Opinion: UC’s Wall Street management style

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Janet Walker, a film and media studies professor at UC Santa Barbara, and Steve Nelson reply to The Times’ Sept. 19 editorial, “UC fee hikes: a two-edged sword.” If you would like to respond to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed in our Blowback forum, here are our FAQs and submission policy.

So there is a new plan by University of California President Mark Yudof, having been vested with emergency powers by the Board of Regents, to fix the greatest public university system in the world -- with a hammer. The Times’ editorial board writes in its Sept. 19 editorial, “UC fee hikes: a two-edged sword,” that it is a good idea to extend the work furloughs for another year (or more?) because faculty and staff would not ‘leave in droves’ if the pay cuts, up to 10%, were continued.

Full disclosure: We are the products of the once-great public education system of California, K-12 and beyond. Between us we have five degrees from the UC system; we’ll claim six when our daughter graduates from UC Berkeley in two years, more or less, depending on which classes get cut because of a lack of funding. Further, one of us is a professor at UC Santa Barbara. And to clarify the most prevalent misapprehension ever: Children of faculty get absolutely no consideration from the university regarding admission or fees. We apply and pay just like everyone else.

Because our state is in deep fiscal trouble, appropriate sacrifices must be made to protect UC as an amazing resource for California. But the sacrifices that faculty, staff and students are required to make would be much more palatable if the top earners, including administrators, had not just earlier this year received pay raises, and if there were not such a huge salary discrepancy between the highest and lowest paid (see public salary information at If you are curious about how much the athletic coaches and other top earners make, you may be in for a surprise. As you scroll down the list, you can compare these exalted numbers to what the actual teachers make.

The justification for this most untimely set of pay raises is the concern that the administration will lose top talent. This is very much the same argument that we have heard from Wall Street to justify paying huge bonuses in the face of public bailouts, rewarding those responsible for failure lest they take their talents elsewhere. When we toured the UC Berkeley campus recently, our student guide was sure to point out the special parking spaces given to the Nobel laureates on the faculty with nary a word about the vice chancellor of this or that. We can be sure that some of our most talented professors will be recruited away at a time when hiring at UC is restricted or frozen.

In the face of this crisis, Yudof has adopted a top-down management style that is completely demoralizing to those of us trying to keep things working at this world-class institution. Employees are expected to work even harder for significantly less, while students will pay significantly more for seriously diminished resources, including fewer classes, impacted enrollment and a smaller faculty and staff.

In essence, this amounts to a hefty tax on both students and employees so Sacramento can avoid raising a proper tax to continue the great legacy of public education in California. It is not that UC is too big to fail, but that some things are worth saving. Surely we, and Times editors, can do better than this.