Faculty Respond to the Budget Crisis, Updated

The devastating cuts to the University of California by the State now mean many different things to the diverse faculty at Berkeley. For some it has meant the imminent demise of the possibility of a great university that is also a public university with wide access. For others it poses a threat to intellectual diversity and excellence. Others feel that, because evidence shows that the State economy depends on excellence and innovation of all kinds, permitting the decline of the University of California will not save money but will mean the further loss of prosperity for all Californians, and that what might appear to be temporary savings for California certainly mean future losses of a much greater amount. For yet others, these things are true but the present is all consuming because, as for many across the State, immediate loss of salary with the recently approved furloughs means mortgage foreclosure for the faculty and the staff, the inability to meet childcare, and other basic costs or needs. For some faculty, the 800 million dollar deficit and resulting cuts mean all of these things at once.

During this crisis, which the U.C. Regents have declared as an “Emergency” with special conditions, including furloughs, our blog would like to present some of these different faculty perspectives. We hope that they interest you. We also hope that, if you feel moved to do so, you will forward them to your friends and co-workers.

1. By Anne Wagner, Professor of Art History and Class of 1936 Chair
Address to the Meeting of the U.C. Regents, July 15, 2009, in San Francisco.

Two weeks ago a discreet sign went up in Berkeley’s main library. It quietly announced yet another grim fact: sweeping Saturday closures of just about the whole library system, root and branch, till June 30, 2010—a full year. Only one facility is likely to be spared: Moffitt, the depressingly down-at-heel barracks to which the legions of undergraduates and graduates who in fact do study on weekends have long been consigned. From there a corridor will be kept open leading to the Gardner stack. Consider what this means even so: no reference services, no reading rooms, no “special collections” (periodicals, classics, graduate reserves), no rare books. No access to anything housed in the libraries devoted to music, architecture, anthropology, fine arts, East Asia, bio-sciences, law, chemistry, mathematics, public health, business, economics—and on and on. Student employment hours will be cut 25%. As the University Librarian puts it, there will be “blood on the wall.”

Perhaps you think these closures need some context; isn’t this happening at universities everywhere as a matter of course? No, it isn’t. Not at Yale, not at Harvard, not at Princeton, despite the huge drop in their endowments. Not at the University of Michigan, or the University of Mississippi, or the University of Alaska. Not, in other words, at any other University that aspires, however modestly, to be worthy of the name.

I am here because like so many of my colleagues who have devoted their careers to excellence in scholarship and teaching, I find this situation intolerable. It makes a mockery of our devotion, and that of the staff, and it puts California’s future under grave threat. The crisis we are facing has more to do with priorities than with economics. It is already creating a place where excellence does not—cannot—thrive. No one should confuse the thousands of responses we have sent the Office of the President with endorsement of or acquiescence to its plans. Entrepreneurship is not scholarship, and the economic harvest some hope to reap from our creativity risks utter sterility if it ploughs the University’s longstanding commitments to excellence, to diversity, and to openness into the dust.

2. By George Lakoff, Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science andLinguistics
An Open Letter to The Regents of the University of California

It is an honor to address the Regents. The wisdom of the Regents over many decades has made the University of California one of the world’s greatest public institutions. You have a great inheritance and an awesome responsibility.

As you deliberate, there are some things I hope you will bear in mind.

The university has an overall $19 billion budget. The salary cuts for faculty and staff of $195 million represents about one percent of the overall budget.

  • Is that one percent cut the best place to cut one percent?

President Yudof has said, “There’s no way we’ll be able to look students in the eye and say this will be the same university.” He’s right. The University of California has reached a tipping point.
Remember this:

  • The quality of this great university lies in its faculty.

UC has more Nobel laureates than any other university. Cuts in faculty and staff salaries will lead many of our most distinguished faculty to accept competing offers. With them will go their grants, which will deepen the crisis and lead to a cycle of ever more cuts and departures. The result will be a third-rate university system. When too much is cut, you cannot attract and rebuild a great faculty.

  • Research and teaching are inseparable in a great university. Research is the creation of knowledge. We create new knowledge, teach it, and teach how to create it.

I do research on neural cognition, on how the physical brain — neurons — can produce ideas and language. What I teach to my undergrads in Cognitive Science 101 is knowledge that did not exist 20 years ago, and in some cases it did not exist two years ago or two weeks ago. We on the UC faculty don’t teach the biology, computer science or economics of twenty years ago. We teach what is known now! And we teach our students how to think deeply and creatively on their own!

  • UC graduates are so good because they learn what is current and they learn not just subject matter, but how to think new thoughts on their own. They learn by direct connection with our faculty and with each other.

Online courses are no substitute. The University of California is not the University of Phoenix, and should never become it. The knowledge and creativity of our graduates does not, and could not, come from online courses. Kill that knowledge and creativity and you kill one of the greatest resources to our state.

Bear in mind too that faculty depend on staff, appreciate staff, and are loyal to staff.

  • Emergency cuts tend to become permanent. So do so-called “emergency powers.” The faculty will not stand for a denial of self-governance.

Do not kid yourselves into thinking the changes you sanction now will last only one year.

Finally, you have more power than you may think you have. You have the power of access and of information.

  • Do not accept the situation in this state passively. You have the ability and the responsibility to act.

The present refusal of funding did not occur by a force of nature. The people and corporations of this state are not bankrupt. There is plenty of money in this state for a great university. The majority of voters have elected responsible legislators.

  • The cause of the crisis we face is minority rule.

Right now a minority one-third plus one in the legislature determines our revenues and budget. This is a tyranny of the minority, and that tyranny threatens one of the world’s great institutions, the institution that you are guardians of.

  • You have a moral obligation to protect this institution from the tyranny of the minority.

Through your access to the press, to business interests, and especially to the hundreds of thousands of UC alumni throughout the state, you have a power you can and should exercise: the power of information, and behind it, the moral authority of majority rule, that is, the authority of democracy itself.

  • A state government has a moral mission to empower its citizens.

It does so through building roads and public buildings, maintaining public health, controlling our energy supply, stewarding the environment, providing needed public services — and above all through education. No one earns a living in this state without such empowerment by the government. No one makes it on his own.

The University of California, through its faculty, has played a central role in empowering Californians and California. The Regents historically have made this possible. It is your duty to protect what is great about this university, and not be complicit in its destruction.

With the greatest of respect,

George Lakoff,
Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor
of Cognitive Science and Linguistics, UC Berkeley