The Trouble With “Self-Sufficient”

Faced with declining support from the state, but anxious to maintain its position as a top-tier program, the business school of the University of California-Los Angeles came up with an innovative solution: self-sufficiency.

Under a plan UCLA approved in June, the business school would get no funding from the California legislature (state funding makes up only 6 percent of the school’s current operating budget) and be free to charge whatever it wants in tuition.

The plan ran into trouble recently, however. In order to the plan to go forward, it needs the approval of Mark Yudof, president of the university system. In order for Yudof to approve it, the proposal has to get the support of the system’s academic senate. And that’s the trouble. According to a piece by Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed:

A University of California Academic Senate committee (with faculty members from throughout the California system) has reviewed the proposal and issued an unusually harsh report about it, tabling consideration of the idea. The panel found that the proposal raised questions about faculty priorities, access for students and the potential for donor influence of the business school. Further, the panel blasted UCLA for failing to answer numerous questions as it was reviewing the proposal.

According to the report, the problem is that the self-sufficiency plan appears to be all over the place.

UCLA issued a “vehement denial” when asked if donors would influence business school policy with the change and at the same time said the business school would get $19 million in new donations, provided the school drops state support. Some documents from the business school indicate that financial aid won’t increase under the self-sufficiency plan. Others indicate that financial aid will increase. Some statements indicate that professors will get “increased flexibility” under the new funding model. Some statements indicate “there will be no change in faculty incentives.”

In summary, the faculty senate argues, there’s little indication that the plan for self-sufficiency will improve “educational quality.”

Make no mistake. Self-sufficiency” is a euphemism. The school will not be self-sufficient; it will depend upon tuition to sustain itself. This is privatization. That is, of course, the purpose of the plan. It has little to do with general educational quality or faculty flexibility. It has everything to do with the ability to change more in tuition and escape from the state’s rules and regulations about higher education.

Ultimately it’s unlikely the faculty senate can block this for long. The UCLA situation is a natural extension of what happens when states decrease support for higher education. But check out the report the faculty issued. Sure, the self-sufficiency plan is practical, but this part of the story of how a public university gives up on its mission to educate the state’s residents at low cost.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer