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UC-AFT Works with Jose Medina to Secure Full Funding For UC

Medina PC_2018.5.16 (2).jpgThe following is the text of UC Davis Lecturer and UC-AFT member, John Rundin's, comments during a press conference held by Assemblymember Jose Medina to pressure Governor Brown to fully fund UC and CSU.

My name is John Rundin. I'm a lecturer at UC Davis, and I am the former president of UC-AFT Local 2023, at the University of California, Davis. Our union represents approximately 4000 librarians and lecturers on the UC campuses across the UC System.

I want to start with a bit of autobiography. My parents died when I was fairly young. When I went to college, I had little money. I was poor. But, because of the generosity of the people of Illinois, I was able to get a good college education. I attended the University of Illinois. A term of good classes with great instructors and small classes cost no more than a toaster oven. I then went on to graduate school at Berkeley, and, again, because of the generosity of the people of California, I was able to get a Ph.D. I did this all without incurring any student debt. Today, I am a productive educator and scholar. My own life is better and I make other people's lives better. And I'm a taxpayer.

I don't think my story could happen today because, across the country, states have been stepping away from supporting higher education. This is a tragedy. Education is the most important thing we do as a society. In fact, one might argue that, ultimately, it's the only thing we do: raise young people and educate them. Education is a public good, and it should be publicly supported.

When the state steps away from supporting public education, it abandons education to private concerns. The results are horrible. Students are forced to take out loans. Education turns into an extortion racket in which students are forced to pay private banks to get the credentials they need to succeed. The debt, which is not dischargeable, stunts lives. Student debt prevents people from starting families. It also keeps people from going into careers of service because they desperately need high-paying jobs to pay off their loans.

And there are other insidious consequences. Higher education comes to depend on the generosity of private corporations and moneyed elites, and they do not have the interests of all Medina PC_2018.5.16 (1).jpgpeople in mind. In the last few weeks, it has come out that the Koch brothers, using the influence their donations have won, are determining what professors are hired and retained at George Mason University. We do not want a higher-education system which answers only to the interests of the one percent. We need publicly-funded institutions that look out for the interests of all people.

This brings me to the topic of the University of California's autonomy. Good academic institutions need autonomy. We do not want rich people or politicians influencing the academic activities of colleges and universities. The University of California is the greatest university that the world has ever seen. Generations of Californians, through their generous support have nurtured its capabilities and allowed it to achieve its greatness, and its autonomy is a central part of that greatness. The politicians in state government often resent that autonomy. They do not like the fact that they hand over money to the University but cannot control it. Their reaction is to threaten to withhold funding unless the University does what they want. In essence, they hold the University's students and California's future prosperity hostage in an attempt to extort what they want from the University.

My union and I are the first to acknowledge that the University has problems; there are many things that should change. But withholding funds is not the way forward. This dynamic has to stop. It winds up forcing the University towards privatization. It is my union's belief that way forward is to reform the Board of Regents, which autonomously governs the University. We need a better Board of Regents, in which regents have the ability and willingness and motivation to govern the University effectively in the interests of all Californians.

In the meantime, however, our state must renew its commitment to funding higher education generously. My union and I ask that the Governor and legislators fully fund the University in accordance with its requests. The current proposed budget does not meet the needs of the University to continue to flourish and to continue to bring prosperity to all Californians.

Education is our greatest public good. It should be supported publicly.