A pathway toward opportunity

Valentina Fung/Staff

When I was 10 years old, my father died of cancer. My mother took up his job as a sales rep for a clothing manufacturer. Times may have been tough, but public schools — from grade school all the way through UC Berkeley and its MBA program — provided a pathway to opportunity that my mother otherwise could not have afforded.

It cost $75 a semester to attend Berkeley in the late 50s. As every student knows, that barely will buy a textbook these days, let alone make a dent in five-figure fees. My mother today would not be able to put her son through this public university.

While there’s still some misinformation being flung about, I suspect most people have come to realize that the root cause for rising tuition at the University of California is state disinvestment, plain and simple.

To be fair, the recession has cut significantly into state revenues. Political paralysis has enveloped Sacramento. And a straitjacketed budgeting process has made public higher education vulnerable, one of the few categories that lawmakers have the discretion to cut.

Well, it’s time start eliminating the excuses.

This is why — speaking as a UC Berkeley alumnus, a businessman and, most importantly, as a Californian — I fully endorse Gov. Brown’s proposed tax initiative.

As you probably have heard, the governor blended elements of his initial proposal with those of the socalled “Millionaire’s Tax Initiative.” It’s a compromise and, like all compromises, it won’t make everybody happy.

But remember the wisdom of Edmund Burke, the 18th century British statesman: “All government — indeed, every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and prudent act — is founded on compromise and barter.”

In my decade on the Board of Regents, I’ve frequently made the point that the state has acted as an unreliable partner when it comes to public higher education in general and to the UC in particular.

I’m not backing away from that position, but the fact is we can no longer afford for the state to be an unreliable partner. We have to do something to make it a reliable partner.

My hope is that passage of the governor’s initiative — which has been preceded by some serious belt-tightening across state government — will allow the political leadership in Sacramento to resume providing the level of funding needed to return fiscal stability to the UC.

This will be good for students, for faculty, for staff employees and, in a larger sense, for California and the nation. Understand, the stakes transcend one simple tax proposal. This is about restoring one of the very core values of this country — the idea of America as a meritocracy, as a society which allows everyone the opportunity to succeed.

This value is in danger, reflected by growing and well-documented income inequalities. Extreme gaps between the wealthy and the poor over the long term make a society unstable.

One of the most useful levers to address income inequality is, yes, education. Over the past 32 years, the income earned by college gradu­ates has risen by 15.7 percent in real dollars. Pay for workers without a college diploma, by contrast, has dropped by 25.7 percent in the same time period.

At the same time, success in a fastchanging, information-driven and increasingly globalized economy, a world where innovation will be king, requires investment in human capital, in brainpower.

These are reasons why it’s important to reverse what has been done to California’s public universities. Remember, as California goes, so goes the nation — and, arguably, the world.

To be clear, in this long slide, we have not just been sitting with our hands out. Under President Yudof, a new leadership team in Oakland has developed smarter ways to finance the system and has pursued a host of administrative efficiencies. The central office has been downsized. We’ve begun to explore the potential of online learning. And we are becoming more aggressive in our fundraising, especially for scholarship money.

But the truth is, we can only cut so much before we begin to erode the quality of our academic mission. The truth is, every time the state political leaders cut our funding they are advertising to the rest of the world that the UC is on a downhill slide. The attempt by other quality universities to hire away our best faculty is unrelenting.

Restored public funding is essential to the future of this institution. It would demonstrate once again an enlightened and steadfast commitment — by the people of California, for the future of California — to creating an educated citizenry and a pathway to opportunity for all qualified students who deserve their shot.

Many years ago, I was lucky enough to be one of them.

Author’s note: The preceding is an adaptation of remarks given by Blum at the March meeting of the UC Board of Regents.

Richard C. Blum graduated from UC Berkeley in 1958 and is a member of the UC Board of Regents.

Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comment policy
  • stacksaphone

    I’m a UC alum. I will contribute to my university.

    I’ll donate to my campus, hopefully enough money across enough years
    that I can challenge administration and ensure my money goes to
    instruction or faculty funding, rather than a new basketball stadium.

    I’ll pay my taxes faithfully every year, investing what I earn and
    create to fund things my children and my neighbors’ children use.

    But there are ways to contribute beyond that.

    I’ll be prowling Democratic and Republican party meetings, convincing
    anyone and everyone who cares about public higher education to run and
    win and scare the hell out of the ex officio Regents and their friends.

    I’ll be organizing with the undergrads UC alternatively coddles and
    beats, with the faculty and graduate students who embody the
    university’s true purpose, with the service staff who UC pits against
    students and discards whenever convenient.

    Finally, like Blum, I’ll build a life in California and strive for
    success through work, luck, and matrimony. However, unlike Blum, I won’t
    forget where I came from – and when the time comes, I won’t abdicate my
    responsibility to UC in exchange for stock options in ITT Tech and the
    chance to pimp California’s future out for political clout.

    Richard Blum, Jerry Brown, and John Perez all went to Berkeley. They’ve forgotten their responsibility to California, and to UC. Rest assured my generation – Democrats, Republicans, Occupiers, or completely disgusted with politics – won’t.

    I invite all UC, CSU, and CCC alumni to join me in working hard, picking our votes carefully, and doing the hard work necessary to rebuild the school and state we love.


  • stacksaphone

    Restored public funding will never happen without increased accountability from the Regents, UCOP, and campus chancellors.

    Granted, state contributions have shrunk since the Master Plan for Higher Education was drafted.

    Granted, forces beyond the university have left California bereft of the same kind of leadership that built the Master Plan and postwar California.

    Granted, the crisis in higher education has been exacerbated by a state government hobbled  a developed fondness for posturing without real policy.

    Granted, California Democracy raises “public education” on its standards while letting teachers and students languish.

    Granted, California Republicans, driven by the terror and rage of Howard Jarvis’s “Sunbelt Bolsheviks” (to borrow from UCR professor Mike Davis’s City of Quartz) acquiesce in the insalubrious neglect of the university and the social systems to which it is tied.

    All that granted, Regent Blum’s finger-wagging is the height of hypocrisy.

    Regent Blum graduated from Cal in 1958. His wife sits in the United States Senate. However, I see no moves from her regarding student relief, and he invests UC’s money in for-profit educational ventures that cheapen the name “university” and fly in the face of UC’s mission of education and research in the public service.

    Regent Blum’s generation was, as he has articulated rather prettily, one that benefitted enormously from the UC and its kin – the CSU and community college systems. The fact that those systems failed is not simply on the shoulders of “welfare-state” Democrats or “all-cuts budget” Republicans, or “illegals” or even the sitting members of the legislature and the Regents.

    No, much of the blame rests on Blum’s shoulders. As an alumnus, as a man who attributes his own wealth and position to UC, and as the life partner of one of the most powerful women in the state, he dropped the ball, along with a majority of his generation, when it came time to pass the UC forward.

    “Experimenting with online learning” lets UC dismiss teachers, “saving money.”

    Not standing fast for a provision guaranteeing UC gets a cut of a permanent or temporary Millionaires’ Tax means Sacramento can juggle the money just like the Regents do.

    Not halting capital projects and shifting money to instruction and research practically screams that UC values fondling its edifice complex and not nurturing the students it is trusted with.

    The casual pepperspraying of students at Davis suggests either the Regents don’t control the university or that they do and don’t give half a damn about those that use it.

  • Berkeleyprotest

    What about the $22 billion you and the UC Investment Committee lost since 2008?

  • Stan De San Diego

    Sorry, but Mr. Blum’s current financial success seems to be more related to marrying a career politician than any “pathway to opportunity” from being able to attend Cal for $75 per semester.

  • Adsahjh

    Hey, asshole, you want to pay more money to the government? Go for it, you’re free to do so. Stop demanding that everybody else do so. To some of us, the money that we pay in taxes could go a long way. 

  • This is the same Richard C. Blum who is the husband of US senator Diane Feinstein, correct? Or is that a fact that is not discussed or acknowledged among the party faithful?

    Blum’s wife, Senator Dianne Feinstein,
    has received scrutiny due to her husband’s government contracts and
    extensive business dealings with China and her past votes on trade
    issues with the country. Blum has denied any wrongdoing, however.Critics have argued that business contracts with the US government awarded to a company (Perini) controlled by Blum may raise a potential conflict-of-interest issue with the voting and policy activities of his wife. URS Corp, which Blum had a substantial stake in, bought EG&G, a leading provider of technical services and management to the U.S. military, from The Carlyle Group in 2002; EG&G subsequently won a $600m defense contract.
    In 2009 it was reported that Blum’s wife Sen. Dianne Feinstein
    introduced legislation to provide $25 billion in taxpayer money to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, a government agency that had recently awarded her husband’s real estate firm, CB Richard Ellis, what the Washington Times called “a lucrative contract to sell foreclosed properties at compensation rates higher than the industry norms.”


    • University Of Fail

       Yes, it is the very same Dick Blum.
      The same guy who arrogantly asserts that using UC money to invest in his private businesses is a trivial matter of no concern. As trivial as going to the bathroom…
      “Nobody has ever told me that we had to ask the UC for an OK before we invested in something,” Blum told The Chronicle. “I wouldn’t be on the Board of Regents if I have to ask for permission to go to the bathroom.”

  • I_h8_disqus

    I don’t believe Blum is being honest when he says he is supporting the tax initiative because of Cal.  I think he is hoping that Brown and the legislature don’t cut grants to the private schools he has as investments.  I also don’t trust Brown or the legislature to use tax money from the initiative to help increase funding to Cal.  Even before the recession hit when revenues were high, the legislature was cutting funding to Cal.  The legislature found many new things to fund when the revenues were flowing, and instead getting rid of those in the lean times, they just continue to cut education.  Sure the legislature says that education is important, but don’t believe them.  Once they get more tax money, they will use if for anything but education.  If you are going to vote for the tax initiative to help Cal, then demand one that will actually send money to Cal.

    • [The legislature found many new things to fund when the revenues were flowing, and instead getting rid of those in the lean times, they just continue to cut education.]

      Ironically, many of those “new things” the legislature found money to spend on (HSR, DREAM Act, the usual welfare-state giveaways) were enthusiastically supported by many of the same “politically aware” students who were simultaneously bemoaning those same cuts in spending for their own college education. Yet even though the Governor and the vast majority of legislators in this state are Democrat, they seem to gain the unquestioning support (and votes) of a vast majority of these same students. Face it, kiddies: Democrats abuse students the same way they abuse other constituencies (black Americans and working-class taxpayers), because they know despite whatever they do, you will be back at the polls ready to vote for whatever crook has a (-D) next to their name. Maybe some of you need to think a little bit deeper come November and think about whether the people who give you lip service each election really gave a damn about you or your education…

  • MoretaxeswillnotsaveUCB

    As a Cal alum I will continue to donate money directly to the school.  I will participate in funding endowed chairs to keep our best faculty.  I will donate my time and money to our libraries, our sports teams, our students.  However, I am loathe to give another penny to the state.  I am loathe to see my tax dollars squandered and wasted.  I don’t believe for a second that raising my taxes will save public education.  I do believe it will be flushed down a toilet of such immense inefficiency it boggles the mind.  I will continue to support UC Berkeley, but not by throwing more money at Sacramento.

    • libsrclowns

      No to taxes. SACTO Libs, get your act together. Stop the resource flow to illegals, criminals, welfare and food stamp abusers.

    • University Of Fail

       UCOP spent $6.6 billion over a period of 5 years and the only accounting Yudof could give for it was “miscellaneous services”. Then he got mad when the state auditor said that was an awful lot of money spent with zero accountability.

      Go ahead and donate if you like, just be aware they will spend it on whatever the hell they please and you’ll never find out if it was spent responsibly.

  • Calipenguin

    From http://northbayuprising.blogspot.com/2012/04/2012-04-02-for-profit-colleges-reflect.html
    and  http://spot.us/pitches/337-investors-club-how-the-uc-regents-spin-public-funds-into-private-profit/updates/590-senator-dianne-feinsteins-education-conflict

    Blum’s private-equity firm, Blum Capital Partners, is the largest
    stockholder in two of the nation’s biggest for-profit college companies,
    ITT Educational Services Inc. and Career Education Corp.  

    …a series of conflicts of interest appear to exist between the University of California and some members of the UC Regents. Among the most notable are UC’s $53 million investment in ITT
    Educational Services and Career Education Corporation, two for-profit educational corporations that are largely owned by Blum Capital Partners, a company run by Richard C. Blum, a regent who sits on the UC investment committee.

    If Governor Brown’s tax initiative passes, Regent Blum’s private schools will be eligible for hundreds of millions of dollars in Cal Grant money.  Brown had previously threatened to cut Cal Grants, which would have hurt Blum’s investments:


    • Stan De San Diego

      What I find interesting is that with all the feigned indignation of the Occupy crowd blathering about the unfair influence 0f the 1%, characters like Richard Blum, whose fortune for the most part was facilitated by choosing his spouse for her political connections, escape any form of scrutiny whatsoever.

      Oh, never mind, he’s a Democrat. That explains everything.