Maintain the University of California ‘s Vision

Last fall, University of California President Mark Yudof concluded in a New York Times interview that because “the shine is off” our university in the eyes of the public, and state funding was dropping, which in turn necessitated “fee” increases of over 40 percent in one year.

With an attitude like that, who could blame state legislators for being unkind to the UC budget in recent years? Mark Yudof should be our main lobbyist in Sacramento, not peddling morbid snark to the national press comparing the UC to a cemetery, or telling New University reporters — as president of the best public university system in the nation if not the world — that his life has been “downhill all the way.”

Who could blame Californians for a dimmer view of the UC when their taxes are used to support a university that becomes less accessible to the very public that funds it? Outreach and academic preparation programs get chopped early in the budget-cutting process. A UC education becomes more financially selective. The teaching mission suffers cut courses, sections and entire minors, which leads to fewer, more crowded classes and campus services, instructors with records of distinction and experience fired —while a D.C. image disaster cleanup artist is hired. There are more cuts slated, and a proposed waiting list tied to an incoming class even smaller than last year’s group. The shine is indeed off of this privatized vision of the UC.

Yudof’s fatalist tale of a lost era of a superior yet affordable public education is a fiction presented as a fait accompli. It is easier to maintain that fatalism when campus-wide e-mails vaguely threaten punishment for peaceful assemblies, when experienced, award-winning lecturers and TAs who have seen friends and colleagues fired must reapply annually for their jobs, when students are paying 40 percent more for less, when they have found that the best sign that UCI is listening is how many police officers arrive at a rally.

Yet, in the face of this gloomy, officially sanctioned paradox of increasing fees and decreasing quality, students, professors, lecturers and other campus workers have been holding teach-ins and rallies, offering compelling evidence for other paths. There are reserve accounts and properties whose sale could help weather the crisis, planned capital projects to postpone, or profits generated by UC medical facilities that could be used to close gaps in the core mission of teaching. How about a hiring freeze in public relations before another academic employee is fired? Or, as some zombies put it before Halloween, “Prioritize Brains!” There are brighter visions of what the UC can be, and the majority of people in California recognize that a high-quality public education is a public good that will drive the economic success of our state.

On Thursday, March 4, at public universities and community colleges all across the state, in quads and streets, in classrooms and libraries, students and workers dedicated to educating California will stand and show that the shine is not off us. As a lecturer dedicated to the quality, availability and diversity of students’ classroom experiences, I will stand with them.

I will stand with my colleagues in the University Council of the American Federation of Teachers, but also in place of a student who came to the first day of my class last fall, then withdrew; despite his  nationally known scholarship, after fee increases and 50 percent cuts in Cal Grants, he couldn’t afford what would have been his graduating year. Lecturers teach the majority of classes at UCI, yet we are often among the first employees to be cut; with few exceptions, we don’t enjoy the security of tenured posts. Our dedication to the instructional mission of the university persists and flourishes, in spite of our tenuous status here.

We need look no further than our school’s motto — Let There Be Light — to know that its current president’s vision is obscured.

Brook Haley is UCI’s 2009 Lecturer of the Year and currently teaches in the Humanities Core Course. He can be reached at jbhaley@uci.edu.