Here are some expanded comments on the developments noted in my Calmessage. I realize that even these comments may raise more questions than they answer. I encourage you to use the comments section on this blog page, which I will monitor, or to write me directly, as email@example.com. Apologies for the wonky formatting: the typepad editor is acting strangely.
1) Resolution to reform governance of the University: At our Spring 2010 Divisional Meeting Professor Charles Schwartz proposed a resolution that would:
Ask the Divisional Council to convene a special Committee charged to collect, study and formulate a set of Reform Proposals concerning the Governance and Leadership of the University, which will then be distributed to the membership of the Division for a ballot assessment.
Upon a motion from the floor, this resolution was put to a mail ballot, using our new electronic election system. The results were clear and impressive: the resolution passed by 263-113. The next task is to form the Special Committee that will take on this difficult task. The Senate will follow its usual policy for this: the members of the Committee will be named by the Committee on Committees, and then confirmed by Divisional Council. I would expect the Special Committee to be formed at the beginning of the Fall (when Fiona Doyle becomes chair), with a report to the Division in the Spring.
2) Intercollegiate Athletics: The Senate Task Force on Inter-collegiate Athletics has issued its interim report, available here. It will issue a more elaborate, final report in early Fall.
The Task Force, chaired by Professor Calvin Moore, spent an enormous amount of time over the spring and early summer studying the problem of exploding costs (and a consequent exploding burden to campus funds) stemming from the IA program, pursuant to its charge. As part of its investigation, the Task Force wrestled with the question of the value of an IA program – and under what conditions and with what commitments an IA program can have value at our university – as well as the question how to limit the costs and burdens. I won’t rehearse the interim report’s conclusions except to say that it reflects vigorous discussion, some disagreement, and much agreement by the members of the Task Force, who I believe reflect the range of faculty opinion on the subject. I won’t rehearse the conclusions of the report, which you should read directly, except to note the following highlights:
n All members of the Task Force believe that the value of an IA program depends on its commitment to values of academic and managerial excellence as well as athletic excellence. All members strongly believe that the IA program has not succeeded in managing its resources well, and that it must undertake immediate and significant changes in its management structure and financial systems.
n All members concluded that the total campus support (including Reg fee support) for the IA program must be immediately stepped down, culminating in a level of support far below existing levels by 2014. Here members differed on the 2104 goal, with some believing – based on the benefits of the program, including philanthropic return to academic programs – that support up to $5M annually could be justified, while others believed that only lower levels could be supported, with one member believing that no outside support could be justified.
n Most or all members of the Task Force believe that the IA program does not subtract from philanthropy directed to our core academic missions, but rather serves as a portal for cultivating such philanthropy. This conclusion was reached on the basis of discussion with the head of campus development, Scott Biddy, as well as other faculty who have been involved in academic fundraising. This is not to say that the Task Force believes that support for athletics is the only or best way to cultivate philanthropy at Berkeley, but only that it does not appear that athletics fundraising cannibalizes academic fundraising. Indeed, the Task Force believes that IA needs to do more fundraising n its own, in order to both preserve athletic opportunities for students and to reduce demands on central campus funds.
3) Post-Employment benefits: As many of you know, the underfunding of UC’s post-employment benefits system (pension and medical) is one of the most serious issues the university faces. The problem arises partly but only partly from recent market declines. The principal cause is the failure of the University to make contributions to the pension system, relying instead simply on market accumulations (as well as the grossly unfair failure of the state to contribute to our retirement funds, as it does to the funds for other state employees). I note that had the Regents acted on the strong Senate advice five years ago to resume contributions, there would be little or no problem todat. Instead, in order to meet the current and future absolute liability, a total contribution from employer and employee of up to 30% of payroll may be called for. Yes, you read that correctly: 30%. The numbers are daunting.
Most of the issues are still in flux, awaiting decsions by the Presidential Task Force on Post-Employment Benefits amd further comments by the Senate, followed then by presentation to and decision by the Regents. I expect Regental decisions to take place in the Fall.
The process is still highly fluid. But it looks like the following will be elements of any decision:
n Employee contributions will begin July 2011 at 3.5%, with employer contributions at 7%; they will rise to 5% in July 2012. (Since April we have been contributed 2% up the social security wage base, and 4% thereafter, less $19 annually – but since this is in part a diversion of money that previously went to a defined contribution plan, the visible effect has not been great.) Note that these levels of contribution are wholly inadequate to meet the funding problem.
Current employees will likely be given a choice between continuing with the existing pension plan (that is, with the existing benefits levels) or opting for a less generous plan. The current plan will require higher contribution levels than the new plan; I do not know, but assume, it will require higher contribution levels than the 3.% and 5% figures. New employees may or may not have a choice.
n A remaining contested issue is whether, as the Senate recommends, the University should borrow money in the form of Pension Obligation Bonds in order to begin filling the funding liability of the pension system. While it may seem crazy to borrow money to pay a different obligation, the current low interest rates for borrowing, as against the quickly increasing liability, make this a reasonable approach – though also one with some risks, since it would tie up a significant amount of the University’s debt capacity.
4) The UC Budget: On the surface, the news from Sacramento on the UC budget is relatively hopeful. The Governor, in his May revised budget, has maintained his commitment to restore $305M in funds cut from last year’s University budget. Legislators, principally Democrats, have also announced their support for higher education. The problem is that there is simply not enough money to fund all the things that both the Governor and the legislature value, and difficult choices must be made. The Governor’s proposal would require significant cuts to health and welfare services, endangering many of the most vulnerable in California. Democratic proposals rest on a number of alternative forms of borrowing and revenue increases that will probably be unacceptable to the 1/3 of Republicans sufficient to block any proposal. Should those proposals be blocked, it is by no means clear that the legislature would favor higher education over these other budgetary needs. In short, there is limited, but only limited, reason for optimism, and significant reason to plan for a worst-case scenario of more cuts.
The real problem, as I have said in a number of occasions, is constitutional, not budgetary or political (in the narrow sense): the effect of Proposition 13, ballot box budgeting and – perhaps – polarized districts – is a system that demands services it cannot support through revenues, except in moments of bubble economies. In my view we need to end the forty year holiday for commercial property taxes, reverse the 2/3s minority-veto rules, and drastically limit the popular initiative process. And we need to do it yesterday. Tomorrow is too long to wait. Alas, the most promising reform efforts of the spring have failed to make it to the ballot, but I encourage you to become involved in new and emerging constitutional reform efforts. I deeply believe that such efforts are the only long-term solution to our problem.
In the meantime, I also strongly encourage you to contact your local legislator and encourage them to support the long-term future of California by supporting higher education. The Cal Advocacy website has helpful links and information.
5) Student Protests and the Police Review Board Report: The Police Review Board, chaired by Professor Wayne Brazil, has just issued its report on the November 20th Wheeler events, available here.
The report is long and thorough – and also gripping reading. I have not fully absorbed it, but I can say that the care, judiciousness, and research of the report are evident to me on every page. I can also say that it accords with my own provisional and partial understanding of the events and the failures that led to them, principally failures in police command and tactics, especially governing the deployment of outside police (who seemed to inflame the situation significantly); and profound failures in communication between the Administration and the protestors, both inside and outside Wheeler. On the problems with police command and control, it was dismaying to see the report detail mistakes that seem to be made regularly on this campus, as documented by prior Police Review Board reports. The Senate will be committed to ensuring that the lessons are learned this time.
The responsibility of communication – and of creating a more general atmosphere of trust and space for disagreement – is a central responsibility of leadership. It is also a prerequisite to the legitimacy of authority. The lack of engagement with the student protestors – and even with bystanders outside Wheeler, caught and confused by unclear police orders – had snowball effects over the course of the year. The Senate will ask the UCPD to report on the changes it has made in response to the report, beyond those mentioned in Chief Celaya’s letter. I continue to be deeply troubled by the still inexplicable forcible arrest of Professor Dudley early in the morning of the 20th, before crowds assembled – and by the difficulty the PRB had in assembling a coherent account from the UCPD of the circumstances of the arrest.
Meanwhile, I and other members of the Senate have been heavily involved in trying to bring closure to the protest cases that emerged from the fall protest events. Many faculty, including the unanimous Divisional Council, were deeply disturbed by irregularities and other problems in the student conduct process governing these cases. I can report success in the informal settlement of many of the cases, and dismissal of the Dec. 10th Wheeler cases. This success is due to energetic and good faith efforts by the students, their impressive representatives drawn from Berkeley Law’s Campus Rights project, and the Berkeley Administration (including the Office of Student Conduct) to come to a fair disposition of the remaining cases – one that reflects the act that conscientious civil disobedience can incur disciplinary consequences, but that such consequences must not chill legitimate protest activity. Other cases remain and will probably go to formal hearings in the fall.
We are simultaneously making plans for a substantial study and revision of the campus student conduct code and policy. This process will involve a number of groups, including faculty and undergraduate and graduate students. Its aim, as I see it, is to ensure that our disciplinary process, governing both academic and non-academic (including civil disobedience cases) meets a gold standard of procedural fairness while reflecting Berkeley’s specific commitment to a community of responsible and honorable conduct and disagreement.
6) Network fees: Many faculty were alarmed at a new policy announced by Information Systems and Technology that would have levied a charge on all units (including all departments) on a headcount (FTE) basis to pay for the costs associated with the campus information network. While the new system would have replaced the “node-based” (wired connection) charge system of the past, it would have had a very serious effect on departmental and unit budgets. In part because of faculty concern and protest, the policy change has been deferred for at least the next fiscal year while the Provost and Chancellor consider other ways to pay for the costs associated with the campus network. I have to say, I continue to be baffled by the difficulties in communicating the rationale for the proposed and now deferred policy, or the details of the deferral. The problem of funding the network is a real one, since the node model was not working -- part of a more general problem how to fund common good resources on campus (and how to decide which are common goods). The Senate will watch this issue very closely.
7) Commission on the Future/Gould Commission: The systemwide Senate gave its views about the initial recommendations provided by the COTF Working Groups at the Commission meeting on Monday, June 14th. A stream of the meeting may be found here, along with meeting materals.
Here are the responses I submitted on behalf of Berkeley, synthesized from the reports from Senate committees, chairs and deans, and individual faculty, along with responses from the other campuses. As you can see, there was a great deal of agreement about the defects of many of the recommendations, and a general disappointment (perhaps inevitable, given the process) that the recommendations did little to solve the immense problems facing us. (The systemwide Senate response is including in the meeting materials on the COTF website.)
Meanwhile, partly because the Working Group recommendations contained little that might save significant sums or raise additional revenues, the Office of the President provided the Commission with a new set of “expanded” recommendations. Though these recommendation had been rumored for over a month, they were not released until the Friday immediately before the meeting, and so have not received any Senate comment. One interpretation of the new proposals is that they are mainly an attempt to show the legislature, notwithstanding the Working Group process, that the University is thinking hard about its future. A different interpretation is that these recommend preferred policies of UCOP that were defeated in the Working Group process, and this represents another bite at the apple. No doubt there is truth to both.
Speaking personally, I think the Working Group process mostly failed to rethink our future in a way that we can endorse (and I say that with a heavy heart, since I know how much work many very talented people put into the process – my sense is that the process made the task impossible), and that a great deal more thought is necessary. But the need for new solutions shouldn’t entail rash solutions that result in diluting our greatest, and historically most distinctive qualities: research excellence and democratic access.
The new recommendations include a much more aggressive research and implementation schedule for online instruction, a plan to move all campuses to the semester system, and a plan to shift more faculty to a health sciences salary model, whereby some portion of salary is paid by outside grant funds.
On the online proposal, while the Berkeley Divisional Council (and Committee on Courses of Instruction), as well as the systemwide Academic Council have enthusiastically endorsed a pilot program exploring the development of online courses, our endorsement has two significant qualifications: the pilot should be funded with outside funds, so that the University does not incur a significant financial risk – a risk that has ripened for many other institutions; and we must carefully assess the success of the classes before discussion of any sort of undergraduate degrees should take place. While I and colleagues see some promise in expanding the portfolio of online courses we already offer, particularly with regard to oversubscribed “gateway” classes for both our students and community college students, the aggressive timeline gives me some worries that both of these qualifications may be overstepped. The Berkeley Divisional Council has proposed that our Center for Studies in Higher Education host the systemwide pilot, because of the local expertise here. And I should also add that I am part of a Berkeley Senate Task Force on Online Graduate Degrees, chaired by Professor John Lindow, to consider criteria governing the approval of online self-supporting graduate degrees, proposals for which are in the pipeline. Obviously this will remain an interesting and contentious subject.
The Academic Council has also presented its own set of recommendations to the COTF, though the membership of the Council was closely divided on a number of the issues. The Council’s chief three recommendations are that:
Competitive faculty compensation must be the top priority of the institution, because an excellent faculty is the sine qua non of the University. The issue of faculty compensation is especially acute not just because of the general competitive lag of UC salaries, but in light of the coming pension contributions, which if not offset by salary increases, will amount to a significant pay cut in take-home pay. (All of us believe that faculty pay is crucial; some of us felt that it must be balanced with other priorities.)
Shrinking the tenure-line faculty through attrition. The Council believes that the resources available are not adequate to the current size of the faculty, and that the least bad adjustment we can make is to shrink the faculty somewhat, to maintain resources for those remaining. Berkeley’s hiring next year, with an anticipated 50-70 searches, is consonant with this plan, since it is below replacement but nonetheless can keep departments vital. (It is more aggressive than other campuses are doing.)
Ceasing new buildings and capital projects except where life safety is at issue. Here opinions differed sharply. While the whole Council believed there should be a moratorium on new construction that does not satisfy urgent needs in the core academic mission of research and teaching.
The Council recommendations will be coming to the campuses and committees for further comment and elaboration.
8) Low-income infant child-care: Late in the Spring there was an announcement that the campus was eliminating 19 spots of subsidized infant care provided through the Early Childhood Education program, in order for Student Affairs (which runs the entire childcare system) to reduce its operating deficit. Infant care is extremely expensive, because of the very high caregiver-child ratios mandated. Many faculty and Senate committees were deeply concerned about this, both because of the funding priorities represented (the amount of money was not that large, in the context of the overall budget), and because of the effect on low income students, including students of color.
Senate leadership met with Student Affairs officials, along with Vice Provost for Faculty Welfare and Equity Shelly Zedeck. We learned a number of important things:
n The immediate issue is less difficult, because Student Affairs has succeeded in arranging with the federally-funded Head Start program to open a program with 16 spots at Albany Village, where a many low income student families live. This, we regarded the immediate cause of our meeting as resolved. (It should be said that the Head Start program will take up space that previously went to drop-in care.)
n The overall issue is more difficult. There is obviously a much greater need than 16 spots for not just low-income care, but infant and child care all around. It is clear that it does not make sense to fund childcare almost entirely through Student Affairs, which is mandated to balance its books through its revenue streams. (Furthermore, the Governor’s budget, referred to above, jeopardizes low income infant care subsidies.) Berkeley must rethink its provision of child care, and must work to develop both on site and local models to begin to meet the need.
Obviously, the need for childcare is felt enormously by faculty. One piece of good news is the great success of our family friendly policies, developed in large part by Shelly Zedeck and Assoc. Vice Provost Angela Stacy, which have resulted in many more junior faculty with children. But these children need to be cared for so that these faculty can do their work. The wildly popular new program of emergency childcare begun by Zedeck last year has helped, but, again, demand far outstrips supply, particularly for part-time and infant care.
9) Operational Excellence: I will leave discussion of this for another occasion. The main point is the Professor Al Pisano of Mechanical Engineering has been named the Program Manager for the effort, with continuing assistance for a period from Bain Consulting. He is now in the process of forming design teams for the different aspects of the program. You can read more here.
As always, please feel free to let me know of any concerns or comments you have, firstname.lastname@example.org, or here on the comments page.
P.S.: As a bonus (10): I finally took the current cycle of the annoying online ethics class. The good news is that you no longer have to take a certain amount of time, and was able to complete it in under 5 minutes. I recommend getting it over with . . .