Sunday, April 22, 2012

University of California Reaches New High (Low?) of Academic and Institutional Stupidity

Cal Berkley Has Lost Is Raison d’être

[Editor's note:  Sarcasm aside, this is one of the sadder commentaries that this Forum has published.  It is truly discouraging to have to comment on an issue like this, and what it means for the future of America.]

Following World War II the United States made a major investment in higher education.  States rapidly expanded their state university systems, and the Federal Government pitched in with the GI Bill of Rights to send veterans back to school.  The result was that the United States embarked on an unprecedented period of economic growth and prosperity.

Nowhere was this more successful than in California.  The state invested heavily in its colleges and Cal Berkley and UCLA became world class research centers and the other four year colleges and two year college in the state propelled California to economic greatness.  Had the state been a country it would have had one of the highest GDP’s and standard of living in the world.  It was truly a remarkable achievement and produced remarkable results, for the betterment of everybody.

The Major Expansion Project at Cal Berkley

But then Conservatives took control in the state.  They passed property tax limits, and gave the Republicans in the legislature veto power over any tax increase.  Ultimately the state started starving the university and college system for resources, and the college and universities responded by raising tuition and fees.  Here is one of the economic realities of the system in recent years.

 After the state legislature last year slashed $650 million from the University of California system's previously $3-billion budget, tuition at UC schools rose 17% for in-state students and 5% for nonresident ones, prompting student protests and sit-ins on the Berkeley campus. With California already leading the nation in tuition increases, the UC system has said that annual tuition spikes could range from 8% to 16% over the next four years.

So what’s the big issue at the flagship campus, Cal Berkley?  It seems the University wants to fix the football stadium.

Until now, the years-old effort to renovate the school's football stadium, which sits on an earthquake fault line, never raised many alarms. Although its $321 million price tag would make it one of the most expensive renovations in college sports history, the university said the project would be funded privately, largely through long-term seat sales and naming rights.

Ok, so a bunch of rich people want to show their support for higher education by rebuilding the football field, not too big a deal.  Oh wait.

But three years into the fund-raising effort, a projected $270 million from the sale of seats has failed to materialize. At the end of December, the school had collected only $31 million in the first three years of the sale.

So now what do they do, cancel the project?  Don’t be silly.

Now it has become clear that the university will have to borrow the vast majority of the money.

In recent interviews, university officials acknowledge that if revenue projections fall short and won't cover the bond payments, the shortfall "would have to come from campus."

The idea that money for the football stadium could come from campus funds, which include student fees, is an admission likely to stir outrage at a school that's already facing possible double-digit tuition increases. "It is disconcerting that the university may be gambling with student fees and other academic funds to cover a massive financial commitment for a football stadium," said Cal computer-science professor Brian Barsky.

That’s right, scarce student funds and/or state monies are going to be diverted into paying for a football stadium.  And no, the sports program at Cal is not profitable and already consumes substantial resources.

Unlike some athletic powerhouses, Cal's athletic department isn't self sufficient. From 2003 to 2011 it stayed solvent only by receiving a total of $88.4 million in campus funds, according to research by Barsky. Wilton, the vice chancellor, said the figure doesn't account for donations to the university that might be inspired by the school's athletic programs.

But don’t count too much on those donations inspired by the football team.  It turns out Cal has not been all that successful.

To outsiders, what's surprising is that this expansive project is happening at Cal, a school that hasn't had a powerhouse football program in years. Cal hasn't played in the Rose Bowl since 1959 and doesn't routinely sell out its stadium. (The school is reducing capacity in the renovation to roughly 63,000 from about 72,000.)

But this is not to say that athletics takes precedence over academics at Cal.

But the television deal also requires Cal to do something unprecedented: play a Friday night home game every other year. This change recently created more controversy on campus after an academic official asked instructors not to schedule midterm exams on Nov. 2, the date of the first such game.

"To ask people not to have midterms seemed like the inappropriate thing to do," said Alice Agogino, a professor of mechanical engineering who sat on the stadium committee in its early planning stages. Balancing the athletic books "shouldn't change academic priorities for the campus," she said.

Oh wait, of course it does.

As for the benefits to the citizens of California, well in order to make up for state funding shortfalls the admissions policy is going to change.

Also controversial is a plan to open the gates to more nonresident students—who pay higher tuition. At Berkeley, the proportion of undergraduate students who pay nonresident tuition is 16%. The school said its goal is to increase that figure to 20%

Think about that.  The flagship campus of the University of California system has as its goal a huge increase in admitting students outside the state of California

The march towards economic suicide continues.  Onward Conservative soldiers. 

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