BUDGET NONSENSE AT UC
by Charles Schwartz, Professor
Emeritus, UC Berkeley
January 8, 2009
The University of California Board of Regents
has scheduled a Special meeting for January 14, 2009, to vote on a plan
to Curtail Enrollments as part of the 2009-10 budget. That means they
will close the door to some number of qualified freshmen students next
fall. Why are they doing this? They say it is because the state
government will not provide the amount of budget that they have
requested. These are hard financial times all around; so let us look
into this matter more closely.
The total UC budget for next year is estimated
to be around $18 Billion. That money comes from many sources: State
General Funds appropriations ($3 Billion); Federal, state and private
research money ($4 Billion); Medical enterprises ($6 Billion); Campus
enterprises - dorms, meals, etc. - ($1 Billion); and Student Fees ($2
Billion). Some of that money is restricted as to use but most of
it is within the Regents’ authority to allocate. The big question is:
What are your priorities when financial times go hard?
The UC budget office says that there is an
excess of undergraduate enrollments that have not been funded by state
money and, therefore, the Regents may decide to reject a number of
qualified freshmen in the Fall 2009.
Does this make economic sense? Does it make
political sense? Does it make moral sense?
UC says that they should receive $11,000 from
the state for each additional student they enroll. They call this the
marginal cost of instruction. In truth, that number is calculated in a
very deceptive manner. The cost they refer to is the university’s cost
for all its core functions: undergraduate education and graduate
education and faculty research throughout the academic year.
Those are all important missions which UC performs for the state; but
how much of that cost may be fairly assigned to undergraduate students?
Clearly, much of that whole bundle of costs belongs outside of the
undergraduate curriculum. According to the best available calculations,
undergraduate student fees at UC now cover the entire cost of
undergraduate education. That means that any new undergraduate students
will pay for themselves. It makes no economic sense to turn away
So why should undergraduate students be
targeted (punished) in the event that the state is unable to support
that entire budget sought by UC? One suspects that the UC
administration has a hard problem to deal with, and so they solve it by
putting the burden on those people who are farthest down the ladder of
power – incoming undergraduate students and their families.
There are intelligent alternatives. There are
substantial resources of money within UC that the Regents could move
around to manage this financial crisis. (This is detailed in the paper
But they seem bent
upon this juvenile idea of standing tough before the Governor and the
Legislature by punishing new students. It doesn’t make political sense
and it doesn’t make moral sense. This is still supposed to be a public
university, not a private club.
Charles Schwartz, a retired Professor of Physics at the University of
California, Berkeley, has been a continuing observer and critic of the
University’s administration. His writings may be seen at http://ocf.berkeley.edu/~schwrtz
and he has a blog at http://UniversityProbe.org
This Op-Ed was rejected by the
Los Angeles Times and also by the San Francisco Chronicle.