

Something wonderful is going on when a school that is ranked among those at the very top in the nation and the world is also a school in which more than a third of the 25,000 undergraduates qualify for federal Pell grants, which means their family incomes are less than $45,000 a year. More than 4,000 students at Berkeley are from families where the annual income is $20,000 or less.

I’m sure some social scientist has already done this, but I’d be interested to see numbers showing the economic ripple effect of when just one student has to drop out of a school like Berkeley because of increased costs or decreased student aid.

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.

Comments

  • Milan Moravec on June 04, 2010 4:46 PM:

    UCB Chancellor Birgeneau Loss of Credibility, Trust
    The UCB budget gap has grown to $150 million, and still the Chancellor is spending money that isn't there on expensive outside consultants. His reasons range from the need for impartiality to requiring the "innovative thinking, expertise, and new knowledge" the consultants would bring.

    Does this mean that the faculty and management of a world-class research and teaching institution lack the knowledge, impartiality, innovation, and professionalism to come up with solutions? Have they been fudging their research for years? The consultants will glean their recommendations from interviewing faculty and the UCB management that hired them; yet solutions could be found internally if the Chancellor were doing the job HE was hired to do. Consultant fees would be far better spent on meeting the needs of students.

    There can be only one conclusion as to why creative solutions have not been forthcoming from the professionals within UCB: Chancellor Birgeneau has lost credibility and the trust of the faculty as well as of the Academic Senate leadership that represents them. Even if the faculty agrees with the consultants' recommendations - disagreeing might put their jobs in jeopardy - the underlying problem of lost credibility and trust will remain.