Big Daddy

Big Daddy

Dear Big Daddy,
You were there at ground zero: What do you think about the endless tuition increases at UC and CSU?
–Outraged in Ontario

Hey Outraged,
That CSU move was foolish on any number of levels, aggravated by taking the action at the same time trustees okayed a six-digit salary  bump for a new campus boss down in San Diego. And they did this after Jerry Brown specifically warned the trustees against it. Brown is old, smart and grouchy, a deadly combination for a politician. He just proved that by cutting money for some law enforcement folks who opposed him last year – and he won’t forget those trustees, either.

Mark my words, ladies and gentlemen: There are many tools an irritated governor can use with an agency’s budget, starting with the line-item veto and ending with appointees.

Brown has them all, well-oiled and used. When that agency is dependent on the General Fund, slipping in the knife is even easier and the next budget will prove it. Watch and learn.

UC is a different issue. UC raises fees and tuition with abandon, almost automatically, approves salary hikes for an enormously top-heavy administration and even aggressively recruits out-of-state students who are charged more than their Golden State counterparts. I won’t even get into textbook costs, it makes me turn over in my grave.

Academic politics is so brutal because the stakes are so low, as they say, but for students the stakes are anything but low. Except for a lucky few, students attend UC and then graduate under a mountain of debt. That’s fine for the university, which uses the money to pay its personnel, and that’s fine for the loan companies, which get interest on the borrowing, but it may or may not be fine for the student, who is forced to endure a parade of graduate assistants, absurdly overcrowded classes and delayed graduations. This entire tale of travail isn’t limited to UC – it’s increasingly being felt at CSU.

I go back a long way with UC, of course, and it hasn’t always been a pleasant relationship.

I was smart enough to get my degree in politics and journalism from USC, but after I joined the Legislature I got involved in UC issues and Ronald Reagan. Then I wound up in battles over tuition and just about everything else with Reagan, who disliked UC as an institution almost as much as he disliked student protesters. He had no compunction about gouging students for the privilege of attending a great university, and was happy to turn the avowed mission of UC as a meritocracy into a great lie. California, he once intoned, shouldn’t be “subsidizing intellectual curiosity.” That wasn’t the stupidest thing he ever said – the stupidest was when he said trees make pollution – but it came close. That was in the days before he became known as the “Great Communicator”; then, he was just a putz.

We battled over UC tuition and somehow I knew that the first moves toward tuition 40 years ago would culminate in the outrages of today. Once, the Berkeley students, happy with my anti-tuition stance, carried around placards saying “Jesse Saves!” Of course, just a few months earlier I had been burned in effigy for denouncing the protests. But that’s politics.
Naturally, I haven’t been back to the Firehouse since – I hang out at Tapa’s now, which is cheaper – because I don’t like visiting old battlefields, especially those where history proves me the loser.

But I’m still turning over in my grave.

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