Tackling issues affecting California
On Feb. 2, the Davis Faculty Association hosted a public forum on the future of higher education in California. The program was also sponsored by the departments of Religious Studies, Sociology and Cinema and Digital Media among other groups. Cinema and Digital Media professor Jesse Drew, a member of the faculty association, hosted the event. A closer look at the goals of the faculty association reveal the stakes in the future of higher education, other than the obvious ones. The Davis Faculty Association is tied to faculty associations within the UCs and independently fights for issues that affect faculty, students and staff.
“It’s independent because what we’re looking after is not necessarily the same as the administration,” Drew said. “We supposedly have shared governance through the academic senate but a lot of people feel like that governance has been eroded.”
The association exercises its independence by lobbying at the state capital and creating a UC-wide coalitional structure.
“We jointly lobby with students,” Drew said. “We will typically go in with anyone who’s interested in higher education whether it’s public, students, staff.”
One of those inter-UC connections is professor Michael Burawoy of UC Berkeley. Burawoy is a professor of sociology and the chair of the faculty association at Berkeley. His connection with the goals of reforming higher education are inextricably connected with his research in sociology.
“I could never have given this talk had I not been a sociologist,” Burawoy said.
His initial sociological inquiries give way to reconsidering the workings of the University.
“Why is it that people comply?” Burawoy said. “It’s an interesting question to ask to the university. How is it we all consent to problematic features of the university?”
One of these problematic features, according to Burawoy, is not just diverse access to the public university system in California, but the issue of inclusion on arrival.
“The UC does extremely well in terms of access, but what we don’t talk enough about is inclusion,” Burawoy said. “What does it mean to bring people from very different backgrounds together into the same classroom. What does it mean to actually have people who are sometimes almost barely literate alongside people with enormous cultural capital. What does it mean to have students that are supporting their families, are working 30, 40 hours a week sometimes alongside those whose parents can afford to fund their education and their existence.”
The questions posed by Burawoy complement the financial issues facing California’s public education system. He said that the share of the state budget received by the higher education system in California has fallen from 8 percent to 2.5 percent. The financial crisis facing the system, one of four crises he identifies including governmental, identity and legitimation, has lead the UC system to involve itself in private investment. This investment does not give way to a more accessible or higher quality education, but rather transforms it from Burawoy’s conception of a public university in a capitalist system to a capitalist university.
The capitalist university in California may soon find itself producing a shortage of citizens with bachelor’s degrees to join the economy. The solution to this problem may be one proposed by Amy Hines-Shaikh, higher education director of the University Professional and Technical Employees and executive director of Reclaim CA Higher Education Coalition. Reclaim CA Higher Education has developed the $48 Fix, a return to the principles set forth by the 1960 Master Plan for higher education in California.
The Master Plan, which hasn’t been revised since 1960 despite a vastly different California population of students, champions accessibility, affordability and quality. According to the Master Plan, the top 12.5 percent of California high schoolers would have a sure place at a UC, the top 33 percent at a CSU and all would have access to a community college. The cost of tuition would be free and the quality of education would be equivalent among the segments. In order to return to this, Hines-Shaikh proposes a 12.7 percent income tax surcharge — on average of $48 per family to make higher education free.
“We believe that if you can gain access to the three higher educational systems, then that should be free for your personal enrichment and for the enrichment of all of society because we all benefit when folks have the means and the ability to move forward,” Hines-Shaikh said.
Hines-Shaikh is shocked by the reticence of the state to fund education. Reclaim CA Higher Education holds multiple lobby days each year at the state capital. The next large event is scheduled for Mar. 14.
“People have understood that education is a fundamental human right and that right does not stop at 12th grade,” Hines-Shaikh said. “That fundamental human right does not have an age [or] have an income, we’ve known that for a bit now.”
Delaine Eastin, the former superintendent of California Public Instruction and current candidate for Governor of California, supports the $48 Fix. She believes in free, quality education from kindergarten through higher education and the reinvestment in these resources which have since been poured into incarceration.
“Budgets are statements of values,” Eastin said. “I’m horrified to tell you that this afternoon we are 41st in per people spending and number one in prisoner expenditures. If budgets are statements of values, what does that tell you? I have not met a single person in California that thinks that’s their values.”
She invokes the need for new higher education campuses that are accessible to rural Californians, not new prisons, 23 of which she said have been built since 1985.
“The best crime prevention program in the state is education,” Eastin said.
As an alumna of UC Davis, Eastin can speak to the issues directly facing Aggies, but as the former superintendent of public instruction she has insight on public education at every level.
“We have to reinvest in higher education in this state, K12 and preschool, all of it,” Eastin said. “Since 2000 we’ve taken almost 39 percent out of higher education.”
Eastin, Hines-Shaikh, Burawoy and Drew, while approaching the issue from disparate professional locations, locate the issues facing higher education in the absence of state funding and call for action.
Written by: Stella Sappington — firstname.lastname@example.org