The quality of education at the University of California (where I have been a graduate student since 2003) is plummeting. I hear from my friends at the California State Universities that things are looking equally bad there, too. Why are these proud institutions rapidly losing their reputation as world-class centers of learning?
Budget cuts. Every year since 2003, the budget for the UC and the CSU have been slashed. This year, it’s worse than ever.
While the university administration and Republicans in Sacramento can blame the financial crisis for the free-falling budget, make no mistake.
The budget for California education has not been slashed because of the 2008 bank mess. The budget for education has been slashed because of the failed Republican ideology which says that all public money is “socialism.”
Well, like you, I really like my “socialist” libraries, highways, fire departments, and universities. The anti-public Republican philosophy is bankrupt, and the damage from that philosophy is continuing to spread. Over the past five years, I’ve watched as the GOP has gutted the University of California.
Yesterday, the UC President and UCSB Vice Chancellor were quoted saying that this year’s round of budget cuts will cause layoffs, more crowded class sizes, delays in classroom repairs and maintenance, and more. These cuts will directly affect student education in addition to affecting the broader economy in the immediate term (fewer jobs in higher education means fewer Californians working) and in the long term (there will be less attraction for workers and creative entrepreneurs to move to California).
The UC President and others are blaming all of the painful budget cuts on the 2008 financial crisis. Sure, the meltdown in banking and the recession is definitely having an effect. But that can’t explain the budget cuts in 2003. Or 2004. Or 2005. And 2006 and 2007 came when California’s economy was still relatively strong. The main reason for budget cuts is the Republican philosophy of shrinking the public sector, no matter what.
Let’s not forget that California by itself has a bigger economy than many European nations. And yet, the Republicans have made it so that that we can’t afford to fund higher education.
Michigan is an excellent counterexample. Michigan’s economy has been in a recession pretty much non-stop for the last 30 years. Despite Michigan’s terrible economy, this year the Democrats in Lansing passed a budget increase for Michigan’s public universities. The reason for this is simple. The only way to improve Michigan’s economy is by attracting more jobs, and today’s best jobs require more educated workers. Leaders in Michigan, especially Governor Jennifer Granholm, understand this, and they’ve fought to make sure the ongoing economic recession doesn’t destroy Michigan’s universities.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Republicans in Sacramento have different priorities. The GOP leaders in Sacramento have stonewalled every single vote that included an increase in revenue. Rather than allow a responsible budget, the Republicans have protected tax loopholes for yacht owners and big corporations. They believe in trickle-down economics: if the wealthy are taxed less, then the economy will do better.
That bankrupt philosophy doesn’t work, and this year’s meltdown provides even more dramatic proof of how wrong trickle-down economics really is. Removing ideologues from Sacramento is step one in saving the University of California.
The ongoing crisis in California’s schools shows once again that elections matter. Fortunately there are some good candidates on the ballot this year who understand the need for responsible leadership.