In the summer of 2012, as the University of California reeled from one piece of bad budget news to another, a veteran political columnist sounded an alarm. Cuts in state funding were jeopardizing the university’s mission of preserving the “cultural legacy essential to any great society,” Peter Schrag warned in the Sacramento Bee:

Would we know who we are without knowing our common history and culture, without knowing Madison and Jefferson and Melville and Dickinson and Hawthorne; without Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer; without Dante and Cervantes; without Charlotte Brontë and Jane Austen; without Goethe and Molière; without Confucius, Buddha, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.; without Mozart, Rembrandt and Michelangelo; without the Old Testament; without the Gospels; without Plato and Aristotle, without Homer and Sophocles and Euripides, without Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky; without Gabriel García Márquez and Toni Morrison?

Schrag’s appeal to the value of humanistic study was unimpeachable. It just happened to be laughably ignorant about the condition of such study at the University of California. Stingy state taxpayers aren’t endangering the transmission of great literature, philosophy, and art; the university itself is. No UC administrator would dare to invoke Schrag’s list of mostly white, mostly male thinkers as an essential element of a UC education; no UC campus has sought to ensure that its undergraduates get any exposure to even one of Schrag’s seminal thinkers (with the possible exception of Toni Morrison), much less to America’s founding ideas or history.

Illustration by Arnold Roth
Illustration by Arnold Roth

Schrag isn’t the only Californian ignorant about UC’s priorities. The public is told that the university needs more state money to stay competitive in the sciences but not that the greatest threat to scientific excellence comes from the university’s obsession with “diversity” hiring. The public knows about tuition increases but not about the unstoppable growth in the university’s bureaucracy. Taxpayers may have heard about larger class sizes but not about the sacrosanct status of faculty teaching loads. Before the public decides how much more money to pour into the system, it needs a far better understanding of how UC spends the $22 billion it already commands.

The first University of California campus opened in Berkeley in 1873, fulfilling a mandate of California’s 1849 constitution that the state establish a public university for the “promotion of literature, the arts and sciences.” Expectations for this new endeavor were high; Governor Henry Haight had predicted that the campus would “soon become a great light-house of education and learning on this Coast, and a pride and glory” of the state.

He was right. Over the next 140 years, as nine more campuses were added, the university would prove an engine for economic growth and a source of human progress. UC owns more research patents than any other university system in the country. Its engineers helped achieve California’s midcentury dominance in aerospace and electronics; its agronomists aided the state’s fecund farms and vineyards. The nuclear technology developed by UC scientists and their students secured America’s Cold War preeminence (while provoking one of the country’s most cataclysmic student protest movements). UC’s physical infrastructure is a precious asset in its own right. Anyone can wander its trellised gardens and groves of native and exotic trees, or browse its library stacks and superb research collections.

But by the early 1960s, UC was already exhibiting many of the problems that afflict it today. The bureaucracy had mushroomed, both at the flagship Berkeley campus and at the Office of the President, the central administrative unit that oversees the entire UC system. Nathan Glazer, who taught sociology at Berkeley at the time, wrote in Commentary in 1965: “Everyone—arriving faculty members, arriving deans, visiting authorities—is astonished by the size” of the two administrations. Glazer noted the emergence of a new professional class: full-time college administrators who specialized in student affairs, had never taught, and had little contact with the faculty. The result of this bureaucratic explosion reminded Glazer of the federal government: “Organization piled upon organization, reaching to a mysterious empyrean height.”

At Berkeley, as federal research money flooded into the campus, the faculty were losing interest in undergraduate teaching, observed Clark Kerr, UC’s president and a former Berkeley chancellor. (Kerr once famously quipped that a chancellor’s job was to provide “parking for the faculty, sex for the students, and athletics for the alumni.”) Back in the 1930s, responsibility for introductory freshman courses had been the highest honor that a Berkeley professor could receive, Kerr wrote in his memoirs; 30 years later, the faculty shunted off such obligations whenever possible to teaching assistants, who, by 1964, made up nearly half the Berkeley teaching corps.

Most presciently, Kerr noted that Berkeley had split into two parts: Berkeley One, an important academic institution with a continuous lineage back to the nineteenth century; and Berkeley Two, a recent political upstart centered on the antiwar, antiauthority Free Speech Movement that had occupied Sproul Plaza in 1964. Berkeley Two was as connected to the city’s left-wing political class and to its growing colony of “street people” as it was to the traditional academic life of the campus. In fact, the two Berkeleys had few points of overlap.

Today, echoing Kerr, we can say that there are two Universities of California: UC One, a serious university system centered on the sciences (though with representatives throughout the disciplines) and still characterized by rigorous meritocratic standards; and UC Two, a profoundly unserious institution dedicated to the all-consuming crusade against phantom racism and sexism that goes by the name of “diversity.” Unlike Berkeley Two in Kerr’s Day, UC Two reaches to the topmost echelon of the university, where it poses a real threat to the integrity of its high-achieving counterpart.

It’s impossible to overstate the extent to which the diversity ideology has encroached upon UC’s collective psyche and mission. No administrator, no regent, no academic dean or chair can open his mouth for long without professing fealty to diversity. It is the one constant in every university endeavor; it impinges on hiring, distorts the curriculum, and sucks up vast amounts of faculty time and taxpayer resources. The university’s budget problems have not touched it. In September 2012, for instance, as the university system faced the threat of another $250 million in state funding cuts on top of the $1 billion lost since 2007, UC San Diego hired its first vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion. This new diversocrat would pull in a starting salary of $250,000, plus a relocation allowance of $60,000, a temporary housing allowance of $13,500, and the reimbursement of all moving expenses. (A pricey but appropriately “diverse” female-owned executive search firm had found this latest diversity accretion.) In May 2011, UCLA named a professional bureaucrat with a master’s degree in student-affairs administration as its first assistant dean for “campus climate,” tasked with “maintaining the campus as a safe, welcoming, respectful place,” in the words of UCLA’s assistant vice chancellor and dean of students. In December 2010, UC San Francisco appointed its first vice chancellor of diversity and outreach—with a starting salary of $270,000—to create a “diverse and inclusive environment,” announced UC San Francisco chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann. Each of these new posts is wildly redundant with the armies of diversity functionaries already larding UC’s bloated bureaucracy.

UC Two’s worldview rests on the belief that certain racial and ethnic groups face ongoing bias, both in America and throughout the university. In 2010, UCLA encapsulated this conviction in a “Principle of Community” (one of eight) approved by the Chancellor’s Advisory Group on Diversity (since renamed the UCLA Council on Diversity and Inclusion, in the usual churn of rebranding to which such bodies are subject). Principle Eight reads: “We acknowledge that modern societies carry historical and divisive biases based on race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and religion, and we seek to promote awareness and understanding through education and research and to mediate and resolve conflicts that arise from these biases in our communities.”

The idea that a salient—if not the most salient—feature of “modern societies” is their “divisive biases” is ludicrously unhistorical. No culture has been more blandly indifferent than modern Western society to the individual and group characteristics that can still lead to death and warfare elsewhere. There is also no place that more actively celebrates the characteristics that still handicap people outside the West than the modern American campus. Yet when UC Two’s administrators and professors look around their domains, they see a landscape riven by the discrimination that it is their duty to extirpate.

Thus it was that UC San Diego’s electrical and computer engineering department found itself facing a mandate from campus administrators to hire a fourth female professor in early 2012. The possibility of a new hire had opened up—a rare opportunity in the current budget climate—and after winnowing down hundreds of applicants, the department put forward its top candidates for on-campus interviews. Scandalously, all were male. Word came down from on high that a female applicant who hadn’t even been close to making the initial cut must be interviewed. She was duly brought to campus for an interview, but she got mediocre reviews. The powers-that-be then spoke again: her candidacy must be brought to a departmental vote. In an unprecedented assertion of secrecy, the department chair refused to disclose the vote’s outcome and insisted on a second ballot. After that second vote, the authorities finally gave up and dropped her candidacy. Both vote counts remain secret.

An electrical and computer engineering professor explains what was at stake. “We pride ourselves on being the best,” he says. “The faculty know that absolute ranking is critical. No one had ever considered this woman a star.” You would think that UC’s administrators would value this fierce desire for excellence, especially in a time of limited resources. Thanks to its commitment to hiring only “the best,” San Diego’s electrical and computer engineering department has made leading contributions to circuit design, digital coding, and information theory.

Maria Sobek, UC Santa Barbara’s associate vice chancellor for diversity, equity, and academic policy and a professor of Chicana and Chicano studies, provides a window into how UC Two thinks about its mission. If a faculty hiring committee selects only white male finalists for an opening, the dean will suggest “bringing in some women to look them over,” Sobek says. These female candidates, she says, “may be borderline, but they are all qualified.” And voilà! “It turns out [the hiring committees] really like the candidates and hire them, even if they may not have looked so good on paper.” This process has “energized” the faculty to hire a woman, says Sobek. She adds that diversity interventions get “more positive responses” from humanities and social-sciences professors than from scientists.

Leave aside Sobek’s amusing suggestion that the faculty just happen to discover that they “really like” the diversity candidate whom the administration has forced on them. More disturbing is the subversion of the usual hiring standard from “most qualified” to “qualified enough.” UC Two sets the hiring bar low enough to scoop in some female or minority candidates, and then declares that anyone above that bar is “qualified enough” to trump the most qualified candidate, if that candidate is a white or an Asian male. This is a formula for mediocrity.

Sometimes, UC Two can’t manage to lower hiring standards enough to scoop in a “diverse” candidate. In that case, it simply creates a special hiring category outside the normal channels. In September 2012, after the meritocratic revolt in UC San Diego’s electrical and computer engineering department, the engineering school announced that it would hire an “excellence” candidate, the school’s Orwellian term for faculty who, it claims, will contribute to diversity and who, by some odd coincidence, always happen to be female or an underrepresented minority. UC San Diego’s Division of Physical Sciences followed suit the next month, listing two tenure-track positions for professors who could “shape and expand the University’s diversity initiatives.” If the division had any specific scientific expertise in mind, the job listing made no mention of it.

Every campus has throngs of diversity enforcers like Sobek. In 2010, as a $637 million cut in state funding closed some facilities temporarily and forced UC faculty and staff to take up to three and a half weeks of unpaid leave, Mark Yudof, the president of the entire university system, announced the formation of a presidential Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion. It would be supported by five working groups of faculty and administrators: the Faculty Diversity Working Group, the Diversity Structure Group, the Safety and Engagement Group, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Group, and the Metrics and Assessment Group. Needless to say, this new burst of committee activity replicated a long line of presidential diversity initiatives, such as the 2006 President’s Task Force on Faculty Diversity and the president’s annual Accountability Sub-Report on Diversity.

These earlier efforts must have failed to eradicate the threats that large subsets of students and faculty face. Yudof promised that his new council and its satellite working groups would address, yet again, the “challenges in enhancing and sustaining a tolerant, inclusive environment on each of the university’s 10 campuses . . . so that every single member of the UC community feels welcome, comfortable and safe.” Of course, under traditional measures of safety, UC’s campuses rate extremely high, but more subtle dangers apparently lurk for women and certain minorities.

In April 2012, one of Yudof’s five working groups disgorged its first set of recommendations for creating a “safe” and “healthy” climate for UC’s beleaguered minorities, even as the university’s regents, who theoretically govern the school, debated whether to raise tuition yet again to cover the latest budget shortfall. The Faculty Diversity Working Group called for hiring quotas, which it calls “cluster hiring,” and more diversity bureaucrats, among nine other measures. (California’s pesky constitutional ban on taking race and gender into account in public hiring, which took effect after voters approved Proposition 209 in 1996, has long since lost any power over UC behavior and rhetoric.)

You would think that an institution ostensibly dedicated to reason would have documented the widespread bias against women and minorities before creating such a costly apparatus for fighting that alleged epidemic. I ask Dianne Klein, the spokesman for UC’s Office of the President, whether Yudof or other members of his office were aware of any faculty candidates rejected by hiring committees because of their race or sex. Or perhaps Yudof’s office knew of highly qualified minority or female faculty candidates simply overlooked in a search process because the hiring committee was insufficiently committed to diversity outreach? Klein ducks both questions: “Such personnel matters are confidential and so we can’t comment on your question about job candidates.”

Does UC Santa Barbara’s associate vice chancellor for diversity, equity, and academic policy know of such victims of faculty bias? “It’s hard to prove that qualified women haven’t been hired,” says Sobek. But “people don’t feel comfortable working with people who don’t look like them and tend to hire people that look like them.” Doesn’t the high proportion of Asian professors in UC’s science departments and medical schools suggest that UC’s white faculty are comfortable working with people who don’t look like them? “Oh, Asians are discriminated against, too,” replies Sobek. “They face a glass ceiling. People think that maybe Asians are not good enough to run a university.” Sobek’s own university, UC Santa Barbara, has an Asian chancellor, but never mind.

Bureaucratic overseers are not enough to purge the faculty of its alleged narrow-mindedness; the faculty must be retrained from within. Every three years, representatives from departmental hiring committees at UCLA must attend a seminar on “unconscious bias” in order to be deemed fit for making hiring decisions. In 2012, a Berkeley department in the social sciences was informed that a female professor from outside the department would be sitting on its hiring committee, since its record of hiring women was unsatisfactory. Only after protest did UC Two’s administrators back down.

In September 2012, even as he warned of financial ruin if voters didn’t approve Governor Jerry Brown’s $6 billion tax hike in November, Yudof announced another diversity boondoggle. The university was embarking on the nation’s largest-ever survey of “campus climate,” at a cost of $662,000 (enough to cover four years of tuition for more than a dozen undergraduates). The system-wide climate survey was, of course, drearily repetitive. Individual campus “climate councils” had been conducting “climate checks” for years, and an existing UC survey already asked each undergrad if he felt that his racial and ethnic group was “respected on campus.” Nevertheless, with the university facing a possible quarter-billion-dollar cut in state funding, Yudof and his legions of diversity councils and work groups felt that now was the moment to act on the 2007 recommendations of the little-remembered “Regents’ Study Group on University Diversity (Work Team on Campus Climate)” and of the “Staff Diversity Council.”

Yudof’s many campus-climate pronouncements are rife with the scary epidemiological language typical of this diversity subspecialty. “Now is a time when many of our most marginalized and vulnerable populations are most at risk,” he wrote in July 2011, informing the campus chancellors that despite the budget crisis, planning for the “comprehensive and systematic campus climate assessment” was under way. Yudof didn’t specify what these “marginalized and vulnerable populations” were “at risk” for, or why they would be at even greater risk now that the financial challenges facing the university had worsened.

If UC One were launching a half-million-dollar survey of the incidence of bubonic plague, say, among its students, faculty, and staff, it would have assembled enough instances of infection to justify the survey. It might even have formulated a testable hypothesis regarding the main vectors of infection. But UC Two’s campus-climate rhetoric promiscuously invokes the need for “safe spaces” and havens from “risk” without ever identifying either the actual victims of its unsafe climates or their tormentors. These unsavory individuals must be out there, of course; otherwise, UC’s “marginalized and vulnerable populations” wouldn’t require such costly interventions. It would be useful if UC Two provided some examples. Who are these people, and where do they hide? Further, the presence of such bigots means that UC’s hiring and admissions policies must be seriously flawed. Where are the flaws, and what does UC intend to do about them?

Time for a reality check. UC’s campuses are among the most welcoming and inclusive social environments known to man. They are filled with civilized, pacific professors who want to do their research and maybe a little teaching and who have nothing but goodwill for history’s oppressed groups. The campuses are filled, too, with docile administrators whose only purpose is swaddling students in services and fending off imaginary threats to those students’ fragile identities. For their part, said students want to make friends and connections, maybe do a little learning, and get a degree. Race, ethnicity, and other official varieties of “identity” would be a nonissue for almost all of them if the adults on campus would stop harping on the subject. If Yudof and the regents, who enthusiastically back every diversity initiative that UC’s administrators can dream up, don’t know that, they are profoundly out of touch with the institution that they pretend to manage.

Your average UC student is unimpressed by UC Two’s campus-climate initiatives. “That’s ridiculous!” guffaws Tuanh, a UCLA senior majoring in psychobiology, when asked about UCLA’s new campus-climate dean. But then, Tuanh is a first-generation Vietnamese-American from the San Gabriel Valley; perhaps, as a member of a successful minority group, she doesn’t count as “marginalized and vulnerable,” however poor her parents. Vanessa, a black UCLA junior from Long Beach, is closer to the kind of student whom Yudof and UCLA’s administrators have in mind. But Vanessa is perplexed when told about the campus-climate dean. “I don’t understand what that person would do,” she says. “The school definitely takes racism seriously.” Are your professors open to you? “I’ve never felt that a professor here didn’t care about me succeeding.” Perhaps things are worse on other campuses? Not at UC Irvine. Ade, a 24-year-old Nigerian finishing up his economics B.A. there, says that he’s found no hostility on campus: “Everyone was welcoming and willing to try to get to know me.”

UC One’s faculty, too, are unenthusiastic about the campus-climate initiatives. Yudof’s office tried to boost participation rates in the latest “inclusion survey” by raffling off two $5,000 faculty-research grants, two $5,000 graduate-student stipends, and a $10,000 student scholarship to respondents answering merely half of the survey questions. (Whether such a raffle is the most rational way to allocate scarce research and scholarship dollars is debatable.) Yudof also offered a shot at five $2,000 professional-development grants and 24 iPads. Campuses threw in their own incentives: UC San Francisco provided ten lucky raffle winners the opportunity to have lunch with the local vice chancellor for diversity and outreach and handed out 50 gift certificates worth $50 apiece; UC San Diego offered iPads, iPod Touch music players, cash, and restaurant gift certificates, among other goodies. Despite these sweeteners, most people ignored the survey. After extending its deadline by nearly two months, UC San Francisco had reached only a 40 percent response rate. Most professors and grad students apparently have better things to do than answer grammatically challenged questions about whether they have “personally experienced any exclusionary (e.g., shunned, ignored), intimidating, offensive and/or hostile conduct (harassing behavior) at UC.”

True, every so often, an oafish student at UC, as at campuses across the country, stages a tasteless incident to rile the enforcers of political correctness. In 2010, a group of UC San Diego frat students sent out an invitation for an off-campus party with a crude ghetto theme; a black comedian later claimed responsibility for the event, which came to be known as the Compton Cookout. The inevitable student protests triggered the usual ballooning of UC Two’s diversity bureaucracy, along with hand-wringing, from the UC president’s office on down, about how hostile the university is to nonwhite students.

In a more rational world, the adults on campus might respond to such provocations by putting them in perspective—condemning the juvenile pranks but pointing out their insignificance compared with the resources and opportunities available to all students. If the adults were particularly courageous, they might even add that a minority student’s best response to such pygmies is to crush them with his own success. Acing a chemistry exam does magnitudes more for minority empowerment, the straight-talking administrator might say, than sitting in at the dean’s office demanding more “resources” for the Black Student Union. Such a message, however, would put UC Two out of business.

UC Two’s pressures on the curriculum are almost as constant as the growth of the diversity bureaucracy. Consider Berkeley’s sole curricular requirement. The campus’s administration and faculty can think of only one thing that all its undergraduates need to know in order to have received a world-class education: how racial and ethnic groups interact in America. Every undergraduate must take a course that addresses “theoretical or analytical issues relevant to understanding race, culture, and ethnicity in American society” and that takes “substantial account of groups drawn from at least three of the following: African Americans, indigenous peoples of the United States, Asian Americans, Chicano/Latino Americans, and European Americans.” In decades past, “progressives” would have grouped Americans in quite different categories, such as labor, capital, and landowners, or bankers, farmers, and railroad owners. Historians might have suggested Northerners, Southerners, and Westerners, or city dwellers, suburbanites, and rural residents. Might the interplay of inventors, entrepreneurs, and industrialists, say, or of scientists, architects, and patrons, be as fruitful a way of looking at American life as the distribution of skin color? Not in UC Two.

Naturally, this “American Cultures” requirement is run by Berkeley’s ever-expanding Division of Equity and Inclusion. Berkeley students can fulfill the requirement with such blatantly politicized courses as “Gender, Race, Nation, and Health,” offered by the gender and women’s studies department, which provides students with “feminist perspectives on health care disparities” while considering gender “in dynamic interaction with race, ethnicity, sexuality, immigration status, religion, nation, age, and disability.” Another possibility is “Lives of Struggle: Minorities in a Majority Culture,” from the African-American studies department, which examines “the many forms that the struggle of minorities can assume.” It is a given that to be a member of one of the course’s favored “three minority aggregates”—“African-Americans, Asian-Americans (so called), and Chicano/Latino-Americans”—means having to struggle against the oppressive American majority.

In 2010, the UCLA administration and a group of faculty restarted a campaign to require all undergraduates to take a set of courses explicitly dedicated to group identity. UCLA’s existing “general-education” smorgasbord, from which students must select a number of courses in order to graduate, already contained plenty of the narcissistic identity and resentment offerings so dear to UC Two, such as “Critical Perspectives on Trauma, Gender, and Power” and “Anthropology of Gender Variance Across Cultures from Third Gender to Transgender.” Yet that menu did not sufficiently guarantee exposure to race-based thinking to satisfy the UC Two power structure.

So even though UCLA’s faculty had previously rejected a “diversity” general-education requirement in 2005, the administration and its faculty allies simply repackaged it under a new title, with an updated rationale. The new requirement would give meaning, they said, to that ponderous Eighth Principle of Community that the Chancellor’s Advisory Group on Diversity had just approved. After the usual profligate expenditure of committee time, the faculty voted down the repackaged diversity requirement in May 2012, recognizing the burdens that any new general-education mandate puts on both students and faculty. UCLA chancellor Gene Block issued a lachrymose rebuke: “I’m deeply disappointed that the proposed new general education requirement was not approved and I’m especially disappointed for the many students who worked with such passion to make the case for a change in curriculum.” As a consolation prize to UC Two, Block ordered his administrators to “bring about the intentions of the failed GE requirement proposal” anyway, in the words of UCLA’s student-affairs vice chancellor. And sure enough, in February 2013, the community-programs office rolled out a series of initiatives to provide “spaces for dialogue and education about diversity.”

UC Two captured the admissions process long ago. Ever since the passage of Proposition 209 banned racial discrimination at public institutions, UC’s faculty and administrators have worked overtime to find supposedly race-neutral alternatives to outright quotas. Admissions officials now use “holistic” review to pick students, an opaque procedure designed to import proxies for race into the selection process, among other stratagems.

Vanessa, the UCLA junior, shows how drastically UC administrators violate the intention of Prop. 209. If she were white or Asian, her chances of being accepted into UCLA would have been close to zero. The average three-part SAT score of UCLA’s 2012 freshman admits was 2042, out of a possible total of 2400. Vanessa’s score was 1300, well below even the mediocre national average of 1500. Her academic performance has been exactly what her SATs would predict. She wants to double-major in psychology and gender studies, but she received a D-minus in psychological statistics, a prerequisite for enrolling in the psychology major. “I tried so hard; I don’t understand why my grades didn’t reflect how hard I was working,” she says. “But I was always hard on myself and never gave myself enough credit.” Apparently, Vanessa thinks that she suffers from a self-esteem, rather than a skills, deficit. On her second attempt at psychological statistics, she got a C, enough (for now) to continue in the major. “It’s all I can ask for,” she says. If UCLA’s psychology major requires strong quantitative ability, however, Vanessa stands a good chance of ending up a gender studies major and nothing else.

Vanessa is a case study in a powerful critique of racial preferences known as “mismatch theory,” pioneered by Richard Sander, a UCLA law professor. Sander and other economists have shown, through unrebutted empirical analysis, that college students admitted with academic qualifications drastically lower than those of their peers will learn less and face a much higher chance of dropping out of science and other rigorous majors. Had Vanessa gone to a school where her fellow students shared her skill level, she would be likelier to finish her psychology degree in good standing because classroom instruction would be pitched to her academic needs. The leaders of UC Two, however, don’t just ignore Sander’s work; they press on relentlessly in their crusade to reinstate explicit racial quotas at UC. In 2012, Yudof and UC’s ten chancellors found the time to submit an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Fisher v. Texas, bellyaching about the crippling effect of Prop. 209 on the university’s “diversity” and urging the court to reaffirm college-admissions preferences.

The admission of underprepared students generates another huge hunk of UC Two’s ever-expanding bureaucracy, which devotes extensive resources to supporting “diverse” students as they try to complete their degrees. Take UC’s vice president for student affairs, Judy Sakaki, who has traveled a career path typical of the “support-services” administrator, untouched by any traditional academic expertise or teaching experience. Sakaki started as an outreach and retention counselor in the Educational Opportunity Program at California State University, Hayward, and then became special assistant to the president for educational equity. She moved to UC Davis as vice chancellor of the division of student affairs and eventually landed in the UC president’s office, where, according to her official biography, she continues to pursue her decades-long involvement in “issues of access and equity.” She earns more than $255,000 a year.

Sakaki has dozens of counterparts on individual campuses. UCLA’s $300 million Division of Undergraduate Affairs, with nary a professor in sight, is a typical support-services accretion, stuffed with “retention” specialists and initiatives for “advancing student engagement in diversity.” (The division, which labels itself UCLA’s “campus-wide advocate for undergraduate education,” hosts non-diversity-related programs as well, intended to demonstrate that the university really does care about undergraduate education, despite complaints that its main interest lies in nabbing faculty research grants.) It is now assumed that being the first member of your family to go to college requires a bureaucracy to see you through, even though thousands of beneficiaries of the first GI Bill managed to graduate without any contact from a specially dedicated associate vice provost. So did the children of Eastern European Jews who flooded into the City College of New York in the 1930s and 1940s. So do the children of Chinese laborers today who get science degrees both in China and abroad. Yet UC Two and other colleges have molded a construct, the “first-generation college student,” and declared it in need of services—though it is simply a surrogate for “student admitted with uncompetitive scores from a family culture with low social capital.”

It’s unclear how much these retention bureaucracies actually accomplish. What has improved minority graduation rates, though UC Two refuses to admit it, is Prop. 209. Graduation rates for underrepresented minorities in the pre–Prop. 209 era, when the university openly used racial preferences, languished far behind those of whites and Asians; it was only when Prop. 209 reduced the number of students admitted with large achievement gaps that minority graduation rates improved.

The costs of all these bureaucratic functions add up. From the 1997–98 school year to 2008–09, as the UC student population grew 33 percent and tenure-track faculty grew 25 percent, the number of senior administrators grew 125 percent, according to the Committee on Planning and Budget of UC’s Academic Senate. The ratio of senior managers to professors climbed from 1 to 2.1 to near-parity of 1 to 1.1. University officials argue that hospitals and research functions drive such administrative expansion. But the rate of growth of non–medical center administrators was also 125 percent, and more senior professionals were added outside the research and grants-management area than inside it.

It’s true that UC isn’t wholly responsible for its own engorgement, since government officials continue to impose frivolous mandates that produce more red tape. In October 2011, for example, Governor Brown signed a bill requiring the university to provide the opportunity for students, staff, and faculty to announce their sexual orientation and “gender identity” on all UC forms. A hurricane of committee meetings ensued to develop the proper compliance procedures.

But most of UC’s bureaucratic bulk is self-generated, and the recent budget turmoil hasn’t dented that growth. In 2011, Berkeley’s $200,000-a-year vice chancellor for equity and inclusion presided over an already princely staff of 17; by 2012, his realm had ballooned to 24. In September 2012, UC San Francisco’s vice chancellor of diversity and outreach opened a new Multicultural Resource Center, complete with its own staff, timed to coincide with Celebrate Diversity Month.

And expanding its own bureaucracy isn’t the only way that UC Two likes to spend money. In September 2012, UC San Diego chancellor Pradeep Khosla announced that every employee would get two hours of paid leave to celebrate California Native American Day, a gesture that, under the most conservative salary assumptions, could cost well over $1 million. In the same month, the vice provost of UCLA’s four ethnic studies departments announced that five professors would get paid leave to pursue “transformative interdisciplinary research” regarding “intersectional exchanges and cultural fusion”—at a time when the loss of faculty through attrition has led to more crowded classrooms and fewer course offerings. (Yes, UCLA’s ethnic studies departments boast their own vice provost; the position may be UC Two’s most stunning sinecure.) In August 2012, UCLA’s Center for Labor Research and Education announced that it would create the “National Dream University,” an online school exclusively for illegal aliens, where they would become involved in “social justice movements” and learn about labor organizing. Only after negative publicity from conservative media outlets did UC cancel the program, while leaving open the possibility of reconstituting it at a future date.

UC Two’s constant accretion of trivialities makes it difficult to take its leaders’ protestations of penury seriously. Yudof likes to stress that the state’s contribution to the University of California’s 2012 budget ($2.27 billion out of a total UC budget of $22 billion) is only 10 percent higher, in non-inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was in 1990, even as enrollment has grown 51 percent and UC has added a tenth campus. To Yudof, that equation signals crisis. It would be just as easy to argue, though, that UC must be doing just fine with the money that the state is giving it. Otherwise, why would it have added that new campus, not to mention reams of new bureaucrats?

Indeed, for an institution not known for its celebrations of capitalism, the university shows a robber-baron-like appetite for growth. The system announced plans to add a fifth law school in 2006, notwithstanding abundant evidence that California’s 25 existing law schools were generating more than enough lawyers to meet any conceivable future demand. Initial rationalizations for the new law school focused on its planned location—at UC Riverside, in the less affluent and allegedly law-school-deficient Inland Empire east of Los Angeles. But even that insufficient justification evaporated when movers and shakers in Orange County persuaded the regents to site the school at well-endowed UC Irvine, next door to wealthy Newport Beach. Following the opening of Irvine’s law school in 2009, California’s glut of lawyers and law schools has only worsened, leading another UC law school (at UC San Francisco) to cut enrollment by 20 percent in 2012.

UC’s tenth campus, UC Merced, which opened in 2005, is just as emblematic of the system’s reflexive expansion, which is driven by politics and what former regent Ward Connerly calls “crony academics.” Hispanic advocates and legislators pushed the idea that a costly research university in California’s agricultural Central Valley was an ethnic entitlement—notwithstanding the fact that UC’s existing nine research institutions were already more than the state’s GDP or population could justify, according to Steve Weiner, the former executive director of the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities. And now that the Merced campus exists, UC’s socialist ethos requires redistributing scarce resources to it from the flagship campuses, in pursuit of the chimerical goal of raising it to the caliber of Berkeley, UCLA, or UC San Diego.

Smaller-scale construction projects continue as well. UC Irvine’s business school is getting an opulent new home, though its existing facility—an arcaded sandstone bungalow nestled among eucalypti—is perfectly serviceable. The new building will have white-noise cancellation technology, as well as Apple TV and iPads in every classroom. Like the new law school and the new UC campus, this doesn’t paint a portrait of a university starved for funds.

Even UC’s much-lamented rise in tuition masks a more complicated picture than is usually acknowledged. Tuition has trebled over the last decade, to about $12,000, and now covers 49 percent of the cost of an undergraduate education, compared with 13 percent in 1990, according to the UC Faculty Senate. For the first time in UC’s history, students are contributing more to their education than the state is. But contrary to received wisdom, tuition increases have not reduced “access.” The number of students attending UC whose family income is $50,000 or less rose 61 percent from 1999 to 2009; such students now make up 34 percent of enrollment, according to the Los Angeles Times. Students whose families earn up to $80,000 pay no tuition at all, a tuition break that extends even to illegal aliens.

It is certainly true that state funding has not kept up with enrollment growth, leading UC to freeze much faculty hiring and eliminate courses. But UC’s leaders continue to expect the state to bail them out. They shilled heavily for Governor Brown’s successful November 2012 ballot measure to raise approximately $6 billion a year in new taxes, calling it the only alternative to avoiding further tuition increases and cuts in core functions. Given the still-perilous condition of the state’s finances, however, the chance that taxpayer funding will be restored to the level to which UC feels entitled is zero.

If the university doesn’t engage in internal reform, the primary victim will be UC One, that still-powerful engine of learning and progress. The first necessary reform: axing the diversity infrastructure. UC Two has yet to produce a scintilla of proof that faculty or administrator bias is holding professors or students back. Accordingly, every vice chancellor, assistant dean, and associate provost for equity, inclusion, and multicultural awareness should be fired and his staff sent home. Faculty committees dedicated to ameliorating the effects of phantom racism, sexism, and homophobia should be disbanded and the time previously wasted on such senseless pursuits redirected to the classroom. Campus climate checks, sensitivity training, annual diversity sub-reports—all should go. Hiring committees should be liberated from the thrall of diversity mandates; UC’s administrators should notify department chairs that they will henceforth be treated like adults and trusted to choose the very best candidates they can find. Federal and state regulators, unfortunately, will still require the compiling of “diversity” data, but staff time dedicated to such mandates should be kept to a minimum.

UC should also start honoring California’s constitution and eliminate race and gender preferences in faculty appointments and student admissions. The evidence is clear: admitting students on the basis of skin color rather than skills hurts their chances for academic success. And by jettisoning double standards in student selection, UC can significantly shrink its support-services bureaucracy.

Some useful reforms at UC are only loosely related to its obsession with “diversity.” For example, one of the university’s reigning fictions is that it is a unified system of equal campuses, efficiently managed from the Office of the President. That conceit is false and results in enormous waste. The campuses should be cut free from central oversight to the greatest extent possible and allowed to govern themselves, including setting their own tuition. Local boards should oversee the campuses, as recommended in a 2012 paper by Berkeley’s outgoing chancellor, Robert Birgeneau; its provost, George Breslauer; and researcher Judson King. The regents “want to do the right thing and they behave as if they know what’s going on,” says Larry Hershman, who oversaw UC’s budget from 1978 to 2004, “but they can’t possibly understand the details of a $22 billion budget.” (In fairness to the regents, UC’s budget is opaque to all but the deepest insiders, and UC’s administrators have a history of deliberately keeping the regents in the dark about such matters as cushy executive pay packages.) John Moores, an entrepreneur and owner of the San Diego Padres, served as chairman of the regents in the 2000s. “I cannot imagine less oversight over an organization that size,” he says. “Our meeting agendas, which were controlled by the administration, were set up to celebrate the university’s various (and generally well-deserved) achievements. But there was never anything that looked like regental oversight.”

The behemoth Office of the President should be put on a starvation diet. With a budget of well over a quarter-billion dollars and a staff of more than 1,500 people, it is the equivalent of a small college—without faculty or students. It “absorbs a staggering amount of money,” says UCLA astronomer Matt Malkan, “but no one can figure out what it actually does except consume the research overheads from our grants.” Administrators at the stronger campuses chafe under its make-work demands. The Office of the President “messes in things that it has no knowledge of,” says former UCLA chancellor Charles Young. The office is the main engine of UC’s socialist redistribution mechanism, however, so while the flagship campuses are eager to jettison it, the weaker ones see it as protection against market forces.

A 2007 effort to reorganize the office accomplished little, and postrecession personnel cuts, achieved in part by foisting its administrators on local campuses, have been window dressing. (Asked for the job titles that have been recently eliminated and those that remain, spokesman Dianne Klein responds: “Such information isn’t readily available.”) Ongoing decentralization efforts have stalled. UC San Francisco and UCLA’s business school have sought to become more financially self-supporting but have been blocked by howls about “privatization.”

So far, UC’s students have borne the brunt of the system’s budget problems. Whenever the state legislature sends UC less money than it thinks it deserves, its response is to boost tuition. By comparison, the faculty have been relatively unharmed, aside from the occasional salary freeze. Faculty positions have been eliminated through attrition, but the professors who remain haven’t been asked to teach more to make up for the loss—so students face more crowded classrooms and greater difficulty enrolling in the courses needed for their major.

Despite the rapid growth in the bureaucracy, the faculty is still the largest single fixed cost at UC (as at other research universities); asking them to teach more is an obvious way to boost productivity in the face of reduced funding. The average teaching load at UC is four one-quarter courses a year; some professors work out deals that allow them to teach even less. By contrast, at California State University—also public but less prestigious than UC—the faculty may teach four lecture courses a semester and are paid about half as much as at UC.

Some professors readily acknowledge that they have “the best deal in the world,” in the words of Berkeley political scientist Jack Citrin. Some, however, threaten to decamp at the mere mention of more time in the undergraduate classroom, and the regents and UC administration appear to back them in their opposition. Complicating the already thorny question of the proper balance between research and teaching is the widespread conflation of the sciences and the humanities. In the hard sciences, the line between teaching and research is less sharp. A graduate student who works in a professor’s audiology lab is learning from him no less than if the professor were lecturing before him; the professor is teaching even as he does research. But the faculty member who churns out another paper on de-gendered constructions of postcolonial sexuality is probably doing it solo.

Even in the sciences, however, there may come a point of diminishing returns to investment. “No one has ever asked the fundamental question: ‘How much research should Californians be supporting at UC?,’ ” Steve Weiner observes. The assumption, he says, has always been that there can never be enough research and that therefore, each of the ten campuses should become world-class research institutions, with faculties equally absolved from teaching duties. That assumption will have to change.

The university could further save on faculty costs by encouraging students to take introductory courses at a community college or online. (Governor Brown began pushing UC in this direction, as well as toward higher faculty course loads, in early 2013.) If it’s true that undergraduates at a research university benefit from being taught by professors at the cutting edge of knowledge, they do so mostly in the final stages of their degree. Industrial-strength freshman courses don’t require instruction by the author of a field’s standard textbook. A 20-year-old Chinese engineering major at UC Irvine, paying $30,000 a year in nonresident tuition, says ruefully: “It’s too late now, but had I known more, I would have started out at a junior college.”

As for tuition, all UC students should contribute something toward their education, no matter their income level. And students’ tuition money should fund their own education, not other students’. Currently, one-third of all tuition supports financial aid. This cross-subsidy drives up the price for those paying their own way. Instead, financial aid should be funded directly by the legislature (or by donors), so that decisions about how much aid to offer are transparent and taxpayers know the cost of their subsidy.

The UC undergraduates whom I met in 2012 were serious, self-directed, and mature. But they are ill-served by a system that devotes so many resources to political trivia. UC Two’s diversity obsessions have no place in an institution dedicated to the development of knowledge. No one today asks whether the Berkeley physics laboratory that developed the cyclotron had a sufficient quota of women and underrepresented minorities; the beneficiaries of nuclear medicine are simply happy to be treated.

The retirement of President Yudof in summer 2013 provides an opportunity for an overdue course correction. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that anyone will seize it. Every potential countervailing force to UC Two has already been captured by UC Two’s own ideology. The California legislature is as strong an advocate for specious social-justice crusades as any vice chancellor for equity and inclusion. The regents have been unanimous cheerleaders for “diversity” and will run all presidential candidates through a predictable gauntlet of diversity interrogation. For more than a decade, the federal government has used its grant-making power to demand color- and gender-driven hiring in the sciences. UC One’s passion for discovery and learning will fuel it for a long time yet, but it will continue to be weakened severely by UC Two.


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