Crazy Priorities in California's Colleges

Several recent stories point up the California state government's insane spending priorities when it comes to the state's increasingly dysfunctional system of higher education.

The first was the report in the LA Times that the California State University system's trustees have raised the tuition and fees for CSU students by a hefty 12%, after the legislature and governor agreed to a budget that included a $650-million reduction in the CSU system's funding.  The trustees voted for the tuition hike overwhelmingly despite a gaggle of students loudly demonstrating outside the room in which the vote was held.

But the same trustees voted earlier in the same meeting to hike the pay of the new president of San Diego State University to $400,000 per year, a tidy $100,000 more than what the old president was getting.  The Chancellor of the CSU system, Charles Reed, said the salary increase was justified because a study paid for by the CSU revealed that Cal State presidents were "underpaid compared to their peers at similar institutions," though Reed didn't give any specific examples.

The increase will bring the amount of tuition and fees for CSU students to about $6,422 per year for undergrads, and about $6,738 for grad students.

It has not escaped the notice of some CSU teachers and students that there has been administrative bloat at the CSU system.  One commentator, Prof. Ralph Westfall, picked up on the fact that the administration as a whole is growing disproportionately quickly in the system.  Westfall notes that between 1975 and 2008, the number of full-time faculty in the CSU system rose from 11,614 to 12,019 -- or about 3.5% -- while the number of administrators rose from 3,800 to 12,183, or about 221%.  The ratio of full-time faculty to administrators thus went from three-to-one to less than one-to-one.

At Westfall's own college, since 1984, the number of "management personnel plan" administrators went from 90 to 132.  If the college had kept the administration at the 1984 levels, it could have hired 50 new full-time professors, allowing 300 more class sections to be offered each year, or it could have reduced tuition and fees for the 17,000 students by about $400 per year.

As I have argued elsewhere, this administrative bloat is a feature of college systems around the country.  But in California's case, it is especially egregious.

Of course, this metastasizing administrative growth is due to pure rent-seeking.  The administrators, who control spending in general and hiring in particular, hire more of themselves and less of the full-time faculty, who after all constitute a competing power base.  What Westfall doesn't note is that the administrators are able to hire fewer full-time faculty and not face the anger of students unable to get the courses they need because the administrators can (and do) hire more and more part-timers to teach the classes.

Turning now to the U.C. system, Heather MacDonald brings to light another example of gross misallocation of taxpayer resources in California's state-run colleges.

The Regents of the University of California recently announced that they will probably jack up tuition and fees to $12,192 per year.  And the U.C. system has been closing down programs and allowing some of its faculty to leave for greener pastures.

For example, U.C. San Diego just decided that it will no longer offer an M.S. degree in electrical and electronics engineering, a crucial major for high-tech industries.  It also axed the M.A. degree in comparative literature and eliminated a variety of courses in English literature and Romance languages.  And UCSD just lost several prominent cancer researchers to Rice University in Texas, which offered to raise their pay by 40% -- in a state with no state income tax!

But when it comes to diversity programs, the sky's the limit.  For example, the same UCSD now has a new diversity requirement of all students, aimed at cultivating their self-identities as "African Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, Chicanos, Latinos [who knew that those were three different groups?], Native Americans, or other groups" (i.e., the remaining 72% of Americans who are white, I guess).

And UCSD is creating yet another full-time position for diversity, a "Vice Chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion."  This is on top of something like ten other high-level administrators for diversity, along with something like nine "offices," "councils," "committees," and "centers" catering to diversity issues and minority groups.

Needless to say, when it comes to diversity daffiness and moronic multiculturalism, U.C. Berkeley and UCLA more than match UCSD.

All this illustrates that in higher education, California's problem has never been a lack of resources taken from the taxpayers of the state, but rather the gross misallocation of those resources by silly, supercilious, and self-absorbed bureaucrats.  This is also the case in the state's K-12 education system, the prison system, and the transportation system, which is why those systems are also increasingly problematic.

Gary Jason is a contributing editor to Liberty Unbound and the author of the forthcoming book Dangerous Thoughts. 

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