U.C. WAKE UP CALL: How Scale and Action Can Save the U.C. and Maybe the Rest of Higher Education in California

I love California, and I love the University of California. I am saddened by the recent financial problems the state and the entire education system faces. But I am more upset by what seems to be a failure of the education system: people who think 60s style protests are useful and wise responses to problems they helped create.

Sit-ins, threats, throwing food at Regents, and chants of the “What do we want? X! When do we want it? Now!” ilk remind me of a five year old throwing a tantrum; not intelligent people trying to change the system and take responsibility for their role in the problem. When I was at Berkeley, a professor noted that protesting the first Iraq war (especially in the Bay Area) was not as effective as the same thousands of people writing to Congress members and being clear where their donations and votes would go in the future. The same applies to the education funding problem.

Instead of putting all that great activist energy to campaigning for funding education, Californians have coasted on a system that cannot work without incredible growth. Californians cling to a broken property tax system, fail to push for better education funding, and back spending a billion dollars on prisons. Shame on us.

U.C. Berkeley’s alumni association sent me an email claiming close to 500,000 living alumni. That is but one campus in a system of 10 campuses. Now, add in the numbers of Californians who attend or graduated from the CalState and Community College system. Given the graduates, the current employees, and students at all the higher education campuses, there ought to be a focused, powerful political group that could move the state towards fixing its education funding problems. Rather than doing so, many of these folks waited until the state had no money and in a sense no choice about what to do to address the shortfall. The Regents and the students are finally joining together to voice their views in Sacramento. This type of action should have happened in the first place.

And, there is more to do. We need to start giving money to our respective campuses. I have more to say on this point. But in case you want to give now, here is the link to give to Cal. Here is a jump page with links to give to other U.C. campuses. Here is the link for giving to the CalState system. Here is the link to give to California’s Community College system.

When I was at Berkeley, California’s recession resulted in, I think, a 100% increase in fees over the four years. It was still a great deal. As I understand it, fees barely cover professors’ salaries at some of the campuses. Fundraising and endowment money is already part of the funding formula. But how are we doing as alumni?

Part of the problem is that there is not the culture of giving that the Ivies and other elite private schools foster. Yet, private schools cost quite a bit more, and their graduates still give huge amounts back to their schools. I must confess that until recently, I too, did not give at all. That was an error, and based, in part on the fact that giving was not part of the culture and that it had not occurred to me sooner. California education must start to foster that sense of community that generates a giving culture.

I did not and do not, however, subscribe to the idea that one should not give to a public institution. It is childish to claim that public schools do not deserve the same loyalty and support. I believe they deserve it more.

If you went to a U.C. (and really any part of the California higher education system) and have a job, I suggest that you should give at least $100 per year to your school. The education we received was highly subsidized. It’s time to let others have that same benefit.

Part of the glory and greatness of California flows from the education system. That stream of plenty is drying up because we have not funded it. If we want to continue to be a great state, positioned to compete in the information age, we must suck it up now and invest in this vital infrastructure. Or, from a purely self-interested view, giving to your campus will help maintain the value of your degree. And, yes, your degree has a value.

Here is the best part. Unlike the top private schools against which we compete, we have the numbers. Yes, it’s crowd sourcing power. 500,000 graduates at $100 per year average would mean $50,000,000 per year to Berkeley. That money would help in huge ways. A percentage could go to stabilizing fee hikes, endowing chairs, or specific projects aimed at helping students (and as much as I love the Bears, no, sports funding is not the best way to address the current problems). If such giving occurred at all the campuses across California’s higher education system, the effect could be huge. In addition, the higher percentage of alumni who give, the easier it is for development offices to obtain large donations from big donors and foundations.

California, it is time to wake up. The future is still ours for the taking, but we must pay attention to the things that propelled us to greatness. Education is a huge part of that success. Let’s fund it for our continued success today and in the future.

One thought on “U.C. WAKE UP CALL: How Scale and Action Can Save the U.C. and Maybe the Rest of Higher Education in California

  1. Thanks, Deven for the passionate arguments to save the UC.

    My only concern is that by donating money, we are enabling the dysfunctional politicians who increase prison guard salaries faster than professor salaries — and on sunny days add new spending to the budget that they’ll never be able to afford when the inevitable rainy days come.

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