Therapeutic Rant of the Day: The Ayatollahs of Academic Privatization

Like anyone concerned about higher education, I am disgusted by the disappearance of public support for universities, as well as by the wretched performance of their CEOs, who have the responsibility of looking out for the welfare of their institutions.

The latest wrinkle concerns the CEOs’ soundings about the potential for privatization. The idea would be that the state would be relieved of certain degree of responsibility for funding, while the executives would be free to secure other sources of money without any public oversight. Of course, oversight today is minimal.

This move by the higher executives echoes, in part, the disastrous fate of the Soviet Union. One of the major forces behind the breakup of the Communist Party was the apparatchiks’ hope that they could claim great chunks of the public property for their own. They were correct, although some of the robber barons were not close to the center of power. The result was a horrendous economic collapse, from which the country only recently recovered largely because of an oil boom, which has since languished.

Perhaps, a better analogy comes from Iran. My knowledge of the country is sketchy at best, but here is my understanding. Large parts of the economy are under the control of various ayatollahs’ “charitable organizations.” Again, freed from oversight, one might not be surprised to learn that some of these religious “leaders” have done quite well for themselves, while the economy suffered.

Robert Meister of the University of California, Santa Cruz has done remarkable work explaining the intricacies of the financing of the University of California. His well-circulated “They Pledged Your Tuition (An Open Letter to UC Students)” shows how tuition pays for building projects as well as education. The university system has also engaged in a half billion dollar deal with BP, as well as an earlier deal with Novartis (now Syngenta), which gave corporate interests us significant influence over what should be academic matters.

A report by the state auditor described performance of an employee of my own university system was earning more than $200,000 year. He built the university for expensive hotel stays, world travel, meals that cost nearly $167 a head, as well as $43,000 for commuting between his home in northern California and the Chancellor’s office in Long Beach. His “punishment” was to transfer to the University of California where he earns $230,000 a year as chief information officer. Both university systems have lobbied hard to prevent transparency from interfering with the ayatollahs’ questionable moves.

Just as the ayatollahs are intolerant of the slightest hint of dissent, so too will the CEOs of the privatized universities, which already have a spotty record of toleration.

If the corporate CEOs had a clue about the way economy works, about how the states’ excellent educational system attracted talented people from around the world who then contributed to the state’s economy, they would move quickly to protect what is left of the fast disintegrating system of higher education.


4 comments so far

  1. Jeremy Lammerding on

    The state of California higher education is a sad one. As a student, I feel my education has been cut short this semester (my last one) due to furloughs and cancels courses. The tuition increase is concerning, considering the stewards of our money leave much to be desired in the way of transparency.

    However, it is hard for me to get upset with many of the financial choices that have been made as of late. The open letter cited (Re: They Pledged Your Tuition) does not upset me as it seems to have others. I am glad the Regents are acting on an issue that has plagued the California school system for some time: overcrowding. In a recent CN&R interview with President Zingg, it was mentioned “San Jose State is overenrolled by 12.5 percent, so it will need to cut enrollment by 22 percent in just 18 months” (

    Are 5 year construction projects going to help that 22 percent in the 2010/11 school year? Of course not; however, it will free up classroom space in the future. Furthermore, once the capacity of the schools have increased, increased enrollment will offer a larger revenue stream to pay off debt obligations (while possibly lowering marginal tuition expenses).

    Do I like paying for the next generations classrooms that I will never get to use? Not particularity. However, I am grown up enough to understand that someone needs to step up to the plate and eat the cost of these much needed capital investments (that state funding will not). If we keep punting the ball down field, nothing will get done.

    The interview with President Zingg also mentions the original three core principles of the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education in CA: access, affordability and quality. Unfortunately, I feel the first two have trumped the last.

    In a desperate struggle to increase enrollment, while decreasing costs, the educational value has suffered. I have noticed the issue of (dare I say it?) grade inflation many times in my short stay at CSU Chico (Please note: I am NOT implying Prof. Perelman is guilty of this). The ramifications of this are huge. The CSU and UC system are turning out sub-par students and lowering wages for college grads by flooding the market with BA degrees.

    Not everyone is made for college. Staring down the barrel of senior year in high school, I knew that the choice of going to college would require a great deal of self sacrifice (not simply limited to finances). “The cost of school should not prevent you from going”. I agree with this, that’s why I sacked up and took out loans on top of a part time job to make ends meet. There is a lot of money out there for low income individuals, in the form of grants and scholarships, to make sure we receive an education (if we want it). I believe this is a great filtering mechanism for the same reason we should have GPA requirements.

    It is needed to keep out the individuals who truly do not want/value a higher education (sit in any given CSU Chico GE class and you will quickly realize our campus has turned into extended day care). Low-income individuals who do (value a higher education) will find a way, they always have and always will.

    Call me an elitist, but I feel higher education (past 12th grade) is a privilege, not a right. It needs to be paid for/earned with dedication, merit and a great deal of self sacrifice. This will foster competition in the classroom and raise the bar for expected levels of performance. I do not mind paying higher costs if it means increasing the value of my education (not suggesting this is necessarily the case right now).

    Furloughs are the reason my education has been sold short this semester. Grade inflation and over enrollment has devalued my entire experience. We need more responsibility in the classroom and in admissions. Along with increasing the costs, we need to increase the benefit of a B.A. by reestablishing the value of possessing one in the labor force (in the way of higher wages). Pandering to non dedicated students and dumbing down courses in the name of accessibility is shameful and compromises the integrity of our schools and everyone associated with it. We need to hold our teachers and students to the highest of standards.

    (On a side note, even with the tuition increases, UC fees are still under $10K. When considering schools like Berkeley and UCLA is anyone going to second guess the value of that education, even at those prices?)

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