The Bright Coast

Progressive Thoughts from San Diego Alums on Law, Politics, and Culture

Protect the UC (cont.)

Posted by demkid on August 9, 2009

I wanted to quickly follow up on my earlier post about the serious problems facing the University of California as a result of significant budget cutbacks.  A couple of weeks ago, Erik Tarloff wrote a blog post on the Atlantic website in which he declared that UC Berkeley is likely on an “inexorable glide path downward” because of the shrinkage in state funding.  Saying that “the damage to the university is likely to be irreversible,” he predicted fewer distinguished faculty, less funding for complex research, rising tuition fees, and cutbacks in staff and programs.  This doomsday article was immediately responded to by Chancellor Robert Birgenau, who noted the elements that play a part in making Cal great (the student body, the faculty, etc.), declared that the university would continue to be one of the greatest for decades to come, but also explained that the budget issues were threatening the unique public character of the undergraduate body. 

Most interesting to me was that while Chancellor Birgenau was generally optimistic about the university’s future (“we are confident that because of our academic preeminence and the loyalty of our alumni we will be able to devise a robust long term financial model which will make us progressively less dependent upon State funding”), he wasn’t as rosy about the outlook for California’s middle-income families.  Since financial aid isn’t as available to middle-income students as it is to the poor, those students could very well be the most disadvantaged by the State’s “completely irresponsible disinvestment in the future of its public universities.”  I really hope that this aspect of the larger issue is examined more closely and written about more thoroughly in the future.  It seems that whenever serious budget problems arise and programs are drastically cut, the focus immediately goes on those with the least amount of money while those in the middle class are ignored.  As the Chancellor pointed out, the poor have aid plans with which to lean on (as they should have.)  This concept of governmental assistance exists in many areas of society, not just for public education.  However, those whose families may make a little more money but who still might struggle to send their children to a good university don’t normally have the same funding available to them.

Of course, even though Tarloff and Birgenau are specifically discussing Cal, the legislature’s shortsightedness will harm all of California’s public universities and those across the income spectrum who plan to apply to one or more.  I don’t know which author is more correct on the long-term survivability of the university (although I don’t trust someone who refers to his alma mater as “UCB”), but I hope that the Chancellor’s allusion to a “robust long term financial model” will become a reality.

As a side note, my posts have been few and far between recently, but that will all change now that I’m no longer distracted by preparing for a certain exam that only comes around twice a year!

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