Some new scenery along the slow downward path of UC Berkeley

The whole university is dismantling itself, and parts of the machinery are not working.  For example, an MPH applicant to the Public Health School received this letter (passed on by a reader):

Thank you for your application to our MPH program in Public Health Nutrition.  Due to budget cuts, we are not able to offer a Public Health Nutrition program next year.  If you are interested in the program in Public Health Nutrition, and you already have a nutrition science, dietetics and/or biologic sciences background, you can apply to the Maternal & Child Health program, the Health & Social Behavior program, the Epidemiology/Biostatistics program, or the Health Policy & Management program, and take Public Health Nutrition courses as electives.  In addition, you can select PH nutrition related topics for your projects and internship experiences.

We’re firing graduate student instructors and reducing class sizes, closing departments and cleaning bathrooms weekly.  Students whose tuition has gone up thousands of dollars can’t get into courses they need to graduate; we’re trying to float an educational ship in a lake that’s steadily draining away to a mudflat.

Governor Schwarzenegger proposed an especially cynical piece of nonsense in his State of the State address, namely a constitutional amendment to reverse the general fund fractions going to education and prisons from 7%/10% to 10%/7%.  In a state crippled by ‘ballot budgeting’ that wraps larger and larger pieces of the government enterprise in constitutional armor, leaving less and less for the legislature to decide about, this is simply hooey; it’s also hooey because no-one has any idea how to simply reduce the cost of prison by 30% when we’re under federal court orders to upgrade the correctional system to meet minimal federal constitutional norms. There’s no question the state has this allocation completely wrong, but attacking it with a ballot measure like this is nothing but grandstanding.  Is the governor the last person in the state to figure this out: where has he been for all these years on this issue?  Does he think budgeting is just a matter of moving high-level aggregate totals around on a summary page?

The Legislative Analyst’s Office skewered this, which is right and proper (the LAO is a hotbed of reality-respecting and responsibility), and the President of the University, recently a national laughing stock for his little outing with Deborah Solomon and deeply unable to display anything that could be thought of as leadership, weighed in vacuously against the LAO’s report.

The little scandal of intercollegiate athletics subsidies at Berkeley is getting interesting again.  We have a faculty “Task Force on Intercollegiate Athletics” now, creature of the resolution that was passed last fall, and IA is beginning to dribble out some financial information.  The first batch is a revised I/E statement for the year ending June 30 ’09, and guess what? Almost every indicator is substantially worse than the preliminary guff they rushed out before the faculty meeting in November.  In particular, the campus subsidy to this operation is now up to $13m per year, from the $7.7m they ‘estimated’ for us last fall.

We also have a deal going down to repair the football stadium so it won’t be a seismic disaster waiting to happen (it exactly bestrides the Hayward fault), and build a conditioning center/party venue/coaches office complex exclusively for about 500 letter athletes to use for about $460m.  We are borrowing this, and selling seats in the stadium on long-term contracts (that can be terminated by the donors at will) that would total $300m if all were sold (and paid up) today.  The debt service on the remaining amount is about $12m per year, and there is no story about how IA can climb up $25m from a $13m (and growing) deficit, not to mention that the seat contracts are payable all at once, over five years, or over 30 years (no word on how each tranche is moving), so whatever isn’t paid in in full is being financed in addition.

You might think $12m per year or more is a lot of money in a place whose faculty and staff are on furloughs, but be assured that this will save us $5m a year, what it would cost to play seven games  in another venue, so it’s actually a bargain because $5m is much more than $12m…wait a minute, I’m not explaining this properly.  OK, try this: it must be a good deal because our athletic director has an MBA and understands these things, and while the campus financial wizard doesn’t, he worked for J.P. Morgan, and J.P.Morgan is a Big Bank full of Really Smart Rich People…this still isn’t coming out right.  OK, never mind about J.P. Morgan;  the MBA  alone should easily outweigh the quibble that 12 is actually more than 5.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

9 thoughts on “Some new scenery along the slow downward path of UC Berkeley”

  1. Hahaha….

    Mike, this was brilliant.

    Too bad this wasn't some half true story designed to get a laugh at the Comedy Store, it is unfortunately all true and anything but funny.

  2. I think of Wile E. Coyote, having run fifty feet off the edge of the cliff and only now noticing that it is 1,000 feet down. And I sure don't think some schlub in Lodi who flips burgers should be paying taxes to support the athletics palace. I left Berkeley 40 years ago, but isn't this the kind of nutty decision that the Regents ought to be scrutinizing? I now live in Va, and we have 20- and 30-year people in the state legislature, who actually had to worry long ago about current situations, we have new legislators who hope to last that long and are concerned about sustainability of things done now. That seems lacking in the Assembly, maybe because of term limits.

  3. Term limits are a big part of the problem, Dave.

    The idea is not awful on its face: legislators should do their thing and return home to live with what they helped create. Unfortunately, lobbyists are not elected, nor do lobbyists live under term limits. What happened in Sacramento is that new Assemblycritters (and Senators) show up, and some friendly lobbyist with a connection drapes an arm around her shoulder and says, "You're new here. Let me show you how this place works." About the time she figures out how this place works, she's in her third-and-final term and on her way out.

    Legislatures need institutional memory, term limits act to destroy institutional memory. Term limits don't devastate executives the way they do legislatures because there is the civil service underneath acting as institutional memory. So what has happened in California is that the strong lobbies run the legislature, and that's bad for the State-as-a-whole. In the long run, it's bad for the lobbies, too though they don't seem to see that.

    Term limits also ripen final-term legislators for influence peddling. Of course, it's nothing as coarse or illegal as a direct bribe. Instead, it's a made-up job in the Governator's administration or a promised job later with a lobbyist's organization and so forth.

  4. "Scrutinizing", Dave? The Regents voted to approve this deal. I should add that the Regents are a bunch of very hardheaded, no-nonsense, rich business people who could not possibly expose the University to the kind of financial disaster that um, hardheaded etc. orchestrated across the economy in the last decade…wait a minute, I'm still not getting this right. Damn, this high-level decisionmaking is very hard to explain. I'm obviously over my head on this whole post, but the grownups are in charge and we can all be sure things are basically OK.

    I know our readers are smart enough to understand it, so I'm offering to send a nice crisp finnif to anyone who sends me $12. Here's your chance to make some easy money. Please be patient, because this offer is obviously going to bring me a ton of mail and it might take a while to catch up with it.

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