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I just received a mass-mailing telling us UC’s latest initiative to solve its budget problem: “It is critical that we work together to prevent still deeper funding cuts by reminding lawmakers in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Washington, D.C. of the vital role UCLA plays in serving our community and as an engine for the California economy.  Now, more than ever, we need faculty and staff to take UCLA‚s (sic) message to elected officials.”  ?!?  In other words, the exact same message that UC sent as strongly as it could before the current budget cuts, and the ones before that, ad nauseum.

Sorry, but this message failed before and will almost certainly fail again.  By continuing with this business-as-usual strategy, UC’s leaders show that they are in denial.  They don’t seem to understand that the economy is headed for increasingly dire straights, and that the old arguments will not sway a legislature desperate to make ever more cuts.

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UC faculty are being informed of an 8% pay reduction, and the only question we’re being asked as if we want it as a “pay cut” or as a “furlough” (up to 21 days forced, unpaid leave).  I prefer the furlough option.  I think this is actually critical for the university’s negotiating position with the state going forward.  A furlough at least in theory preserves the principle of “reduced budget = reduced services”.  By contrast, just announcing a pay cut (i.e. unilaterally changing our employment contract without faculty or staff having any way to disagree short of simply leaving) gives the legislature the impression that they can get something for nothing: just cut the UC budget, and then sit back and enjoy the spectacle of UCOP cutting staff salaries in order to maintain services.  What this communicates to the legislature is that the salaries were excessive in the first place, since they could be cut without any visible impact on services. (Of course, in the long-term the impact on quality will be devastating, but the legislature isn’t thinking about that right now).  Every other cost-cutting option (reducing prison expenditures; reducing health or welfare expenditures) translates directly into reduced services and corresponding backlash from constituents (some of whom, like the prison guards union, are very powerful).  So legislators will be sorely tempted to re-try that amazing “cut UC” magic, to find out just how deep they can go before hitting a political wall (i.e. voters getting angry enough to vote them out).

Of course, most of us would spend our furlough days working madly just like we currently spend our nights and weekends…

I actually think this is a deep issue for UC: re-establishing a transparent linkage between the UC budget and its resulting services, so even the least thoughtful politicians can see that reducing the budget means proportionally fewer students admitted, and that they will be blamed for this by voters.  I feel that UC has for years been playing a loser’s strategy: