Stop the Ranting and Take Responsibility

The people who talk around campus concerning the budget cuts tend to fall into one of two categories: those who feel the University of California should not endure any budget cuts or those who feel the cuts should be made as long as they are confined to specific places, such as the salaries of the University’s overpaid senior management.

However, I seldom hear anyone taking a middle ground and accepting the budget cuts as an unpopular, but necessary, way to maintain the standards of the University of California. I am not a supporter of increased tuition or the firing of staff, but my peers’ uneducated ranting has compelled me to express what I feel is the most important topic being overlooked in this discussion: we, the students and faculty of the University of California, must take responsibility for the financial crisis threatening our school. We cannot shift accountability and blame to others.

As a student who works and takes out loans in order to get through school, the increase in tuition was both unexpected and upsetting.  Initially, I found myself among those who did nothing but complain. However, further contemplation has allowed me to grasp the reality of the situation.

Although it is overwhelming how much our tuition has risen, I understand that we get what we pay for. While in the past, the low tuition paid by UC students was enough to keep up the classes and programs that made our university one of the best in the nation, this is no longer true.  Given the decreasing state funding levels, keeping up that standard will require more work and sacrifices from students, faculty and executives alike.

We do not want the quality of our education to fall, but we fail to grasp that our tuition offsets the tremendous cost of operating a research university. Many members of our faculty are very prestigious and well respected in their fields.  However, they do not work simply for their love of the subject; they are also driven by financial compensation.  After all, they must provide for their own families.

Similarly, we do not recognize the staff and faculty who have taken pay cuts and yet continue working. I have also heard, on more than one occasion, that it is “billionaire” executives who are the cause of the problems, yet many of them have taken voluntary cuts in pay in order to ease the stress on students.

The salaries of the 340 members of the senior management team constitute less than one percent of the total money spent on employee compensation. They are subject to the same unpaid furloughs experienced by all state employees. Cutting their salaries further would fail to even scratch the surface of the UC’s $500 million budget hole.

In fact, it is unlikely that any one solution can solve the economic woes faced by the university.

The changes we are experiencing are unpleasant, but they have to be made. It is unfortunate that the University of California must resort to layoffs of its staff in order to stay solvent; however, these layoffs enable the hundreds of other campus employees to keep their jobs.

Drastic decisions in times of crisis tend to lead to temporary fixes that mask the problem rather than address it in a constructive manner. We must not make this mistake. It will take time for the University of California to recover from the drastic and immediate cuts to its working budget from the state. Yet, it is important as we move forward, that we be willing to shoulder some of the burden caused by the decreased budget in order to allow the university, and the state, to recover enough to incorporate the long term changes necessary to solve this crisis.

Mike Ward is a fourth-year biology major. He can be reached at mfward@uci.edu.