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Why We Need to Support Marcy Winograd For US Congress


From UC to DC:  Solutions to the Faux Budget Crisis  by Marcy Winograd

Last year, when I spoke at the UCLA rally to protest tuition hikes, I noticed the blinds close
across Covell Commons, where the University of California's Board of Regents met in secrecy.
As students waved signs that read "Instruction, Not Construction" and "Free UC" and "UC Has Billions", the Regents unilaterally decided to hike student fees 32%, ostensibly to close an ever-widening budget gap exacerbated by the recession.

But UC's budget blues could be a pretext for something sinister: the privatization of one of our nation's greatest public university systems.  With several members of the Board of Regents involved in for-profit education, it comes as no surprise that the Board would rather invest the revenue generated by undergraduate tuition fees in something other than classroom instruction and research.

The closing of the blinds at Covell Commons might as well be a metaphor for the veil of secrecy shrouding the UC budget.   How much money is there in the budget?  Where does it go?   We don't know - and that's the problem.  If stakeholders - students, faculty, parents, etc. - could examine the books at a public town hall the community might beat the budget blues without having to spike fees for students who can ill-afford the added costs.  Perhaps there's a little extra tucked away in the hospital budget or in a construction project that could be delayed or nixed altogether.

Certainly, the UC system is far from broke.   We know that because the university loaned the state of California $200 million in 2009.  Mark Yudof, UC President, told reporters last August he was confident the money would be paid back at 3.2%  interest in only three years.

One can picture financial gurus sharpening knives and forks, ready to dig in to the interest payments.  But Bob Samuels, President of UC – AFT, the union that represents over 3,000 UC faculty members and  professional librarians, sees it differently: less as a revenue stream than as a moral sinkhole.  Summarizing Yudof’s argument, Samuels writes in the Huffington Post, “when the university lends money to the state, it turns a profit, but when it spends money on salaries for teachers, the money is lost.” 

This is symptomatic of a deeper, wider rot at UC—not in its coffers, but in its fundamental beliefs about what ends those coffers should serve.  UC seems all too eager to divert its resources from what we might presume is the system’s very heart: classroom instruction. Samuels calculates that UCLA (like many research universities) spends “less than 5% of [its] total budget on undergraduate instruction,” while across the entire UC system, half the undergraduate courses are taught by graduate students and non-tenure track faculty.

We must steer UC back to giving the highest priority to the highest possible quality of classroom instruction.  We must reverse tuition hikes.  And we must undo a mentality that has led one of the world’s greatest university systems to behave like an investment bank.  UC’s promise is about creating strong foundations for our future—not for construction projects or bigger athletic fields. 

As a graduate of two UC institutions,  UC Berkeley, later UCLA,  I have always felt a sense of pride about
having attended the University of California, one of the greatest public university systems, on 
par with Ivy League colleges.  Why go to Harvard or Yale when you can attend Cal for one-third the price?
Consequently, I feel sad when I think about my alma maters putting speculative investing above quality education.

We can, however, reverse this trend. Public and private universities alike receive sizeable portions of their budgets from external grants, many of which are provided by  federal and state governments.  We can mandate that public money be directly invested in classroom instruction.  And we can enforce this mandate by establishing federal accountability standards.  

In Congress, I will work on legislation to require that colleges and universities receiving federal grant money use more than 70% of the money towards classroom instruction and research, with construction secondary to undergraduate instruction - and speculative loans off the table.   With strict federal oversight and grant accountability, we can restore what was once a premier University of California system.

Marcy Winograd, endorsed by UC-AFT, is a progressive Democrat challenging corporate Blue Dog Jane Harman for Congress in the Democratic primary June 8th.  Winograd is a long-time public school teacher, on leave from the Los Angeles Unified School District, where she taught English at Crenshaw High School.  A founding member of the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party, Winograd supports transitioning from a war economy to a new green economy that prepares our youth and our nation for a sustainable future.