The educational budget: What would Samuel Gompers do?

April 18, 2011

Roger Freberg

OPINION by Roger Freberg

I have been reading some stuff put out by the California Faculty Association (CFA) on “teach-ins” and “protests” planned as a response to the CSU budget. Administrators are puffing themselves up and trying to act like heroic ‘noble captains of industry’ in a classic labor vs. management struggle.

This little drama would be entertaining, except the public has little or no tolerance for folks who want a larger piece of a shrinking pie that all of us have to share!

Let me put it another way.

What would you do if a stranger came up to you and said, “give me more money or I will hold my breath until I die!” Would your reaction be the same if this was a stranger or a friend? What would you think if this was a bunch of spoiled kids? You would probably say, “go ahead—knock yourself out.” This is the reaction that the public expressed when teachers bullied and threatened their way around the Capital Building in Wisconsin. It didn’t help the “cause” when a protest sign or two had some misspellings by Wisconsin’s finest teachers and professors. It didn’t inspire confidence.

Let’s take a look at what is happening on college campuses today in California. But first, allow me to explain why the California Faculty Association’s strategy has little chance of working.

Samuel Gompers was one of my childhood heroes and more than anyone, he made a good life for working people. He argued that a working man who had a livable wage and time to spend with his family helped to create a better society for everyone. The owners of industry at the time did not agree—they were entitled to a life and family, but their workers were not. Gompers realized that by disrupting production, he had leverage on the owners of industry.

Gompers’ strategies work in the private sector. Private managers must be responsive to their shareholders or they themselves suffer. If they’re shut down, a more responsive set of managers will take their business away. This just isn’t the case in the public sector, where managers are not held accountable for their productivity and there is no competition for the services they provide.

In the public sector, if a bunch of teachers picket or even strike, how does this really affect their administration (administrators like to call themselves “management”)? The fact is that strategies and tactics that have been successful in the private sector will never get public sector administrators to move.

Why? The answer is really annoyingly simple; administrators get paid whether or not they “produce” anything. Where is their incentive to negotiate with faculty?  It is telling that faculty furloughed, losing approximately 8 percent of their income, while all administrators were fat and smug.

Another issue that works against teachers and professors is that for the first time, the budget for “teaching” has slipped below 50 percent of the total CSU budget, while administrations have grown five fold over the past 20 years. It wasn’t all that long ago, under another administration, that Cal Poly took dozens of highly-paid administrators to a “YURT” retreat ( search ‘yurt’ for a laugh) featuring gourmet food and a pony tailed guru who preached self discovery. It is rumored that this weekend “soiree” (something spoiled people do) cost the taxpayers around $100,000. Your educational tax dollars at work!

Yes, there are problems in our education system, but the fact that the public’s resources are not reaching where we want them to go is much more troubling. Why is it that Cal Poly is apparently more involved in the ‘business’ of funneling all of their campus generated funds (such diverse activities as dorm fees, store revenue, agriculture, and parking permits) into the  private mysterious Cal Poly Foundation than into the real business of education.

Faculty do virtually all of the tasks that used to be done by administration support, including typing, filing, ordering books and materials and taking out the trash (my wife paid for her college education by doing secretarial work so she didn’t have to be a secretary anymore, and now here she is emptying the trash in her office), and all the while the administration continues to grow and go to “yurt’ retreats. When budgets are cut, why are we even discussing reducing the number of teachers and professors until all of the administrators are cut first? What in the world is a Vice Provost anyway, and do students care?  Who actually delivers the product?

Bill Gates made an on-line presentation on speaking about how state budgets were destroying education. I highly recommend watching it. He points out the simple truth that the money is there for education, just put in all the wrong places. This is not computer science.

So what should the teachers and faculty do? They need a change in direction. They need to change the process, reduce administration and improve what happens in the classroom. They need to offer more alternatives in education.

For example, my wife proposed offering an on-line version of one of her classes and was turned down. Such modern ideas must be suppressed after all! My daughter Karen teaches on-line classes in public relations and one of her students was a soldier serving in Afghanistan! How cool is that? K-12 must change the school boards with the goal of reducing administrations and the Cal Poly faculty must work to do the same or nothing good will happen.

Now, folks, what are you going to do to really help the next generation?

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Speaking of education and Mr. Gates (on no less), have you seen the Khan Academy? I think Bill & Melinda both see this as the future of a real education. Simply brilliant, and I am working with my two elementary-aged kids on this during one of their MANY days off.

I’ve about had it with the whole public education system, and it seems every other “college kid” that I meet or hear (on radio) is basically gearing towards a government or non-profit job. There are no more movers & shakers, just a lot of takers.

Excellent Op-Ed, by the way. Thanks, Roger.


I enjoy your work. Thank you.

Keep it up.

Gordon mullin

For years and years I have railed against the effects of Prop 13 because the administrations never ever seem to curtail the spending on themselves while cutting sports, arts and almost every other elective possible, along with reducing teacher presence, increasing class sizes and generally screwing up our public schools. Presented with what is shown here, it would seem that the Cal Poly and apparently most of the CSU schools and the Universities of California have taken that approach and put it on steroids, pumped it up twice what the steroids could do, and then doubled that again. Holy crap. I have always wondered exactly what a “regent” does, and apparently it is to spend money as if there was no tomorrow. Roger, I rarely agree with what you write about here, but your recommendations about reducing administrations is spot on.

What a beautiful one-sided view of education. Yes, administrators are culpable. Don’t leave out your dear faculty that insist on many of the non-teaching duties you describe – and those become part of their base pay. Let’s see, 10-20% of your pay is for serving on committees, not teaching? Pay for office hours, not teaching? Efficiency? How about the faculty actually teach 25-35 students per class and actually have 4-5 courses per week rather than 2-3 (or fewer). Then, we could reduce expenses.

Since when are office hours not teaching?

No students, no classroom, no curriculum. Maybe a student drops by with a question – tutoring, at best. Maybe even advising (counseling). Oops, those are those non-teaching duties that Roger was decrying.

Agreed, truthfully, for the reasons you state above, and considering how, why and where funds move in education it seems to me compensation and dispensation issues are primary. The internet is exposing the fact education doesn’t need the enormous facilities involved today.

Unfortunately, Roger, the number of people employed by the public sector now exceeds the number employed by the private sector.. so we have a country in which over half of the people do not have a first hand understanding of how market corrections work, and thus they will never be able to even comprehend what you described above.

University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau, Provost Breslauer Must Go: clean sweep Cal. leadership (The author who has 35 years’ consulting experience, has taught at University of California Berkeley, where he was able to observe the culture & the way senior management work)

Cal. Chancellor’s gross overspending, poor decisions: pays ex Michigan governor $300,000 for lectures; recruits out of state $50,000 tuition students that displace qualified Californians; Latino enrollment drops while out of state jumps 2010; tuition to Return on Investment (ROI) drops below top 10; NCAA places basketball program on probation.

Chancellor Birgeneau’s ($500,000 salary) fiscal track record is dismal indeed. He would like to blame the politicians, since they stopped giving him every dollar asked for, & the state legislators do share some responsibility for the financial crisis. But not in the sense he means.

A competent chancellor would have been on top of identifying inefficiencies & then crafting a plan to fix them. Able oversight by the UC Board of Regents and the legislature would have required him to provide data on inefficiencies and on what steps he was taking to solve them during his 8 year reign. Instead, every year Birgeneau would request a budget increase, the timid regents would agree to it, and the legislature would provide. The hard questions were avoided by all concerned, & the problems just piled up to $150 million of inefficiencies….until there was no money left.

It’s not that Birgeneau was unaware that there were, in fact, waste & inefficiencies during his 8 year reign. Faculty & staff raised issues with Birgeneau & Breslauer ($400,000 salary), but when they failed to see relevant action taken, they stopped. Finally, Birgeneau engaged some expensive ($3,000,000) consultants to tell him & the Provost what they should have known as leaders or been able to find out from the bright, engaged people. (Prominent east-coast University accomplishing same at 0 costs)

Cal. has been badly damaged. Good people are loosing their jobs. Cal’s leadership is either incompetent or culpable. Merely cutting out inefficiencies does not have the effect desired. But you never want a crisis to go to waste.

Increasing Cal’s budget is not enough. Take aim at the real source of Cal’s fiscal, & leadership crisis; honorably retire Chancellor Birgeneau, Provost Breslauer.