The new school year brings with it a new batch of first-year students who are eager, bright, and hopelessly naïve about the priorities of the UC and its many abuses of power. In fact, they woefully believe that they have enrolled in a university that prioritizes the quality of its public education.
During your time at UC Irvine, your tuition and student fees will steadily increase but your opportunities and access to quality higher education will not. You will find yourself fighting for the resources your tuition supposedly entitles you to, and you will learn (through a slow and disheartening series of interactions with university officials) that you don’t actually have any friends in the administration building. In fact, the bureaucrats who hold court there function as little more than talking heads. And after four long years of fighting for your education in an attempt to secure a degree that might afford you some kind of professional and financial stability, upon graduation, you will owe more in student loan debt than you can ever hope to repay.
It wasn’t always like this. The CA Master Plan, which provides a blueprint for how the UC system should function, was drawn up in 1960 to guarantee access for all state residents to quality higher education that is accessible and affordable.
Which is why it should infuriate you to learn that for the first time in the history of the UC, student tuition money (and not the state) functions as the primary source of funding for higher education. This is what the speakers at the October 16, 2013 Day of Action — organized by the student activist group Take Back UCI to protest the continued impact of austerity measures on UC workers and students — meant when they mourned the “crisis” in public education as a death: we are witnessing the death of education as a right for all California residents, irrespective of one’s financial constraints or legal status.
We cannot blame the rising cost of a UC education or the student burden of this cost on the state budget alone.
The UC Regents and their foot soldiers on local UC campuses consistently break with the priorities listed in the Master Plan to gratuitously fill their own coffers. At a time when the UC has enforced austerity measures that will qualitatively impact your experience as a student — under the alibi that there just isn’t enough money to go around — university administrators have not hesitated to actively seek raises to their own salaries and bonuses.
Between 2008 and 2011, student tuition nearly doubled, while the number of UC administrators earning over $200,000 increased by 44 percent.
In 2009, many top-paid UC employees also received significant salary boosts; 288 of those employees received salary increases of $100,000 or greater. At UC Irvine specifically, 34 employees received raises of $100,000 or more. And to be clear, none of these employees are your instructors, your TAs, library professionals, or the people otherwise responsible for the quality of your education.
Meredith Michaels is one example of many. She’s the Vice Chancellor in charge of Budget and Planning at UCI, and in November 2011, as the Regents were discussing raising your student fees, Meredith Michaels received a 10 percent raise, bumping her salary from $225,000 to nearly a quarter of a million dollars annually.
The average annual tuition is already more than twice what it was five years ago; to say nothing of student fees, which the Regents plan to increase by as much as 81 percent over the next four years.
Adding insult to injury, the UC Regents are in no way obligated to spend the money you provide as part of your tuition on student education. In fact, they shamelessly use this money to fund construction projects and other profit-generating ventures across the ten UC campuses.
If the UC Regents are not required to earmark these funds responsibly, who then is accountable for the quality of student education at UC Irvine? The answer is closer to home than you think. The amount of money that gets allocated to instruction and research is a decision UC Irvine makes internally, in the offices of Aldrich Hall.
Those decisions are telling: the decisions about where funds go (and conversely, where funds don’t go) suggest that the university is manufacturing a crisis in public education as an excuse to discredit and disband thoughts and ideas that have historically been critical of the inherent inequalities that shape our world.
Consider the Executive Vice-Chancellor’s November 2011 “Needs Attention” memo. The memo faults ethnic and women’s studies departments for failing to bring in sufficient funds to justify their existence. This memo served as a warning: if the university continues to bleed money, ethnic and women’s studies departments will be the first programs to go.
The appointment of Janet Napolitano to UC President functions as the nail in the coffin of a now-dead dream of public higher education. These urgent concerns are not the kind that a self-interested politician like Napolitano is qualified to address, let alone ameliorate.
So when Napolitano — former Department of Homeland Security Secretary, and a politician responsible for managing the highest deportation levels on record in the United States — visits UC Irvine’s campus today, she will be in like company. She will make friends in Aldrich Hall with the same administrators who get paid to ignore your concerns, financial and otherwise.
I suggest you make some noise.
M. Shadee Malaklou is a PhD candidate in culture and theory. She can be reached at email@example.com.