In a perfect world, a volatile budget wouldn’t be a problem for competitive programs like UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. As a top-tier school, Anderson should be on a level playing field with its competition.
So it is understandable why Anderson is seeking a way to avoid some of the pitfalls associated with being part of a public university, because those shortcomings in many ways inhibit the school from fully standing up to its private peers. But there is a reason Anderson is not part of a private university — it shouldn’t try to become one.
A committee of the UC Academic Senate recently halted Anderson’s proposal to make its MBA program financially self-supporting, and for good reason. Last fall, the university adopted a set of very specific guidelines that dictate requirements for self-supporting programs. They include serving a “non-traditional” student body, holding classes at off-campus locations, offering alternative instruction methods and allowing classes to be held during nonstandard hours. Anderson’s proposal met none of those.
Transforming the Anderson MBA program into a private subset of an otherwise public university system would run counter to the university’s public mission. Privatization could also threaten the accessibility ensured to students within the UC system. Though escaping the pains of state funding would make the school’s budget more predictable, moving toward a private model would unnecessarily separate Anderson from the rest of the system.
Even more troubling is the precedent Anderson would set if its wishes come true. The senate’s letter expressed fear that if Anderson’s program is privatized, it would set an example for other schools within the UC system. That concern is legitimate — Anderson’s reasoning for privatizing its MBA program could have a profound ripple effect. What would stop the UC Berkeley School of Law, for example, from pursuing a similar change?
And Richard Lyons, dean of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, told the Wall Street Journal this week that his school has “already moved in that direction.”
As the nation’s premier public higher education system, the University of California fills an invaluable niche. Although that quality has significant downsides — most notably unreliable state funding — our public mission is more important than the benefits of privatization. Whether Anderson likes it or not, the school must deal with the unpredictable challenges that come as a result of being tied to the university. We all do.
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