Cal Poly administrators working to divorce the state
November 18, 2011
By KAREN VELIE
UPDATE: Public Relations spokesperson Stacia Momburg said the university is denying Provost Robert Koob said the university is working to privatize. In addition, she said he did not say they plan to have students teach classes as part of the plan. There were 50 people at the luncheon including A CalCoastNews reporter. Several attendees confirmed earlier that Koob said the university was working to privatize and explained that students would teach classes as a way of implementing plans.
ORIGINAL: California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo is planning to change its affiliation with the CSU system, Provost Robert Koob said Wednesday at a Retired Faculty Association luncheon. Koob told attendees the administration is working to privatize the university.
It would be the first time a CSU school has turned away from the state.
Critics are raising questions about how the university will be able to take state property as it becomes a private corporation, what will happen to faculty and staff retirement accounts, and the direction the university will take as a private institution.
“Cal Poly is on its way to becoming a private university,” Koob said. “That is where much of the nation is going and that is where Cal Poly is going.”
This is Cal Poly’s response to cuts in state funding. Currently, the university relies upon private funding and tuition for more than half of its budget and President Jeffrey Armstrong has said on a number of occasions the university needs to look to new models to raise money for its operations.
Privatization attempts throughout the nation include semi-privatization with campuses having the ability to set tuition levels and then keep the earnings, investments from private industry, and privatization through legislature. Cal Poly has not yet disclosed how it plans to privatize.
Several national attempts at semi-privatization have resulted in higher tuition costs such as at Penn State which is ranked the least affordable public campus in the United States.
Not all attempts have been successful. Miami University of Ohio was the first U.S. university to adopt the tuition model. in 2004 under a campus run tuition base, tuition more than doubled from $11,000 to $23,000. By 2008, dwindling enrollment forced the university to abandon its attempt to privatize.
At Wednesday’s luncheon, Koob touted Cal Poly’s more than 75 percent graduation rate which he said was 18 percent higher than any other campus in the CSU system. He lamented that the cost of higher education is going up while state funding is dwindling.
“When students say I am paying more and getting less that is because they are,” Koob said
When asked how Cal Poly could afford to let go of the 41 percent of the campus’ operating budget paid by the state, Koob said that the university’s sustainable resource is its students. Higher level students would learn through teaching classes.
“To really understand something you have to teach it,’ Koob said. “They can add to the workforce which is being disseminated. The union won’t like it.”
Tim O’Keefe, a political action chair for the local California Faculty Association and a member of the Retired Faculty Association who attended the luncheon did not agree with Koob’s plan to corporatize the university.
“Of course we don’t like it,” O’Keefe said. “The idea of using undergraduate students to teach undergraduate students is crazy.”
Because of Koob’s history of supporting the CSU administration, O’Keefe said he thinks this is a larger effort to privatize the CSU system.
“I think what Koob said was honest and an admission that corporatization is a goal of Cal Poly and the CSU system so they can privatize and make money on the campuses,” he said.
Numerous requests for comment to the CSU Chancellor’s Office were not returned.
Faculty and staff at Cal Poly rely on CalPERS to provide retirement and health benefits. CalPERS information officer Amy Norris said that if a public facility terminates its public status, the employees’ accrued benefits are safe.
“Pension benefits are a vested right,” Norris said. “Cal Poly employees that are CalPERS members are guaranteed currently accrued benefits upon retirement.”
Last week, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong signed an agreement to place a Cal Poly campus in China in a move projected to be a financial bonus for the university, several administration sources told CalCoastNews. Other than to confirm that there are talks of an overseas campus, Koob did not elaborate.
“There in no plan, there is lots of talk,” Koob said.
Critics warn that university privatization generally results in much higher tuition costs, less transparency, and fewer low and middle-income students. Also, critics contend research selections can be clouded by financial interests.