On Monday, I noted that 21 UC San Diego department heads had signed a letter sent to all UC Chancellors urging them to preserve its elite, world-class research campuses – namely UCSD, UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Francisco – by imposing deep cuts on or closing down the system’s less-renowned campuses, kicking off what Dan and I have termed the “UC Civil War” (because we like drama).
Now, it seems the debate over how to deal with impending state budget cuts has expanded to UC Berkeley, and to the law school, in particular. On July 16, Robert Cooter, Professor of Law, and Aaron Edlin, Professor of Law and of Economics, both at UC Berkeley, published an op-ed piece in the LA Times, urging the University to consider layoffs, rather than salary cuts, as a means to deal with the budget shortfall, because “[a] crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”
Say Cooter and Edlin:
Across-the-board salary cuts are the simplest way to balance the budget, but they are rarely the best. In the corporate world, smart organizations more often choose layoffs than salary cuts. And with good reason . . .
With employees paid up to 20% below what peer institutions pay, the best will leave. Yes, even in this recession, the best people will leave for other jobs or retire or switch professions. And those who remain will suffer from low morale.
Growth has led to bloat at UC. The bloat and bureaucracy stifle creativity and productivity. The bloat is in unproductive workers and unproductive jobs. Many jobs have little to do with our core missions of teaching and research. Within jobs, there is task bloat -- mission creep creates too many assignments of little import.
These problems are endemic to most large organizations, but they are particular problems for one like UC, where it is almost impossible to fire an unproductive worker, whether staff or tenured professor, and always easier to hire a new one.
On Wednesday, Kristin Luker, Professor of Law and Sociology at UC Berkeley, responded with an op-ed of her own, arguing that “Robert Cooter and Aaron Edlin are such ... economists! And they're such men.” [Luker notes that she is friends with Cooter and Edlin and her response seems friendly, but since that fails to add to the drama quotient I’ll ignore it.] Says Luker:
But as the nation ponders what Supreme Court justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor meant by her "wise Latina" remark, this case shows us what she had in mind . . .
The "staff" lurking in the background of the Cooter and Edlin Op-Ed article are disproportionately women and people of color, and they work for wages even further below the prevailing market because they lack the bargaining power of professors and the ability to pull up stakes to move to better options. More important, many of them work at UC because they have a moral commitment to what the university system represents at its best: a chance for a better future for individuals and for communities. Yet their contributions are often invisible precisely because of who they are and because circumstances kept many of them from getting the advanced degrees they would have gotten in a world where talent was unerringly recognized and rewarded.
Luker concludes that the University should indeed think critically and carefully about how it goes about its business, but that, if she is right, “many professors will find themselves just a little bit humbler, and many staff will find themselves with much healthier paychecks.”
As Lounge readers are no doubt aware, the issue of how and where to cut back in the face of declining revenues is not one unique to Berkeley, or even to the UC system. Most of us are experiencing financial difficulties right now, and are struggling with the best mechanisms for addressing them. Across the board salary cuts and furloughs are a commonly-employed solution, because they appear “fair” and avoid the far more difficult and controversial questions of who we are as an institution, who we aspire to be, and which institutional members (both faculty and staff) are doing the most to help achieve those goals.
As I’ve made clear in prior posts, I’m not a subscriber to the “We all contribute in our own ways” philosophy. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste -- Cooter, Edlin, and Luker seem to me to agree on that point, despite their disagreement about where to go from here. I hope that more law schools embrace the financial crisis as an opportunity to seriously reconsider our academic goals and the best mechanisms for meeting them – but I’m not hopeful.
(HT: Al Brophy)