Next to the door that opens into Barry Munitz's Long Beach office is a sign that reads, "Rattlesnakes may be found in this area. Give them distance and respect." It's a souvenir Munitz picked up a few years ago in Arizona, but seems quite appropriate here. As chancellor of the 20-campus California State University, Munitz is faced with a shrinking budget and an expanding student population. Since taking the position in 1991, he's garnered the wrath of students and parents by raising fees and canceling classes. He has outraged staff by freezing wages and embittered his faculty by laying off teachers. A snake pit is cozy by comparison.
Last week, Munitz proposed a budget that raises student fees 24%. It also challenges a basic premise of the 33-year-old California Higher Education Master Plan. Since 1960, that plan has entitled any high-school senior who graduates in the top-third of their class a chance to attend a Cal State school. Munitz now suggests the state may no longer have the money to do this.
Even before California fell into recession, a decade of tax-revolt legislation had created a funding crisis for the state's higher-education system. So Munitz's mission is a classic '90s challenge--do more, with less money and fewer people. His is a gargantuan task--reforming a $2-billion enterprise that serves 350,000 students and employs 34,000 faculty and staff.
Munitz, 52, was born in Flatbush, N.Y., and worked nights to get through Brooklyn College. He then earned a doctorate in literature at Princeton. In the 1960s, he was an assistant to Clark Kerr, former president of the University of California, and, at 35, was named head of the University of Houston. He spent the 1980s in finance, working with corporate takeover artist Charles E. Hurwitz.
Along with the snake warning, Munitz's office is decorated with antique chessboards--the game is his passion. When describing problems facing CSU and offering solutions, Munitz speaks as he would of chess, looking at the big picture and to the game's future--while knowing it must be won a piece at a time.
Question: \o7 Are we no longer going to be able to accept the top third of high-school seniors into the Cal State system?\f7
Answer: I think we are at risk of being able to meet that part of the Master Plan commitment. That plan had three major components--access, quality and cost. Everyone who worked hard in school, who wanted to go to college, could stay in California and get a more than reasonable quality degree at a very low cost. Where we are now is one or more of the three legs of that stool are going to have to go.
Facing such a situation, where does one bend? Well, you don't want to bend on quality, because then the access doesn't make any sense--access to what? You have to provide a decent education. So that leaves two places to bend: How many people come, and how much do they pay?
Our position has been that the state will never again be able to subsidize higher public education for everyone in California, regardless of their ability to pay.
It's time to be realistic about sharing the burden of cost between families andthe state. But until that policy can beadapted, our only recourse is to limit the number of students to whom we can give a decent education.
Q: \o7 How does the subsidy for a Cal State student compare with that of Florida?\f7
A: In the last three to four years, we have gone from the student share being about 11% to about 20%. Nationally, the average is 28% to 32%. That's why our board has proposed that one-third of the instructional cost be borne by the family.
And we are still almost bizarre in how inexpensive it is to attend CSU. It's a quarter to a third of what it would cost a student to walk across the border to another state-funded school, and one-tenth the cost of a private university.
Q: \o7 Where are the roots of Cal State's problems? Do they go all the way back to the tax revolt of the 1970s?\f7
A: If you had to backtrack, the first step would probably be Prop. 13; then, entitlement legislation that says at least 40% of the state education budget has to go to kindergarten-through-12th-grade education. Together, they simultaneously restrict revenue and commit expenditure. Add to that the dramatic increase in population, the dramatic change in profile of the population and the dramatic cut in defense spending, and you get to where we are now. Suddenly, having given the people an expectation of a college education on the assumption that life will be lovely forever, the money stops flowing.
For higher education, it's also been a problem, because we tend to be slow to change. We have not done the job required in terms of doing business differently. Political California and corporate California had to restructure because of this downturn. We in higher education are only now beginning to face these restructuring questions.
Q: \o7 So does the state need to rethink the whole mission of the higher education system? Is it time for a new Master Plan?\f7