Bad news Bears

My company is having a bad week.  246 (so far) faculty members signed a petition to the chancellor asking him to try to get the Alameda DA to drop charges recently filed against protestors whose brutalization by police in last fall’s demonstrations (including a prof holding her hands out for arrest being thrown to the ground and dragged by her hair) was widely viewed in videos.  I can’t imagine what the DA expects to get out of these prosecutions, but they have put a very sorry episode back in the news, one that earned the administration a remarkable dope-slap from the faculty and another round of embarrassment last month.

Today the chancellor announced that he is resigning at the end of this calendar year.    Good, and not surprising: he’s a decent person with many admirable instincts who was just over his head in the job; a day late and a dollar short on one challenge or crisis after another. I wish him well back in the lab.

Most of that is old news, but this is a really disgusting revelation.  A senior campus executive, earning $188K, has given her 30-year old subordinate boyfriend raises from $58K to $110K over two years. OK, any organization can have someone fall from grace, and this couple doesn’t need their personal problems raked over in public.  The scandal here is the administration’s response.

Let’s be clear what happened here: there’s no evidence so far that the purchasing manager boyfriend demonstrated the kind of incredible on-the-job performance that would justify this treatment, so Leite spent the university’s money on personal, um, services: I estimate the total is about $58K so far (not clear if Caniezo’s pay has been cut back). This could pay for about three graduate student instructors.  [The campus has a flat rule against romances between supervisors and subordinates (including faculty and students in our classes or likely to be) with or without embezzlement.] A large fraction of this money is taken from taxpayers by force, so our responsibility to use it properly is especially grave.  Incredibly, Leite still has a job,she still has some authority over use of university resources, and the wrist-slap the campus thought appropriate was a pay cut of about 3.5% after taxes.  It will take more than seven years for her to “pay back” what she stole at this rate. If she has the good grace to quit now, she will walk away with a very nice pension, unless something is done about it.

Opponents of restoring public funding for UC have pointed to administrative bloat and overpaid managers as evidence that we don’t deserve to be trusted with public money.  I’m skeptical of a lot of this line of argument; I think management matters and generally it’s expensive and worth it.  Now I’m a lot less skeptical: this story is devastating to our political credibility and to the internal credibility of our whole administration.




Who should pay for whose college, and how?

Years and years ago, David Mundel used to provoke my interest in public policy as an object of analysis (rather than an occasion to opine) by suggesting out-of-the-box things like: the way to deal with affirmative action and discrimination in college admissions is to require colleges to admit by lottery and have done with it.  This appears flatly nuts until you realize that under such a scheme, applicants would have a strong interest in choosing schools whose academic demands matched their abilities, because there’s no point in getting into a place you will just flunk out of as a freshman, and colleges would have an interest in providing the information with which applicants could choose intelligently, because there’s no point in admitting someone who can’t cut it. I’m still not ready to completely sign on to this idea, but it has a lot going for it. It certainly beats the uninformed grasping for prestige that college application season has turned into.

David, IIRC, also favored charging full costs in tuition with an extensive loan program, because all college students are pretty rich on a lifetime income basis no matter what income their families have, and not being able to afford college is simply a capital market failure that should be fixed directly. Tuition subsidy at the University of California, on this model, is a Hood Robin transfer from everyone to the upper third of the income distribution.

This question is not just dinner-table conversation stuff: a lot of my students and colleagues are off to Sacramento Monday to demand that the state fund education, including higher education, sufficiently not only to put an end to the petty and wasteful “economies” we are being subjected to but to reverse the hockey-stick increase in tuition at public colleges and universities.  That California is abusing its young people by trashing their educations in K-12 and underproviding it at the college level is my view in spades; I’m torn between rage and despair.  This spring I clicker-polled my class and found that the parents of 17% of them had no degrees above high school, and my heart leapt; these are the students I especially get up in the morning and go to work for. Continue reading “Who should pay for whose college, and how?”

Something happening here

The faculty senate meeting passed all four resolutions en bloc about 10:1,  336-34. The resolutions are here, here, here, and here. This morning, specific language of no confidence in the administration was removed from one of the resolutions by its sponsors so it wouldn’t appear to be a demand for resignation.

I think the attendance, 370 recorded as voting, was a record, about a quarter of the faculty.  One could think the other two thirds would have voted no, but one would then probably also believe in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, and be bidding for a bridge I am offering, [email me off-line on that].  It was not a good day for Chancellor Birgeneau, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Breslauer, or  Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande.  I recall an observation by Mark, possibly here, that more people are fired by their subordinates than by their bosses. That would be a fair characterization of the event; “no-confidence” language or not, it’s hard to imagine a more complete rejection of this team’s leadership, including their attempts to justify their decisions post facto.  They may go on doing executive things and drawing pay for a while, but they will be doing it with nothing but the trappings of formal authority. Let us hope they at least understand this no longer includes the authority to sic armored police on students.

The meeting put itself into committee of the whole for an hour, after the resolutions were moved as a group, to allow discussion without having to fuss about Robert’s Rules, with another hour afterwards for voting and amending.  The first 25 minutes of the discussion hour was granted to the three above-named to address the group; then they left. Not one clap.  I interpret not staying for the meeting as some combination of cowardice or a constructive resignation, or maybe both. It was extremely painful to watch, worse because this plan was announced by the chair with the insulting justification that it would “allow us to speak freely,” – do they think we don’t dare say what we think in front of them?  Really: they acted out, in front of everyone, their worst management habit, which is to talk instead of listening, and not ever visibly go into input mode or engage with the people who nominally work for them.  Which, I guess, explains how they could so completely misread the mood of their troops. Someone mentioned that Birgeneau has lunch with a dozen faculty every month, which would have him encounter each of us every fifteen years. I don’t know who does the talking at those lunches.

A couple of dozen speakers lined up at the microphones for two-minute remarks, each to applause, and to my real surprise, not a single person spoke against the resolutions. No-one wanted to debate them formally or offer amendments: the issue was obviously settled already in all important respects. After the vote, there was another on whether to have a mail (web) ballot, which was defeated 216-165.  Perhaps this should have gone the other way, but I have the sense that the no’s were not trying to protect the formal outcome of the meeting from being diluted or overturned (see fairy, tooth above), but just felt the message was so clear already, and the whole exercise so painful and embarrassing, that there was simply no point in bothering people who didn’t care enough to show up, or had to be in class.

Now we’re effectively rudderless.  It will be interesting to see if there’s a way for the faculty to take on some authority. (A promising ray of sunshine: mirabile dictu, I was buttonholed by the chair of the Committee on Teaching, who had come upon this post and asked if I wanted to chat with the committee about things they could do beyond choosing the annual teaching award winners.)

Or we can just wait for Zeusdof to throw a new log in our pond.  I don’t think we will sit still for a stork now, at least I hope not.

Occupy UC

On Monday, the Berkeley faculty will have a special meeting to consider several resolutions condemning the police behavior at the Nov. 9 Occupy Cal demonstration, and another resolution that says in part:

Therefore be it Resolved that the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate has lost confidence in the ability of Chancellor Birgeneau, EVC Breslauer and VC LeGrande to respond appropriately to non-violent campus protests, to secure student welfare amidst these protests, to minimize the deployment of force and to respect freedom of speech and assembly on the Berkeley campus.

This is going to be a complicated, awkward (not that that’s a fatal flaw) exercise that will probably not clarify much for anyone.  In the first place, the “Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate” is not a representative body but a committee of the whole 2000-odd of us, and its meetings are rarely attended by more than 100. Obviously it meets in a dense cloud of selection bias that obscures its legitimacy, so its resolutions and actions don’t seem to be taken very seriously by the campus authorities, who can easily say, “well, that’s what several dozen malcontents think, end of story”.  In the second place, the motion uses very strong language. Despite having signed the call for the meeting, mainly because I think this stuff desperately needs to be discussed, I’m not sure I’ve lost confidence precisely in the leadership’s ability to protect protesters from beating and chemical assault. Admittedly, it’s hard to reconcile the chancellor’s public words from two years ago on the occasion of excessive police force at the Wheeler Hall occupation

Any tactics to exercise crowd control on campus must provide a safe platform for expression of free speech and freedom of assembly and we expect that, as a result of this review, modifications will be made. We must strive to ensure that there is no possibility in the future of the alleged actions of police brutality and that our actions are guided by non-violence.

with what happened three weeks ago, but probably the latest quite broad outrage and criticism have got their attention and they will not make that mistake (whether of omission or commission doesn’t matter too much) again.

But that’s not the big mistake, outrageous as it was. Continue reading “Occupy UC”