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Patt Morrison Asks

University of California President Mark Yudof: The BMOC

January 15, 2011|Patt Morrison

We've hit the students very hard, roughly 40% [of increases] in the last three years, I think. What we've given back? If you have a family income of $80,000 a year and you're financial-aid eligible, you don't pay tuition. I thought that was pretty good. And we didn't apply the increase to students [with family incomes] between $80,000 and $120,000.

We can't be free. We can't be $100 a year. But we can serve students who are not served by the prestigious private institutions. Over half of our students are in families where English is not the primary language. We're trying desperately to maintain our public mission: high-quality education, reasonable cost compared to most privates.

There's talk of privatizing parts of the system, like UCLA's Anderson School of Business.

Well, I don't like the privatizing. Frankly, internally there's a lot of criticism of the proposal. But in this environment, if there were areas in which you could charge more to help balance the overall budget, it's very tempting. But I've not signed off on it, [and] it hasn't gone to the board.

A man on my flight here wanted me to ask you if the big push for business, law, medicine careers -- big moneymaking careers -- means we're slighting public service, the commonweal.

We try awfully hard there. The law school has turned heaven and earth to encourage students, with loan forgiveness and other things, to pursue public service. The Blum Center [for Developing Economies] deals with global poverty. The list goes on. That's part of the public mission. We can't dictate choices to people; we can educate them.

The governor once spoke of the "psychic rewards" of public service, as opposed to the dollar ones.

That's an old statement; I don't know if the governor would stick by it. I think there's something to it, but I would put it two ways. Many university professors could pursue more lucrative careers. It took me virtually 10 years of law teaching to match the highest offer I got from a law firm coming out of law school. I didn't regret it; I'd made my choices. So there is psychic benefit.

On the other hand we're in a competitive business. Like any industry, [faculty] get [other] offers. Compensation is a significant factor. They say, "What am I doing here if I can get 50% more money from a private institution"? You have to be competitive. [In] the nation's 62 top universities, our highest [paid] chancellor ranks 50th. And the chair of the group, from Santa Barbara, ranks dead last.

Your predecessor resigned after accounts of secret bonuses and salary deals. Now some well-paid UC people claim they had a deal for bigger pensions. It's complicated -- a lot of the money wouldn't come from public dollars but from profit-making parts of UC. What's your stand on this? Isn't the timing awful?

I don't do secret deals; everything's in the paper! It is a complicated problem. When I arrived I had no idea we had a ruling [on the pension deal] pending. We looked at it and said, this resolution was never implemented. [The potential beneficiaries] disagreed. They're not dishonorable people. That is a good-faith interpretation. We think it's wrong, and we think under the current financial circumstances it's difficult to justify. Perhaps it was the tone of [their] letter; I think that it hit overly hard.

Is what we're going through an aberration, or the new normal?

It's probably the new normal. The truth is, the deterioration of [education] funding predates this horrendous Great Recession. It's not like things went really great between 1990 and 2007, and then all of a sudden we had this problem. Some of it's driven by demographics -- an aging population of voters [worried about] Social Security and police protection. We have a huge demographic of Hispanic youngsters. It's no time to trim back and say, well, they're not our children; well, they are our children, maybe not biologically, but they're our children.

Who's going to train the nurses, the veterinarians? Who's going to invent the better solar panels? Who's going to make sure the crops are safe? Business is not doing this.

If we eat our seed corn, to use a Texas analogy, there's not going to be anything to support these programs. You have to create the basis for long-term prosperity.

Is that your sales pitch?

I think it is. We're the best hope of getting California out of the ditch.

Students are protesting tuition hikes; have their personal stories gotten to you?

Look, life is not totally fair. Some people may have to borrow more money than they wanted to [or] drop out of school for a semester or a year. I worked my way through school; I understand how hard it can be. But when [students] stand up and say, "My mom makes $22,000 a year, and we can't afford it," something's wrong because I put in place programs to deal with the poor. I say, write to me, and I'll write to the chancellor: "There's a young man, young woman on your campus who can't afford to go to school. I want you to look into it immediately."

This is an age of great anger. No one likes rising prices. They're not the only ones suffering, but that's cold comfort to many students and their families.

Are there myths out there, about things like secret endowments?

There are myths. They tell us we have an unlimited endowment; we don't. It's restricted. Everyone's saying we're giving big bonuses; we're not. I'm not charging anybody tuition to pay a neurosurgeon at UCSF. These myths come about because it's easier to have a bad-man theory of what's going on than to say these are systemic problems. We are systematically underfunded.

What is your overarching message?

The University of California is still the model for the world. I attended a conference in Germany -- there's UC envy all around. UC was the 20th century model; it needs to be the 21st century model worldwide. So let's not blow it in the land where it all started.

latimes.com/pattasks.

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