Undoing Reagan - Restoring the California Dream

Ronald Reagan launched his political career in 1966 in his run for the governorship in California by targeting UC Berkeley's student peace activists, its professors, and, to a great extent, the University of California itself. His oft-repeated mantra was "to clean up the mess at Berkeley." In the end, he destroyed what was one of the great equalizers in California's meritocracy. Under Reagan began our shift from education as a right to education as a privilege for the wealthy or as an investment for the rest of us.

Reagan, who attended a bible college without distinguishing himself, viewed the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley with deep suspicion. In his campaign he vowed to "investigate charges of communism and blatant sexual misbehavior on the Berkeley campus." He proposed deep across budget cuts for the system and cavalierly suggested that Berkeley sell its collections of rare books in the Bancroft Library and hold bake sales in Sproul Plaza. He repeated Milton Friedman's views whenever and wherever he could: "Individuals should bear the costs of investments in themselves and receive the rewards."

"The state should not subsidized intellectual curiosity" declared Reagan when he finally ended a century-long state policy of free tuition in what has long been the nation's crown jewel of public universities. Founded in 1868 as a city of learning, the University of California was free for all. Today tuition runs $9,748 for in-state residents. Total cost runs over $28,000. And it is about to go up significantly effectively ending the American dream for tens of thousands who will be priced out of the nation's largest higher education system. For the 2010-2011 academic year, tuition will rise by 32 percent.

That the state of California is in crisis is by now a well-known fact. Our cupboard is threadbare and the state faces a $20.7 billion dollar deficit over the next 18 months. The implications are stark given the political impasse in the state legislature where a rump Republican minority has decided that it is to their political advantage to hold the state hostage. Nothing will get solved and lives will be ruined.

It's not just the ten flagship campuses of the University of California system that are hurting. It is the entire system.  The state's 110 community colleges are designed to be affordable launchpads to further education, with the assurance that after a two-year foundation, students can land at one of the California State University or University of California campuses. Once they arrive at universities, data shows that transfers are successful, graduating at a slightly higher rate than students who enter as freshmen. But six in ten community college students are unable to graduate largely because cuts have so devastated the system that they can't get the classes they need to complete their associate's degree. California now ranks  39th among states in the percentage of bachelor's degrees awarded to high school graduates.

And as California's educational prowess sinks so does the state overall. Restoring the California Dream does, in fact, mean undoing Reagan.

From the New York Times:

The state's higher education budget has been slashed by $2.8 billion this year, including $813 million from the university system -- about the equivalent of New Mexico's entire higher education budget.

"Dismantling this institution, which is a huge economic driver for the state, is a stupendously stupid thing to do, but that's the path the Legislature has embarked on," said Richard A. Mathies, dean of the College of Chemistry here at Berkeley, long the system's premier campus. "When you pull resources from an institution like this, faculty leave, the best grad students don't come, and the discoveries go down."

As the litany of cuts continues, there is a growing worry that senior faculty members may begin to defect. In fact, some colleges around the nation have begun identifying funds to use to recruit U.C. professors.

Since California adopted a master plan for higher education in 1960, the state has been, in the words of the historian Kevin Starr, "utopia for higher education." Eight of the 10 University of California campuses -- all but Merced and San Francisco -- are in the top 100 in this year's U.S. News & World Report's rankings. But maintaining that edge, without resources, is difficult.

In 2004, international rankings by the London-based Times Higher Education named Berkeley the No. 2 research university in the world, behind only Harvard. This year, Berkeley plummeted to No. 39, mostly because of its high faculty-to-student ratio. The other international rankings, by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, rated Berkeley No. 3 this month.

Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a nonpartisan group that promotes access to higher education, said that while public universities in many states were facing financial problems, California was in a class by itself.

"In most states, it's the economy, and you can say that in a couple of years, it will bounce back," Mr. Callan said. "But in California, it's really part of a significant retrenchment of the whole public sector. If the perception is that it's going to be chronic, and people give up on California, the pre-eminence of Berkeley and U.C.L.A. would be in danger."

No wonder, then, that people like Bruce Fuller, a Berkeley professor of education and public policy, are asking themselves whether it is time to move on.

As co-director of the Institute for Human Development, an interdisciplinary research group that suffered big cuts, Mr. Fuller worries that the unit is losing its intellectual excitement and its ability to support his grant proposals. Then, too, he lost his two best graduate students last year to Stanford.

"To stay on top, you need to be bringing in new people," Mr. Fuller said. "And I'm not sure how many of my most stimulating colleagues will still be here in three years."

So although he was not swayed last year when the University of North Carolina came calling, Mr. Fuller said, he may be more receptive this year.

Formerly taboo ideas, like allowing U.C.L.A. and Berkeley to charge substantially more than other campuses, or even eliminating the research mission at some of the newer campuses, are being put forward. Many here seem to be in a state of shock that things have been allowed to get so bad at one of the nation's leading public research universities, one with a long tradition of excellence. Berkeley faculty, past and present, have won 21 Nobel prizes. And last month, two of the 24 MacArthur fellowship grants went to a Berkeley computer scientist and a molecular biologist.

Students, professors and union workers alike say the state's 20 percent cutback in financing imperils the system's ability to provide a top-quality education to all qualified California students, particularly those from low-income families, who make up almost a third of the university's student body.

A nation is only as good as its public universities. The total cost of sending every single public university undergraduate to college for a year, a group makes up 75 percent of the total college enrollment, was $39.36 billion in 2006–2007 according to the Council of Higher Education. That's not an insignificant number, but that's less than half the cost of the AIG bailout, or the cost of five months in Iraq (in October 2009, our bill for Iraq came to $7.3 billion). Just put that into consideration when you consider the billions more we are about to pump into Afghanistan. We can send our kids to school or we can send them to die. Choose wisely.

Tags: higher education, Ronald Reagan, University of California (all tags)



Re: Restoring the California Dream

Only by overcoming the Proposition 13 lunacy can California straighten out its fiscal mess.  Requiring a 2/3 vote of the legislature is insane; it allows a minority to rule over the majority.  That's undemocratic!

A practical solution could be to change the 2/3's vote rule to a 3/5's rule -- by a new proposition.

Such a ballot proposition to change the tax increase super-majority rule would only happen if college students, their parents, alumnus, AND INDUSTRY got behind such a campaign!

P.S. - Where would Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman stand on more funding for education in California?  Hmmm?

by slip kid no more 2009-11-20 05:09AM | 0 recs
RE: Undoing Reagan - Restoring the California Dre

Please Note:  "RE: Undoing Reagan - Restoring the California Dream"; subject is too long (max is 50 characters).  Comment may fail to post.

by slip kid no more 2009-11-20 05:16AM | 0 recs
Re: Restoring the California Dream

The problem is that of the initiative process in the state. The Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court recently discussed the issue, and it has come up frequently in the legal press. Chief Justice George is saying what many are saying-- it does not matter who is in charge because the issue that the structure creates a boom or bust cycle in the state budget process regardless of ideological bent.

by bruh3 2009-11-20 06:29AM | 0 recs
RE: Restoring the California Dream

Speaking of Carly Fiorina ...


No mention of education here:  


by slip kid no more 2009-11-20 05:22AM | 0 recs
Re: RE: Restoring the California Dream

... and Meg Whitman?

No mention of the California University system here:  http://www.megwhitman.com/platform_topic .php?type=education

by slip kid no more 2009-11-20 05:32AM | 0 recs
Undoing Regan...

...means restoring all of our dreams.

Sadly, I don't believe the California University system is extraordinary. Tuition costs have been climbing much faster than inflation since (surprise) the 80's at public and private Universities.

I referred to this as the broken promise not too long ago.

A society where a college tuition is required for any realistic high paying job plus outrageous tuition costs recreates the mass lower class. Which is, after all, every Republican's dream.

I don't like the above photo, because it casts Obama as dark and Regan as light, but it is well meaning. The sooner we have a national dialog on the damages of reganism, the better.

by NoFortunateSon 2009-11-20 06:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Undoing Regan...

Tuitions are rising faster than inflation because of federally guaranteed student loans that are available. Not because property taxes are too low.

Go visit any UC campus in California. The places are swimming in money.  Look at the faculty clubs.  The new construction projects. The salaries.  The benefits.  The amenities.  The licensing revenue from I.P.  You shouldn't buy their poor story. It is B.S.

by dMarx 2009-11-20 08:08AM | 0 recs
Nobody's arguing that

Some University Presidents now make over $1,000,000 a year.

The picture is more complex than just University spending on luxuries, though. It's a part of it, but not the whole story. Universities are ripe with wasteful spending, but a lot of that luxury spending is to attract the best and brightest students which they compete for.

My solution has been to control spending at public universities and subsidize public tuition cost back down to an appropriate level. The result will create a wide gulf between private and public. Once this gulf gets too wide, competition will start to drive down private tuition costs.

by NoFortunateSon 2009-11-20 08:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Nobody's arguing that

Agreed.  However, keep in mind that the competition to attract the "best and the brightest" is an arms race in which all of the competitors are using federally subsidized student loans to up the ante.

Ultimately it is the students that get the shaft, graduating with hundreds of thousand of dollars in debt.

It is a crying shame.

by dMarx 2009-11-20 01:20PM | 0 recs
Not to pimp my diary, but....

...check out a diary that I wrote on the subject.

I don't believe that the government has any choice in reducing the number of loans. It's just too politically unpopular. I think the best bet is driving down tuition cost through greater subsidies. It's just my opinion, though.

by NoFortunateSon 2009-11-20 01:27PM | 0 recs
Reagan's been out of office for 35 years

California is indeed a mess: they've managed to chase residents away to Arizona, Nevada, and several other states. And with a host of burdensome regulations and taxes, it's business-unfriendly as well. Destroying their revenue base, combined with runaway entitlement spending, is what has this state printing "play money" to satisfy creditors. And this runaway taxing-and-spending culture is the reason CA is failing; not Ronald Reagan. Good lord, the man left the Governor's office in 1974!

I hate to cloud the issue with facts, but state spending for higher education during the Reagan years (1967-'75) rose 136%, compared to 100% for overall state spending during the same period. And the university system received approval for 90% of its budget requests under Reagan, compared to 95% under his predecessor, Pat Brown---the man widely credited with bankrupting the state during the '60's.

As to the "Free Speech Movement" at Berkeley, Reagan generally supported the right of protest; he simply didn't believe that a small group of anarchists should deprive any other students from their right to an education. When a group of loons describing themselves as "The Third World Liberation Front" attempted to strike and close down the campus in early 1969 (sending six students and three campus officers to the hospital) then-Governor Reagan did indeed send in the California Highway Patrol and proclaimed a state of emergency. The campus was quickly reopened, order was restored and students who were there to get an education began attending classes again. Reagan was simply enforcing his own rule, "Observe the Rules or Get Out!"

And your cheap shot at Eureka was extremely disappointing, as I genuinely enjoy most of your diaries. There's a huge disconnect between your egalitarian, man-of-the-people advocacy of education for the many, juxtaposed with an elitist crack about a "bible college". Ronald Reagan arrived at Eureka in 1928 with $400 in his pocket---not enough to cover his first year expenses. After negotiating a half-scholarship ($90) from the football coach, and finding a job washing dishes at the Teke house, he managed to come up with the money of go to college. It wasn't easy.

And as to the Golden State today, lots of luck; someday, they'll get down to tackling the big issues. I read in this AM's paper that they're busy outlawing high-def TV's; it's wonderful what great minds in Sacramento are managing to accomplish these days. Of course, any consumer who really wants one can order it online. So the only entity that gets hurt in such a scenario is, you guessed it: businesses in California.

by BJJ Fighter 2009-11-20 07:42AM | 0 recs
Re: Reagan's been out of office for 35 years

Jerry Brown contributed a lot to this, not to mention the conditions which led to prop 13 in the first place.

This diary is just like the article last month in the SF bay guardian. Thanks to liberals everywhere, Brown is escaping responsibility for everything. And he is going to make things worse when he becomes gov. He has always been a 'fiscal conservative.'

by bay of arizona 2009-11-21 10:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Undoing Reagan - Restoring the California Drea


High tuitions are a problem that has nothing to do with schools not having a enough money. They have tons of cash.  Massive endowments, huge revenue from IP licenses.  

They charge what they do for the simple reasons that they can get it from students who have access to federally guaranteed loans.

What needs to happen is for the government to clamp down on tuitions that schools charge.  Schools need to stop spending money  like drunken sailors, treating their professors like royalty, and building Taj Mahal like dorms.  It is out of control.

You should see the new dorms at U.C. Santa Barbara.  It is obscene.

by dMarx 2009-11-20 08:04AM | 0 recs
Only qualm

Professors are often treated like garbage, just like any other company treats their employees. Once they get tenure, they're just garbage that can't be fired. Starting salaries for academics, considering the amount of education invested, are quite low. An assistant professor (what you come in as without tenure) makes on average $75k.

But I agree with everything else being a race to depravity.

I make it no secret that I attended an Ivy League University from 1993 to 1997. Conditions in the dorm were quite spartan by modern University standards.

by NoFortunateSon 2009-11-20 01:31PM | 0 recs


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