Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Low State of Higher Education: A California Tragedy

While higher education in California was reeling from budget cuts, the San Francisco Chronicle reported:
California State University Chancellor Charles Reed has retained high-priced lobbyists without competitive bidding, even though CSU has a Sacramento office where it runs a $1.1 million-a-year, in-house lobbying unit whose state employees monitor CSU-related bills and follow state budget hearings.

In the last decade, the university system has paid more than $2 million in public funds to two Sacramento lobbying firms -- Capitol Advocacy LLC, and Sloat Higgins Jensen & Associates -- to influence the policies and budget decisions of the governor and state lawmakers.

Admittedly hiring high-powered lobbyists could conceivably help the university win more resources. Instead:

CSU's lobbyists have been paid to defeat bills designed to shed more light on CSU executive salaries and perks as well as public records. In 2006, The Chronicle reported that millions of dollars in extra compensation was quietly handed out to campus presidents and other top executives as they left their posts.

The university has paid the outside lobbyists not only to obtain funding for programs such as student financial aid and an Education Doctorate degree, state records show, but also to monitor nearly a dozen bills that had little or no direct connection to the university, including legislation on affordable housing for Iraq veterans, money laundering, terrorism, sex offenders and sacred Indian grounds.

[The bill that really engaged the administration was one to require disclosure of spending in state-supported higher education, including executive salaries. A number of scandals in the system -- not just high salaries offended the legislature. The bill passed but the CSU administration also got the governor to veto a bill requiring openness for the university]
Trent Hager, chief of staff for Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-La Canada Flintridge (Los Angeles County), said CSU paid the two lobbying firms in 2007 to derail his boss' bill aimed at full disclosure of CSU salaries."They got it sidetracked and killed," he said.


Doyle, Jim. 2009. "CSU Chancellor Hires 2 Lobbyists Without Bids." San Francisco Chronicle (6 July).

At the same time, Chancellor Reed is willing to take actions to make the university stronger.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports the Chancellor does not lack solutions. According to the article, "Mr. Reed said he had been criticized by faculty members for not lobbying harder in the state capital for money." Well, you know what? There isn't any money in Sacramento," he said. Instead, Cal State and the State of California will have to find money by becoming more entrepreneurial, more creative, and more efficient, he said. For example, "if people taught one more class a semester, the efficiency of that is tremendous." Another idea, Mr. Reed said, is to eliminate 12th grade -- "the biggest waste of time" for many students -- and reallocate those resources for schools and colleges. "We need a different model," he said."

Now, that's a real waste -- 12th grade. Maybe we should whack 11th grade as well.


Blumenstyk, Goldie. 2009. "College Leaders Offer Blunt Advice for Campuses Hit by Hard Times." Chronicle of Higher Education (5 November).

Chancellor Reed has exhibited his creativity in other ways. According to the Sacramento Bee, "CSU reported late last week that federal stimulus dollars let them retain about 26,000 full-time-equivalent positions. That's more than half of CSU's work force, and it's more jobs than the state of Texas and 44 other states reported saving with stimulus money."

Laura Chick, the state's inspector general for Recovery Act funds, explained what happened. According to the Bee,
CSU got a big chunk of money in a short time frame. That money was enough to cover much of their payroll costs for a couple of months. But California's share of the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund -- the stimulus program bankrolling the jobs in question -- is already half spent, so CSU will likely revert to paying most of their employees with normal funding.

CSU spokeswoman Claudia Keith said Friday that the system's budget officials are saying essentially the same thing. "The jobs were retained, not saved," she said. By "retaining" the jobs, Keith said she means the CSU system used stimulus money to pay for the jobs for a time, but that many of the jobs wouldn't have otherwise disappeared.

Reese, Phillip. 2009. "CSU Stimulus Numbers on Jobs Should Have Raised Suspicion." Sacramento Bee (7 November): p. 3 A.

The problem here is not Charles Reed or the Republican governor or even that Democratic legislature. The rot is longstanding before any of these culprits rose to power.

More and more, higher has been judged through a corporate lens. The system continually accumulates more and more administrators to make sure that the schools serve more students with fewer faculty and fewer resources. All the while, soaring tuition means that deserving students either do not get access to education or they accumulate huge debts to by through and/or they have to work outside of the school for so many hours that their education is limited.

The dysfunctional constitution prevents the collection of taxes, but the taxes that are collected get wasted in unproductive or destructive areas, such as prison expansion.


Shag from Brookline said...

I'm having difficulty trying to imagine what competitive bidding by lobbyists might look like. What would participating lobbyists reveal about their skills, their ability to do the job, endorsements, recommendations, etc? Perhaps if put up for competitive bid, no lobbyists would have bid, assuming their submissions might constitute public records eventually available to the public (unless "trade secrets" claims are made).

Michael Perelman said...

Making the lobbyists' proposal public would go a long way to uncovering the extent to which such contracts might represent favoritism, which is an epidemic in the state colleges and universities.

Protection of favoritism seems to be the objective, which the lobbyists were intended to deliver.

Min said...

"Another idea, Mr. Reed said, is to eliminate 12th grade -- "the biggest waste of time" for many students -- and reallocate those resources for schools and colleges."

Better to eliminate 5th and 6th grades. Talk about wasting time!

When I was in the 5th grade I told my teacher that I thought that the school day should end at noon. I have not revised my opinion, at least as regards the enormous waste of time in those grades.