Academics: Not Just Better Than You, But "World Class" Better Than You

Read this open letter from the faculty of the University of California at San Diego, and weep.  Not for the University, or the faculty, but for the taxpayers and citizens of the state of California.

A few thoughts:

  • The tenured faculty also weep, WEEP!, at the thought of taking a five percent pay cut at their tenured, guaranteed-for-life jobs. Not for themselves, but for the people of the State, which risks losing a "world class" university system.  A system whose world-classness includes the University of California at San Diego (which I've barely heard of, but what do I know?), but excludes all universities lower on the system totem pole.
  • Meanwhile, the state which pays them is issuing kited checks to pay its obligations.  The taxpayers of California are losing their jobs in droves.  But they'll have a "world class" department of sociology at UCSD, which is also known to billions for its oceanography department.
  • In the spirit of oceanography, the faculty propose savage cuts for "scrub" schools such as UC-Riverside, which serve the poor and modest who can't get into UCSD.  Throw those kids, and their schools, to Shamu the killer whale, so long as we don't have to eat five percent less food on the lifeboat.
  • The chair of the economics department, who also signed, evidently fails to consider that if a pay cut for the economics faculty at "world class" UCSD is bad, but a pay cut for faculty at smaller schools is good, perhaps eliminating UCSD and funneling the money to genuinely world class Berkeley and UCLA might be even better.
  • The faculty protest their undying loyalty to the University, which they've struggled so hard to build, and then admit that if their pay is cut they'll cut and run to better paying schools as soon as the economy improves.  The lone historian who signed the letter, if candid, might describe himself and his compatriots as "mercenaries."
  • It's ok to be a mercenary.  It's an ancient and honest profession with roots going back to ancient Greece.  But there's another Greek-derived term for a mercenary who refuses to admit he's a mercenary: hypocrite.
  • Another historian, classically trained, might describe the lament as fiddling while Rome burns.  It's not as though much of California's financial crisis can't be laid at the feet of sociologists and the like, who in better times urged their government to spend like a coke fiend on whatever crisis commanded the attention of sociologists that day.
  • And speaking of economics, if the faculty believe that generous salaries from private universities, or other state systems, are just around the corner, well perhaps they should consult a member of the oceanographic zoology department on how long it takes a starved killer whale to rebuild its reserves of fat.

I have a more radical proposal, which would be of equal benefit to the taxpayers of California, and allow San Diego to keep its world class university.  Approximately half of the signatories belong to departments which produce students who may in turn produce something of economic value to California.  Fire them, but keep and reorganize their departments.

As for the other half, from the departments of sociology, music, political science, international studies, philosophy, communication, and education studies, whatever those are, eliminate their departments entirely, and transfer the money to UCLA and Berkeley.  Because what California needs, more than a government able to pay its bills with dollars instead of scrip, is a world class university.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. says

    Wow. The sneering hubris and entitlement when they describe the other schools as "teaching institutions" just leaps off the page.

  2. says

    Yeah yeah yeah. Agreed on the major points, Patrick. But do you think of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a world class university? I think many people do. As far as metrics go, UCSD is equivalent:

    * approx same media SAT as UNC Chapel Hill (1260 v 1290)
    * approx same graduation rate as UNC Chapel Hill (86% v 84%)
    * approx same enrollment as UNC Chapel Hill (20k v 16k)
    * same Carnegie classification as UNC Chapel Hill (Very High Research)
    * same admission rate as UNC Chapel Hill (40% v 36%)

    Sure, UNC is venerable while USCD is fresh. And yes, UCSD matters more in the southwest and perhaps not at all in the southeast. But is it really necessary to slam the institution (and, by association, its affiliates and alumni — no, I'm not one of them) when a surgical strike might've been more effective in making your point?

  3. says

    A second question: doesn't everything you target as defective about departments (unproductive in Spencer's sense) and those who wallow in them apply a fortiori to Berkeley and UCLA even though, and perhaps because they're undeniably world class?

  4. says

    Well, UCSD is ranked in the top 10 universities nationally. Still, no need for the professors to be negative towards the rest of the UC schools. They are all here to teach students, in the end.

    That being said, most of the rest of the staff are taking the news of cuts in a more stoic fashion (both my husband and father among them). These professors are just complaining because they know they are just going to wind up taking it rather than move out of San Diego.

  5. Patrick says

    Of course it does. But they didn't write the letter. To be kind, my friend, if the letter had come from Berkeley, or Yale, or a small private academy in a now-depressed state demanding state funds to teach the high school children of the rich, or for that matter UNC, I'd have been harsher.

    I'd just have fallen back on my status as an alumnus of the former Leningrad State, a fine school, the Yale of the Russian Federation, which is in no financial distress because the government of which it is a part wisely planned for the future.

  6. says

    But if the complaint is that these folks want a public university to allocate public funds intelligently rather than in a blanket fashion, what exactly is the problem with that? Surely the core research mission is a net plus for the state, economically and otherwise.

    You seem to feel that if, say, UC Riverside were eliminated, then the poor who cannot gain admission to UCSD would have nowhere to go. But doesn't the presence of the 23 campuses (yes, nearly two dozen) of California State University satisfy that need? A major purpose for having two state college systems, UC and Cal State, was to ensure that the former could remain appreciably selective and satisfy the research needs of California, a state that once had the fourth largest economy in the world. Meanwhile, the latter provides the core collegiate pedagogy (and, in increasing measure, the remedial ed) that fulfill the other purposes of public education.

    As one who usually favors market efficiencies over misguided bureaucratic expansion in pursuit of social engineering fantasies, Patrick, you'd normally favor targeted reduction over a global convergence on mediocrity. Why the change of approach in this instance?

  7. says

    Hmm, I do agree that that kind of rhetoric does amount to "sneering hubris", but… I am a bit tired to always hear of this distinction between departments that are "useful", and those that are "not" (full disclosure : maybe it's because I study history, a desperately "useless" field).

    I'll skip on my usual rants about the utter vanity, , of many a "useful" field, and about what kind of society, what kind of civilization would emerge out of an education only in "useful" fields (something like homo neanderthalis, but with a TV in lieu of cave art, I imagine). I would rather argue that even on a purely pragmatic point of view, is useful what people have a use for. That is, what people find, create a use for, for whatever reason.

    And if I may be so bold, lawyers are a perfect example of that.

  8. says

    As one who applied for graduate study in philosophy at UCSD, and was not accepted, I must only be fit to hang my head in shame.

  9. Patrick says

    As one who usually favors market efficiencies over misguided bureaucratic expansion in pursuit of social engineering fantasies, Patrick, you’d normally favor targeted reduction over a global convergence on mediocrity. Why the change of approach in this instance?

    Who says my approach has changed? Or who says it's my only approach?

    To put it another way, I strongly suspect that the signers of this letter do not usually favor market efficiencies over misguided bureaucratic expansion. There are probably many good economic arguments for the elimination of the University of California at Riverside, but those arguments do not, and cannot, come from the faculty of the University of California at San Diego in the context of an open letter warning of the doom that will come to Sarnath if their salaries are cut by five percent.

    Aside to Cholling: Aren't you glad you're not affiliated with UCSD now? Grad school applications within tiers are essentially a crapshoot. You rolled a 7 if you wound up at Georgia, which is suffering like all universities but nowhere near as badly as those in California.

    Aside to Scott: I study a bit of history myself, on my own time. I agree with what I think you meant to say with your Ecclesiastes reference (and I think I know which chapter and verse you mean), but I'll attack a history professor, every time, when he argues on economic grounds (in no small part the focus of this letter), that his pay shouldn't be cut for reasons of efficiency and economic growth. A school of auto mechanics produces more value, dollar for quantifiable dollar, than a history department.

    And it shows exceedingly poor judgment to release an open letter arguing that others' jobs should be eliminated, or salaries cut, on utilitarian grounds when one is the head of a department as non-utilitarian as history.

  10. Patrick says

    And an aside to David: They should have hired you to write the letter. Of course your letter would have lacked the tragic pathos of people who are employed for life and whose salaries are paid by others who don't actually consent to such payments in a free market, arguing that others should be fired, but you'd have gone down another road entirely, giving mockers like me no room to grapple.

  11. says

    You're right that I would've taken the argument down a different path. However, I'd have left mockers like you room to grapple, for your fighting spirit is half the reason we love you.

    Anyhow, it appears that your actual point, distilled, is that you dislike the tenure system for public institutions. Does that go for the bench, too?

  12. Patrick says

    David, my actual point is that appeals for clemency, as opposed to appeals grounded in innocence, shouldn't work when those appeals suggest that others be sacrificed in one's stead.

    As for the bench, I've addressed the subject of judicial pay precisely one time in this blog's existence. You'll find that my position was not inconsistent with what's been expressed here.

  13. mojo says

    When's the Championship? I wanna see Chapel Hill take on UCSD in an academic free-for-all. Two schools enter, one school leaves.


  14. Patrick says

    Chapel Hill would beat UCSD in an academic free-for-all, and absolutely murder them in basketball or football.

    But after a day's reflection I think David is right. I could have employed my sarcasm in a better fashion, rather than attacking students and alumni at a good school. I apologize to anyone affiliated with the university I've offended.

    Anyone except for the tone-deaf selfish jackases who wrote or signed this letter, who have no understanding of government, politics, economics, or conventional morality.