“The Budget Cuts”

by Gazuedro, September 2009

UCSC Disorientation Guide 2009-10 –- DisorientationGuide.wordpress.com

The University of California system, as a whole, is facing a budget shortfall upwards of $1.15 billion over two years. The state of California itself is suffering from an approximate $41 billion budget deficit. The message that the UC office of the president (UCOP) is relaying to the rest of the university system is to realize our unified interest to survive these budget cuts. UC President Mark Yudof says that what he needs “is [our] strong support and a sense that we’re all hanging in together in this.” (UCOP) But who is really hanging in this together? Who takes the bulk of cuts in this crisis? As the crunch gets more severe, it becomes more apparent that the UC’s approach is antithetical to the success of its educational mission. The UC’s rhetoric about the budget crisis is riddled with hypocrisy, veiled messaging, and most prominently, a lack of depth & insight in scrutinizing the scope, distribution and consequences of the budget reductions.

Some Numbers

In the past few years, UC student fee increases exploded. The 2007-2008 academic year saw a 8% fee increase, the next year an additional 7.4% fee increase and this coming year (2009-10) we will suffer the staggering effects of a 9.3% fee increase (UCOP). Between 1990 and 1995 the student fees increased 115%*, followed by a lull and a 13.0%* fee reduction. Between 2002 and 2006 the student fee skyrocketed with a 59.8%* increase. Adjusting for inflation, student fees have increased 249.1%*, while California minimum wage has dropped 14.5%* since 1970. If this is the beginning of your first year at the UC, you should be aware that your tuition will almost certainly increase each consecutive year as the economy worsens and the residual effects of such an economic collapse continues to devastate California’s educational system. (*values calculated based on US Department of Labor “buying power” inflation rates. It should be noted that the UC has no formal tuition, but the student fees are, for practical purposes, the same thing. The fees are divided into Registration and Educational fees. Ironically, the 1960 UC Master Plan laid out the intent to eliminate formal tuition. Also note that these values correspond to in-state undergraduate students, although similar trends can be found for other students.)

The actual history of budget cuts at the UC extend beyond recent tuition increases. Much of the tuition increases over the past few decades may be a result of the success of a 1978 California ballot proposition (13), which reduced state funding for education due to changes in property tax law. However, this reasoning is speculative and thus less helpful as an analysis of the current budget situation than as an excuse to exercise cuts. Still, the continual decrease in permanent state funding is cause for concern, especially as UC turns to private funding to offset state funding shortfalls. Particularly unnerving, the increase in private funding to replace state funding means a dramatic increase of university corporatization on a whole. Thus we see both the literal increase in direct corruptive corporate funding through research grants and the resultant capitulation of any mild semblance of free academia to an abrasive corporate influence. To further exacerbate the damage, such research grants often frame undergraduate education as a secondary objective and thus further deteriorate it despite a total funding increase. The resulting change in research incentive and overall focus may have disastrous and unforeseen impacts.

Santa Cruz et al.

The past 8 months have exposed the onset of dramatic cuts on campus. Announcements of these cuts appear to be unending. Several vulnerable communities on campus felt significantly perturbing and fatal cuts, including: graduate students, those in family student housing, students of color, lecturers, staff and workers. Although almost every person on campus feels the stinging effects of recent budget cuts, it is these communities, struggling against budget encroachment for decades, that are particularly unable to withstand this new assault without massive consequences.

Graduate Students and Family Student Housing

The UC increased student fees for Graduate students by 9.3% as well. Graduate student fees now total $8,736 each year. Graduate students will feel the impact of this $750 fee increase on top of increases in graduate student health insurance (GSHIP) expenses and a significant decrease in job opportunities as teaching assistants (TAs)—again, lost to this round of budget cuts. The UCSC Social Sciences Division, for instance, has cut what their division sees as almost every possible non-necessary expense as a result of recent budget reductions. However, in light of massive new budget reductions, the Social Sciences Division fears it may have to cut almost half of all the TAships. Family Student Housing (FSH), chiefly composed of graduate students, received a 7.5% rent increase (with more to come). Despite relatively lower costs at FSH compared to local housing costs, the enclosing circle of imposing budget reductions and cost increases, along with inflation, provide a vicious formula for one of the most vulnerable communities at UCSC. As Tim Muldoon points out in the April 2009 issue of The Project, in 1974 FSH was considerably cheaper while salaries from TAships were at approximately the same levels as they are today (adjusted for inflation). FSH residents made more money and paid less tuition and rent. Indeed, the pervasive perversity of this rent hike deepens: Although UCSC advertises FSH as affordable, it is neither designated as low-income housing (with such rights withheld) nor are the rent hikes a direct result of budget reductions. Rather, UC chose these economically trying times to impose extra payments on behalf of future FSH residencies, all whilst current buildings continue to deteriorate.

“With the annually imposed 7.5 % increase in rent at FSH, the recently announced downsizing in half of the campus daycare and the elimination of valuable summer care, and the constant threat against hard-earned gains in wages and health care, the feasibility of being a parent and graduate student simultaneously is becoming less realistic. As a member of family student housing, I have watched my rent go up two hundred dollars in the past two years and have no reason to believe they won’t go up another two hundred in the immediate future. Many of my children’s daycare providers will no longer be caring for my children who have taken many months to love and trust their teachers and will now have to readjust as half of their class will be gone on account of the elimination of daycare provided to the children of faculty and staff. The university has demonstrated a strong disregard for students and employees with families and students of colors in the wake of recent budget cuts. My ability to continue my education as a PhD Literature student and to seek a teaching position in under-represented communities has been severely threatened.” -Martin Garcia

Scorching Santa Cruz Summer

The damage wrought by budget reductions continued over this past summer with the elimination of director positions (ie. layoffs) of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), the ARCcenter, and Student Media –all carried out without meaningful student input. When students requested transparency and budget information regarding the loss of the Director of Student Media, the Student Affairs office responded by supplying students with a massive binder with hundreds of pages of complicated accounting information. What they failed to provide was coherent reasoning for the merging of Student Media with SOAR or for the firing of crucial staff while Student Media continues to create income independently. In August, the office of Student Affairs reduced funding to the Early Education Services program, reducing childcare opportunities for staff and faculty.

Razing Staff/Workers

During July the UC established an unusual pay slash/furlough system. It cut employee salary by 4-10% based on the employee’s original salary, and then, as some sort of twisted compensation it gave employees anywhere between 11 to 26 days off amidst a 16% unemployment crisis. The pay cuts themselves don’t only target UC employees making high salaries, but will target the lowest paid employees strongly. Salaries higher than $240,000 will be cut no greater than 10%, while employees making less than $40,000, no matter how little, will receive 4% pay cuts. Through this approach, the UC is hoping to cover approximately 25% of their budget shortfall. Perhaps the worst aspect of the furlough system the UC has established is that part time employees will receive a pay cut based on the salary they would be making if they they were full-time employees. In other words, if someone part-time makes $30,000 and their full-time equivalent makes $50,000, they will receive a 6% pay cut instead of a 4% pay cut!

In January of 2009, service workers in the union AFSCME Local 3299 won a contract battle that lasted 16 months. Stipulated in the contract, service workers were promised a pay increase of 4% (with further increases each consecutive year). Although valiantly struggled for, the total pay increase will nowhere near provide service workers with a wage they can survive on. In effect, these pay cuts have undermined all the gains of January’s new contract—gains struggled for precisely because of how necessary they were. What the UC is doing is truly vile and borders on the spiteful.

The pay cuts and furlough system have been promised to only last for 1 year. Despite reassurances from administrators that renewing such a furlough system again would be an arduous process, the likelihood that pay cuts will return for the next year are strong as some of the impact of the budget shortfall this year has been cushioned by the temporary Federal Stimulus. In all likelihood, a similar federal stimulus will not exist the following year, thus increasing the need to slash salaries.

Continuing Injustice for Marginalized Communities

We can’t say it enough: These cuts have a particularly devastating effect on those that can least afford being cut. Programs that were established to outreach to communities of color and other systemically marginalized communities have been repeatedly threatened and crippled or terminated with severe funding reductions or staff layoffs. Departments with some of the highest proportions of students of color have been cut severely including staff eliminations in the Community Studies Department and layoffs of invaluable lecturers in Latin American and Latino Studies Department. Despite UCOP’s new ‘Blue & Gold Opportunity’ program, designed to increase access to financial aid, and perhaps other future projects to expand outreach to prospective marginalized students, budget cuts have already undermined any meaningful results that could have been produced by these programs. For instance, the removal of UCSC’s director of EOP directly reduces resource access and personnel capable of providing much needed outreach and retention services for low income students. There is a seemingly uninterrupted stream of staff layoffs in practically every retention and resource center particularly vital to students of color. And these cuts will likely continue to happen at every campus as, among other cuts and other reasons, they are more easily accepted among existing UC students that may not directly benefit from retention programs or may be more preoccupied with current budget woes that directly damage their personal education. Cuts targeting students of color and students from other marginalized communities are particularly worrying; coupled with the increasing cost of attending the university, the proportion of historically economically disadvantaged students unable to access higher education will increase dramatically.

In May of 2009, in response to cuts that disproportionately damage students of color, several students from the Student of Color Collective (SOCC) participated in a hunger strike that continued 4 days. Previously, the Office of Student Affairs had revealed plans that could decrease enrollment and retention of students of color. The anticipated negative impact on the already fragile number of students of color struck serious concerns among many students. The hunger strike culminated in stabilizing the American Indian Resource Center and ensuring further talks with students of color to try to avoid campus-wide “errors” in the future. Despite the struggle and successes of the hunger strike, a lack of an overall perspective on how budget decisions target students of color prevail among those that administer the UC.

Current Reduction Breakdown

The most recent figures regarding the two year budget reduction –that is this past academic year and the coming year– depict a “budget shortfall” close to $813 million due to state funding reductions (~70% of the $1.15 billion). The remaining budget reduction (~$337 million) is derived from various sources, none directly due to state funding reductions. According to previously disclosed estimates, $122 million dollars result from “underfunded enrollments,” and the rest have been described as “mandatory costs”. Over this two year period, UCSC will receive over $50 million in cuts.

Budget Cuts: Part II

Despite the UCOP’s press released, the UC budget remains functionally non-transparent. Numerical values the UCOP and the state provide as evidence supporting the need for budget reductions are unclear at best. Given a simple understanding of arithmetic, one can easily deduce the state funding shortfall differs based on which report one reads. Digging through budget publications can be frustrating, tedious, and disillusioning due to ever-changing values and estimations. In short, the budget breakdown is not only confusing, but misleading in its presentation. The reality of the matter is that numbers can be easily changed and arranged (whether purposefully or unconsciously) in order to supplement the argument that the administration needs to justify its actions. Although budget cuts are visibly evident, the manner in which cuts are managed can be wholly exploited to meet the agenda(s) of the personalities and forces that direct this university (ie. the regents & the administration). While the motivation and consciousness held by those in charge may be unclear, the disconnection between their priorities and the reality of the situation for those of us painfully impacted by these cuts is devastatingly obvious: those at the bottom suffer the most, while those at the top largely “suffer” pain vicariously through sympathy rather than meaningful losses.

How the University Plays Out

The tautology surrounding budget issues compounds these difficulties even further. UCOP mixes its use of antiseptic words like “shortfall” with words that conjure dramatic images like “crisis” –the former to obscure pernicious impacts and the latter to justify cuts. And indeed, while there is a crisis of state funding for the UC, about 30% of the $1.15 billion shortfall does not directly involve the state. Beyond the non-phenomenal contraction in state funding, there is a whole history of mismanagement and a lack of foresight that also accounts for our current situation. As administrators’ salaries continue to rise –well documented over the past several years– their inability or refusal to equitably manage and distribute the UC’s resources has greater consequences for those who attend, staff and teach at the UC. This too is well demonstrated by the aforementioned AFSCME 3299 contract battle, where administrators and regents failed to perceive ‘living wages’ as a necessity to an educational institution’s sustained functions. It is us—students, workers and educators—whose needs and roles should form the foundation guiding the university’s spending and planning.

UC Rhetoric

While AFSCME 3299 continues to struggle for some nominal level of transparency through year old public records requests and what should be an unnecessary lawsuit issued last July, the rhetoric the UCOP continues to abuse is ironically more apparent. The UCOP and regents expect unsubstantiated numbers to be trusted and disregard healthy criticism of their actions. More importantly, we are expected to trust the conclusion drawn from this shoddy book-keeping as simple fact, rather than opinion. The UCOP may invite people to provide insight and alternatives, yet these shared thoughts must confine themselves to the UCOP’s basic logic. However, it is this ‘basic logic’ that guides decision-making at the top of the UC—and has landed us in this “crisis”. This veiled messaging incites natural curiosity among skeptics, but largely subdues the majority of the population from understanding their place as stakeholders.

The approach the administration has taken in response to budget reductions, in itself, follows a path remarkably linear and ineffective in resolving the situation. It is this hierarchical thrust downward, with each step down cutting blindly without a greater perspective, that defines the dishonesty of the UC, regardless of the presence of honest individuals. Starting from the distant throne room of the president and regents, cuts are passed down the administrative ladder. Each administrator looks downward to cut, content with the knowledge of their own job security and without an understanding of what their peers are cutting. To further blind administrators, they naturally understand only parts of the grand picture in which the president and the regents are basing decisions. Conclusions drawn by each administrator individually may result in harmful system-wide patterns. For instance, with budget reduction deadlines quickly approaching, the dean of each academic division sought to cut the peripheral edges of their divisions without the realization that, combined with the rest of campus, educational programs that students of color relied upon were almost all universally and disproportionately cut. These hierarchies established within the administration of the UC help support the divide created by institutionalized racism.

Whose University?

The hierarchies of the UC, aforementioned, deeply connect the veins of the university with that of the budget cuts. The relationship between administrators/regents and the rest of the university retains this hierarchy beyond the simple formality to establish a sustained and working university. It is understood that administrative tasks, such as structural and financial decisions, exist and must be addressed within a large complex university system. Yet, the functional priority of management is lost in our current system.

The austere beauty, the legacy, and the function of the UC relies not chiefly on the administrators or regents. Nay, the fundamental purpose of the educational institution is to provide the implied quality education. Thus, priorities therein and management of such must rely on an understanding of the true structure of education. Primarily, students retain their right to education and all other inherit necessities that enable it. As a logical corollary, those that directly enable the existence of the educational environment establish a necessary mandate. Without educators and workers that maintain the basic functions of campus, no education or research would be possible. Finally, administrators/regents compose a tertiary layer, neither directly involved with the day to day function of education nor designed to be the primary benefactors of the educational directive. Albeit the case for administrators can be made, that a body without a head cannot function, such analogies remain dissonant from the truth: the primary and secondary tier are directly causal in the creation of administrative tasks and must exist in order to fulfill education physically. In short, the mandate of education, within the definition of the university, overwhelms and diffuses current corrupted notions that establish high market salaries and job security for administrators alone. It is clear that administrative choices inflicting greater damage upon students, workers, and educators, relative to themselves, are blatantly paradoxical to education. Despite the fact that individual students are temporary residents of the university system, the combined forces of students, workers, and educators create the dominant university populous best defined as those with an immediate stake in the well being of the university, or stakeholders. Although stakeholders may not currently hold a defiant and powerful treatise of it’s own, it is clear that such an argument, if unadulterated, would differ substantially from that of administration and regents.

Organizing Stakeholders

There are divisions among stakeholders. There are different groups of workers, different echelons of educators, and different identities of students. Each group of stakeholders holds their own history, their own understanding of the implications of budget cuts, and their own tactics which they may feel comfortable employing. Despite attempts to forge solidarity and coalitions, success of such has been limited. Currently, it seems many groups prefer to retain autonomy in order to better qualify their individual concerns. Despite these necessary concerns of autonomy, an understanding as a broad coalition must coalesce to forge an equitable university system. The fundamental problems of the UC will not be changed otherwise: institutionalized racism, corporatization, poverty wages, and budgetary threats will not be abolished without a serious concerted effort. To seek change in one aspect means a system wide revolution of the UC.

Despite difficulties and beyond necessity, there is an even more powerful motivation for solidarity: we all suffer under the divisive priorities set at the top. But, we are the university, and our collective will can change it. Whether it’s crisis or shortfalls that characterize the budget, there is no good excuse for gutting programs, creating inequality and clearing opportunities, especially as stakeholders continue to be marginalized. Administrative priorities, their lucrative salaries, their comfortable job security all come at the expense of stakeholders as a result of the flawed prevailing notion that the structure and hierarchy of the UC, as it stands, is necessary and natural.

Tactics will change and adapt as the union of stakeholders diversify. Hopefully this article may guide unified stakeholders to retain a strategy and consistent voice calling for the systemic overhaul of the UC among ever evolving demands. Furthermore, it may be of substance to acknowledge that the value of higher education and the value of the economy created by the UC can be clearly demonstrated without the harmful onslaught for university prestige alone. The inherent value of public education and free academic research that the UC creates is worthwhile on its’ own accord.

The Struggle Within

The terms exploited by the administration, perhaps unknowingly, in its description of the budget, disarm individuals fighting for education. The numbers used by administrators can make sense, but the difficulties of working to fix the budget within such terms misses the point. A paradox is formed in the process, in which personal values of education and human rights are cast aside by the immense complexity and futility of fighting budget cuts in order to understand and work in unison with administrators to balance the budget. In other words, two opposed groups of victims form: those stakeholders that understand the paradox and refuse to succumb to it, and those that see the other group as unwilling to compromise and understand the devastation of the budget “crisis” and the failing economy. The problem is that both groups have important points. Compromise is sometimes a valuable tool for affecting change and opening minds, yet it is equally important that we not be blindsided by shiny numbers and submit to the status quo. The fundamental issue is not numbers or individual personalities, but the overall structure of the university! Thus, the fight to organize around is the corrupt system, yet still be wary of tactics and ideologies carried by individuals that may halt progress.

We are on the Precipice

Admittedly, it seems counterproductive to fight the logic of budget cuts when the existing rhetoric of those in office overpowers the voice for change. Using the rhetoric and numbers from the perspective of administration and regents, it is abundantly clear that budget cuts are necessary. To protest and cause disruption may seem foolish and mute in sensible language. However protest and disruption are only tools to argue and deny the “truth” of this rhetoric. It is to defy the logic that things are set in stone, not to deny the possible existence of financial woes. It is to defy continued undemocratic forms of governance and continued support for the disconnected individuals at the top.

We are on the precipice looking down towards potential ruin. If we are to avoid this and if we seek a future brighter than that of which the budget cuts offer us, we must defy those that tell us to leap in faith to the fatal depths that they have created.

Stand up or fall down

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