Yudof Lacks a Can-Do Attitude

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After the pieces on and by Mark Yudof last week, I wanted to share why his approach to our fiscal crisis jeopardizes UC's future as a public institution.

First, I really do appreciate Mr. Yudof's attempt to sit down and talk with student leaders about the issues facing the University of California. Even if his interview and op-ed in this paper left me wanting for specific solutions, as the senior editorial board noted, it is nice to read the words of the man whom so many have disparaged, and realize that he is not the villain many have made him out to be.

The charity stops there, however, for the ground Mr. Yudof gains by showing us he is not an evil mastermind, he loses as we realize that his approach to the problems plaguing our beloved University of California is seriously flawed.

The cornerstone of my complaint lies in the interview from Monday, Oct. 19. Therein, Mr. Yudof says that the University of California cannot "be the leader in…proposing reforms." He instead suggests that the university should play a "facilitating role" for reform groups attempting to fix the broken political institutions of California.

Therefore, in the same breath, Mr. Yudof acknowledges the problem (that without strong political reform for California's broken system, the degradation of the public dimension of our University will continue), and then suggests that we as a university do nothing about it (by deferring action on those reforms to outside groups).

Instead, Mr. Yudof wastes time talking about alleviating the symptoms of our disease, rather than curing the disease entirely.

The disease is simple: constant and steady state divestment from our institution and higher education. This divestment creates and recreates, each fiscal year, new budget deficits that must be mitigated. And those mitigations manifest themselves in all the things we find distasteful about our university at the moment: furlough days and fewer graduate student instructors, increased fees and static services, packed classrooms and cancelled courses and laid off professors and workers.

My question is this: why not try and cure the disease, and make the state reinvest in our institution?

Because to do so would be impossible, implies Mr. Yudof. This system is broken. We can't make the state reinvest because it is impossible for the state to raise taxes. He suggests, instead, raising the income ceiling for participants in the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, or advocating for a bigger piece of the pie with the state legislature. And these are perfectly sensible short-term solutions to maintain institutional fiscal solvency.

But these solutions do nothing to secure this institution's future. Financial aid is good, but it doesn't mean everyone will be paying less for his or her education. Advocating for more of the pie is good, but is the past any indication of that piece of pie getting any bigger? If we want to remain a public university, an essential public good, and pivotal public investment we need to make the state reinvest in higher education, and if we cannot do that because of its broken political systems, then we have an obligation to fix them.

It should be the UC system, that bastion of innovation and creativity, that comes up with ways to reorganize tax structures in our boom-and-bust economy, installing new and different taxes that would be more reliable and stable than the sales or income taxes our coffers rely so heavily on, and which leave our budgets at the mercy of the money tide of each fiscal year.

And yet, to this Mr. Yudof would respond: it is not our place to propose those reforms. We should merely play a facilitating role for other groups.

I would have never thought that a cannot-do attitude would be found at the University of California.

We as an institution, fighting for our very way of existence, need to have a much more aggressive and forward-looking perspective than just increasing financial aid. While important, such actions do nothing to cure the disease of systematic state divestment.

So, Mr. Yudof, please reconsider your approach that leaves the university in this perpetual cycle. Doing so might open your eyes to possibilities you had not yet considered.


Kyle Simerly is a UC Berkeley student. Reply at [email protected]

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