Campus admin, UC professor discuss future of public university system

Audrey McNamara/Senior Staff

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In light of state budget constraints and UC tuition hikes, the Berkeley Faculty Association hosted a talk and panel discussion Wednesday to discuss the future of the public university system.

UC San Diego professor of literature and American studies Christopher Newfield opened the event by discussing his book, “The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them” — his most recent title on the relationship between public universities and state funding. His talk was followed by a rebuttal from UC Berkeley interim Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol Christ, who spoke about the difficulty of achieving free tuition for state universities, pointing to state tax structure as the ultimate hurdle.

“The idea was to have a public discussion about the way the university is envisioning their future,” said Michael Burawoy, event organizer and Berkeley Faculty Association co-chair. “That is, of course, particularly pertinent when the federal government shows no interest in public education.”

The two panelists discussed their diverging theories explaining the origins of the University’s deficit struggles.

UC tuition was free up until 1970, when a $150 fee was instituted, increasing to $13,456 by 2015. An additional $282 in-state tuition hike was approved last week, ending a six-year freeze.

Both panelists acknowledged significant budget cuts to California state universities, starting in the early 1990s, as the primary source of privatization of public education. Newfield’s book argues that while budget cuts are the culprit, the response that campus administrators took to combat state cuts by increasing tuition and drawing in funding through private channels only exacerbated the problem.

According to Newfield, when public universities raise tuition and increase hiring and pay of campus administrators — resulting in “administrative bloat” — the state reacts by further defunding the UC system. Today, more than 50 percent of all UC Berkeley students receive some form of financial aid, including grants, scholarships, work study and loans, according to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff.

The learning is the other way around — you raise tuition, we cut funds,” said Newfield. “University leaders misinterpreted these cuts — administrators didn’t see that they caused part of the cuts.”

Additionally, Newfield advocated for a return to free tuition for all in-state students. Total undergraduate tuition would cost the state 300 million dollars a year —  less than 10 percent of total tuition revenue, according to Newfield.

According to Christ, this argument is “false and dangerous” because the burden of tuition has been passed down from government to families, resulting in greater inequality. Christ argued that free tuition is an unrealistic goal to strive for within the current California tax structure and that the conversation should instead revolve around the proportion of those who can and cannot pay tuition.

“The argument for free college is dangerous argument because it implies that there isn’t a cost for college,” said Christ.The question for us is not how make college appear to be free, but to share the costs equitably.”

UC Berkeley anthropology student Rozie Beverly, whose thesis is called “What is Education,” came to the event in order to meet Professor Newfield and take part in an open dialogue between high-level administrators and students.

“I feel more empowered now that I’ve met Chris Newfield — gives us hope,” said Beverly.

Audrey McNamara is the lead higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @McNamaraAud.