Academic Freedom California Budget Education

The UC Strike….and a Teachable Moment


Today, Thursday, September 24,
is the first day of classes for nearly all University of California students. (UC Berkeley for some reason started earlier.)

It is also the day of a system-wide strike in which a great many faculty, students and UC staff plan to walk out in order to protest a bunch of the policies and cuts of that have been instituted by the University of California President Mark Yudof and the UC Board of Regents in the wake of California’s ghastly budget cuts, which snipped 4 percent out of the the University of California’s budget. (To kick things off, UC Davis held a “naked” protest yesterday, pictured above.)

In order to balance the budget, 100,000 full-time UC employees got a 4-10 percent cut in pay, plus mandatory furloughs.

This has meant fewer classes offered to students and pared down educational services while at the same time students are being hit by a 9.3 percent increase in tuition—with more tuition hikes slated.

Plus there is the little matter of some upper echelon UC employees getting raises rather than cuts.

Bottom line: although everyone understands that cuts were necessary, students, staff and faculty are pretty unhappy at the way those cuts have been done.

The Bay Guardian and the SF Chron have additional details. (For the striker’s POV there this much forwarded open letter from UC Berkeley professor, Catherine Cole.)

I teach at one of the UCs. To be specific, I drive to UC Irvine to teach a journalism workshop that meets once a week for three hours. My first class of the Fall quarter is not until Friday so thankfully I am not faced with the unholy choice of either not supporting my striking colleagues (not good) or yanking away from my 20 students of one tenth of their ever-more-costly instructional time. (Really not good. Ten weeks isn’t long enough as it is.)

The novelist Susan Straight was not as fortunate with her schedule. Susan is a longtime faculty member at UC Riverside. Unlike me, her first class is September 24, the day of the strike. In Wednesday’s LA Times she wrote about how she intends to resolve the dilemma. And because Susan is wonderful Susan, she also wrote about writing and teaching in general and about life.

You’ll be missing out if you don’t read the whole thing, but here’s a clip from the middle of the essay:

….Over the years, some people have said to me that it’s frivolous to teach writing — compared with a practical skill like auto mechanics or biology or engineering. But I say that each of my students who learned to tell a story, who taught someone else how to tell a story, who read a story and thought about it and kept it inside until its meaning was clear, learned something vital. The world runs on stories. It is how we humans survive.

What I tried to give them, and what I hope to give my students this fall, is the power that comes with the freedom to write about themselves, to tell their own stories and the stories of their communities, populated by people they know, real or imagined.

My students are like me: Often the first in their families to attend college. I say to them, you have stories no one else has, and you write about places no one else does, and you give voice to people no one else knows. Don’t let anyone tell you that a Huntington Beach surfer’s story doesn’t deserve to be told (that student went on to teach English in Japan). Don’t ever let anyone tell you a migrant farmworker picking grapes in Coachella doesn’t deserve poetry (that student teaches at the New School in New York City).

What to do tomorrow, then?

I agree passionately with the demands behind the strike. My sister-in-law is a custodian at UC Riverside, a single mother of three. Close friends work as clerical staff or in food service. Anyone who makes less than $40,000 a year should be insulated from the cuts. The faculty, the students and all of us who “own” UC should know precisely how it is spending its money. The faculty should not be powerless, and the latest tuition increases — 50% by the time this academic year is over — only make it all worse.

And yet, what is the right thing to do?

Read her solution here.

Photo by Renée C. Byer for the Sacramento Bee


  • This “teacher” is going to let her students decide for her…be instructed by these same students who more than likely supported Obama? Good grief. She needs to lead, not follow. The minds of young people are not fully developed until they learn to quit voting for Democrats.

    The country is hurting and millions of people in private industry have lost their jobs. I don’t think that it’s too much to ask “public servants” to help out with a temporary pay cut. The students could learn about responsibility and service if the teachers quit bellyaching and stay in their jobs.

    I think that we need to send our clothes to the students in the picture rather than to the Salvation Army. Good grief. I’d even pay them to put their clothes back on rather than look at them. It’s like the days of burning bras. It was the ugly ones who did it rather than the ones that I would choose.

  • Woody, the point is that if there’s going to be cut backs, administrators should take them, too. Why do you support administrators getting raises in these tough economic times? Shouldn’t they quit bellyaching and suck it up, too? Everyone’s making sacrifices except for them.

  • And, see, this is where the forces on the left have to play hardball. The women disrobing for this protest? Um. How do I put this. They leave a little to be desired. What they should have done is organized some huge co ed event as a front, and somehow got sorority girls to disrobe. It’s not that hard. A little alcohol and a dare usually does the trick. Then you throw the politically motivated signage on them, they won’t even know, or care, what it’s about. Then, we’re off to the races. Call it crass, but I dare you to tell me it wouldn’t work. There’d be twice as many cameras there, Playboy would have shown up, and the school would have caved in by now and either cut the administrator’s salaries, or found a way to bring back the classes that were dropped. Nobody’s going to care about these hippie girls. Guys are walking right past them and not even gawking, for crying out loud. Then again, this is Davis. Did you guys know PPV porn on cable is banned there?

  • Woody, part of what those protesters are doing is demanding that the administrators at least sacrifice as well. Do you ever actually read Celeste’s articles? Or do you just use this open comments section as a soap box to segue into your own political diatribes? Either that’s the case or you have a case of ADD that deserves the attention of an entire medical school.

  • SNG, if someone in your company gets a raise and you don’t, do you think that they should share their raise with you? (Probably, since you’re a socialist.)

    The protests have very little to do with what others get and is very much about what the teachers want. Protests about the administrative salaries is about envy. The professors need to quit looking at someone else’s paycheck and worry about what they can do to justify their own.

    And, Joe. What’s fair? Life sure isn’t. Are taxes fair? We could argue this all day.

  • State funds for Prison inmates: $49,000 per inmate
    State funds for Students: $14,000 per student

    What about education?
    President Yudof: “Its a stale issue. There are other priorities.” – NY Times interview

    How did you get into education?
    President Yudof: “I dont know. I wanted to be a lawyer”

    Greed will drive this state straight to hell. Schwarzeneger and Yudof will lead us there.

  • A one day strike is a joke. Thats more like a party. I won’t participate in strikes until people are ready to force change with sustained teacher strikes. Then I would support.

  • Current Threats to University of California Don’t Come From the Outside – $3 Million Extravagant Spending by UC President Yudof for University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau to Hire Consultants – When Work Can Be Done Internally & Impartially
    During the days of the Great Recession, every dollar in higher education counts. Contact Chairwoman Budget Sub-committee on Education Finance Assemblywoman Carter 916.319.2062 – tell her to stop the $3,000,000 spending by Birgeneau on consultants.
    Do the work internally at no additional costs with UCB Academic Senate Leadership (C. Kutz/F. Doyle), the world – class professional UCB faculty/ staff, & the UCB Chancellor’s bloated staff (G. Breslauer, N. Brostrom, F. Yeary, P. Hoffman, C. Holmes etc) & President Yudof.
    President Yudof’s UCB Chancellor should do the high paid work he is paid for instead of hiring expensive East Coast consults to do the work of his job. ‘World class’ smart executives like Chancellor Birgeneau need to do the hard work analysis, and make the tough-minded difficult, decisions to identify inefficiencies.
    Where do the $3,000,000 consultants get their recommendations?
    From interviewing the UCB senior management that hired them and approves their monthly consultant fees and expense reports. Remember the nationally known auditing firm who said the right things and submitted recommendations that senior management wanted to hear and fooled the public, state, federal agencies?
    $3 million impartial consultants never bite the hands (Chancellor Birgeneau/ Chancellor Yeary) that feed them!
    Mr. Birgeneau’s accountabilities include “inspiring innovation, leading change.” Instead of deploying his leadership and setting a good example by doing the work of his Chancellor’s job, Birgeneau outsourced his work to the $3,000,000 consultants. Doesn’t he engage UC and UC Berkeley people at all levels to examine inefficiencies and recommend $150 million of trims? Hasn’t he talked to Cornell and the University of North Carolina – which also hired the consultants — about best practices and recommendations that eliminate inefficiencies?
    No wonder the faculty, staff, students, Senate & Assembly are angry and suspicious.
    In today’s Great Recession three million dollars is a irresponsible price to pay when a knowledgeable ‘world-class’ UCB Chancellor and his bloated staff do not do the work of their jobs.
    Pick up the phone and call: save $3 million for students!

  • The UCB budget gap has grown to $150 million, and still the Chancellor is spending money that isn’t there on expensive outside consultants. His reasons range from the need for impartiality to requiring the “innovative thinking, expertise, and new knowledge” the consultants would bring.

    Does this mean that the faculty and management of a world-class research and teaching institution lack the knowledge, impartiality, innovation, and professionalism to come up with solutions? Have they been fudging their research for years? The consultants will glean their recommendations from interviewing faculty and the UCB management that hired them; yet solutions could be found internally if the Chancellor were doing the job HE was hired to do. Consultant fees would be far better spent on meeting the needs of students.

    There can be only one conclusion as to why creative solutions have not been forthcoming from the professionals within UCB: Chancellor Birgeneau has lost credibility and the trust of the faculty as well as of the Academic Senate leadership that represents them. Even if the faculty agrees with the consultants’ recommendations – disagreeing might put their jobs in jeopardy – the underlying problem of lost credibility and trust will remain.

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