Media Coverage 5/1

While the press cheered the nonviolent nature of Thursday’s protests, commentators characterized recent events as signaling the decline of free speech on campuses. Meanwhile, a scathing audit by the state on UCOP’s finances raised questions about whether recent tuition hikes were necessary. Calling to mind disagreements over an earlier state audit concerning non-resident enrollment, UCOP pushed back against the report’s findings, calling them misleading and over-the-top. Say what you will about university rankings, but for a bit of good news, Berkeley leads the nation for balancing excellence and affordability, according to a report by Forbes.

In her report, State Auditor Elaine Howle said UCOP has hidden $175 million in reserves while also lavishly compensating employees. She further says UCOP attempted to interfere in the audit by screening employee responses to questions. UC President Janet Napolitano countered with a lengthy rebuttal, noting that the reserve fund is not secret and that the majority of the figure Howle cites is already committed to campus and student services. Napolitano also said the screening of responses was intended to ensure accuracy.

Thursday’s protests, spurred by an on-again-off-again appearance by Ann Coulter (which, in the end, was off), were largely peaceful, though police did arrest students on campus. The tone of media coverage ranged from relief due to the absence of violence, to scorn at Berkeley for dishonoring its free speech legacy, to pity for a campus caught up in a debate that has little to do with the university.

UCOP Audit

4/25 – UC kept secret $175 million reserve as it raised tuition, state audit finds (SacBee): The Bee quotes lawmakers who are critical of UCOP:

Yet Assemblymen Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, and Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, said all options are on the table. The lawmakers, who chair the Assembly Budget Committee and the panel’s education subcommittee, jointly requested the audit last August to determine if growth in staffing and spending at the Office of the President resulted in savings for campuses or duplicated work.

At a press conference, Ting and McCarty lambasted the office’s $175 million in reserves as exemplary of UC’s “mission creep” away from its primary focus on serving students. They said the money would be better redirected toward opening new enrollment slots, especially as the university returns to the Capitol each year seeking more funding.

4/25 – Press Release: UC responds to state audit report on University of California Office of the President (UCOP): The press release rebuts the audit and notes:

Just a week before the state audit report was released, three ratings agencies — Moody’s, Fitch and Standard and Poor’s — reaffirmed UC’s AA rating. Said S&P’s RatingsDirect report, “UC is sophisticated in many aspects of its financial operations, including debt and capital management, budgeting and forecasts, and centralizing expenses, which has helped maintain rating stability through the economic volatility of the past few years.”

4/5 – Letter: Napolitano’s response to a draft of Howle’s report (UCOP): Napolitano notes the $175 figure is exaggerated, and says the accurate size of the reserve fund is $38 million, which she calls a prudent size for the organization.

Also see a detailed point-by-point critique here.

4/5 – Letter: Regents’ response to a draft of Howle’s report (UCOP): The Regents take aim at a recommendation that the Legislature directly appropriate funds for UCOP, which, the governing board argues, would undermine UC’s independence.

4/27 – Big changes are needed at UC — starting with the Kool-Aid-drinking Board of Regents (LATimes): The Times has further criticism from lawmakers:

I hope the University of California is not tone deaf,” says Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, a moderate Republican from Contra Costa County. She’s vice chairwoman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. “I’m deeply troubled by this very damning report. And I say that as an alumnus of the UC Berkeley law school. It’s very easy to pile on. We should give UC a chance to respond. And it better be good.”

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount), who sits on the UC Board of Regents, says, “We need really, really honest and straightforward answers.”

“A lot of things bother me” about the report, Rendon says, especially “charges that the UC president’s staff was obstructing the audit. That shows a tremendous need for more legislative oversight.”

Berkeley Protests

4/30 – Left, right Berkeley protesters display civility along with signs (SFChronicle): The article argues that the two opposing protest camps share a lot in common.

4/29 – Column: Berkeley a punching bag for angry people of all ideologies (SFChronicle): The sardonic column notes that Berkeley has become a symbol for every side to scapegoat:

Recent headlines should remind us Californians of yet another way we are lucky. Our state has the world’s best scapegoat: you.

You — our most distinguished public university and all the people, institutions and neighborhoods surrounding it — serve as a punching bag for angry people of all manner of ideological preoccupations. The right and the center can pin all of California’s liberal sins, real and imagined, on you. The left sees a reactionary threat in everything, from police action on or near campus, to the presence of law Professor John Yoo, who justified torture under President George W. Bush.

Yes, California as a whole takes a lot of critical blows. But can you imagine how much more bloodied the rest of our state would be if we didn’t have you around to absorb so much abuse? In recent months, as a furious world chokes on its own populist vomit, it’s been deeply reassuring to see you play your familiar role as California’s sacrificial lamb.

4/29 – Column: Ann Coulter gives readers another reason to bash Berkeley (LATimes): The article cites a variety of opinions on the matter from readers.

4/29 – Column: Berkeley, free speech and college campuses. The one thing that will change the game (FoxNews): The conservative outlet frames the episode as an instance of “progressive intolerance,” while pinning he blame for potential violence on the left.

4/27 – Column: Berkeley Forgets Its Purpose (NationalReview): The column argues that Berkeley is more interested in serving its brand and creating the next cadre of liberal elites to value free speech or a true education.

But don’t forget…

4/30 – UC Berkeley Ranked As Best-Value College In Forbes Report (CBS): UCLA came in at #2.

 

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