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.

 

Media Coverage 04/24/17

Ann Coulter’s insistence on speaking in the Berkeley area on Thursday, April 27 has raised fears of another violent political clash on UC Berkeley’s campus. The conservative commentator was invited to speak on campus by a student Republican group, which failed to inform the administration of their invitation. After campus leaders got wind of the invite, they insisted the organization and Coulter agree to a number of conditions aimed at preventing a repeat of the riot which stopped Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus. Eventually, the administration cancelled the April 27 event, offering to host the speaker at a later date.

The cancellation was criticized by the student group and across right wing media outlets, which repeatedly questioned the campus’s commitment to free speech. Prof. Robert Reich, who has a following on the left, also waded into the fray, saying Coulter should be allowed to speak. The university insisted Coulter was being allowed to speak, but that moving the date would allow her to do so safely. Coulter rejected the later date, saying it would not work for her schedule and she had committed to April 27. Since the Yiannopoulos event, the city of Berkeley has been the scene of violent clashes between supporters of President Donald Trump and those opposed to the administration, many of whom identify as Antifa, or anti-fascists. Some media reports have noted there is an effort to find a nearby off-campus venue for Coulter to use on April 27. The student Republican group has stated it may sue the university over the incident. On the lighter side, the controversy was lampooned by the satirical website The Onion, which ran the headline, “Berkeley Campus On Lockdown After Loose Pages From ‘Wall Street Journal’ Found On Park Bench.”

In other news, an audit by the state questioned the management of the California State University system. The report found that between fiscal years 2007-08 and 2015-16, the number of managers grew by 15 percent while the number of faculty rose by only 7 percent. It also raises questions about how managers are evaluated and compensated. UC’s finances are also in the news, as a digital overhaul of UC’s payroll and personnel system entitled UCPath has seen four years of delays and costs triple.

News Articles

4/21 – How Berkeley has become the far left’s and far right’s battleground (WaPo): The article notes how UC Berkeley and the City of Berkeley have become sites for frequent clashes between activists on both ends of the political spectrum, though its discussion of the far left conflates distinct movements. It notes targeting campuses is often a successful strategy for the right:

The showdowns are, for many on the far right, part of a successful strategy: schedule a controversial event on campus or in town, wait for the liberal outrage and threats of violence to grow, and when the event is canceled, point out the hypocrisy and oppression against free speech.

4/21 – Berkeley Is Being Tested on 2 Fronts: Free Speech and Safety (NYT): The article frames the campus’s weighing of free speech, violence and its reputation.

4/20 – How Berkeley became a hotbed of violence in the Trump era (Politico): Politico takes a deep look at the recent eruptions in Berkeley and what’s motivating protestors.

4/20 – Satire: Berkeley Campus On Lockdown After Loose Pages From ‘Wall Street Journal’ Found On Park Bench (TheOnion): The satirical website wrote:

Advising students to remain in their dormitories and classrooms until the situation was resolved, the University of California, Berkeley declared a campuswide lockdown Thursday after several loose pages from The Wall Street Journal were found on a park bench outside a school building. “At 11:15 this morning, several pages from two separate sections of today’s Wall Street Journal were discovered spread across a bench outside of Eshleman Hall in Lower Sproul Plaza,” read the urgent alert sent to all students and faculty, emphasizing that while campus security and local police had safely disposed of the pages, there was no way of knowing if others were strewn elsewhere on university grounds. “As of now, the perpetrator remains at large, so it is vital that you stay where you are until the all-clear is given. In the meantime, notify police immediately if you have any additional information at all regarding this incident.” At press time, a black-clad group of 50 students were throwing bottles at the bench while chanting, “No Nazis, No KKK, No Fascist U.S.A!”

4/20 – Cal State hires too many managers, needs better budget oversight, state audit finds (LATimes): The article notes Cal Poly was singled out as a particularly bad apple. According to the article, the campus “increased pay for at least 70 management personnel in 2016 who either had outdated performance evaluations or no evaluations on file.”

You can read the audit here.

4/17 – Cost triples, delays mount for UC computer system upgrade (SacBee): A total of $327 million has been spent on the project so far, which is only operational at UC’s system headquarters.

 

Media Coverage 04/02/17

A ruling on March 23 by the European Patent Office is good news for Berkeley. According to Science, the office ruled in Berkeley’s favor concerning a fight over licensing rights to the technology popularly known as CRISPR, announcing its intent to grant Berkeley a patent covering all of the technology’s applications. In February, the US Patent and Trademark Office ruled that Berkeley would have to share a patent for the gene-editing technology with the MIT and Harvard-affiliated Broad Institute. A Berkeley scientist, Jennifer Doudna, and her collaborator were the first to use the technology to edit the genes of prokaryotic cells. Shortly after, a scientist at the Broad Institute used the technology on eukaryotic cells, the type of cells found in animals and plants. Berkeley had asked the US Patent and Trademark Office to deny the Broad Institute’s application for a patent, but the office ruled the Broad application’s more narrow definition, which only covers the use of the technology in eukaryotic cells, could stand. The Berkeley application, which is still under review in the US, will apply to CRISPR technology more widely. As a result, any revenue from medical applications in the US, which is speculated to be in the billions of dollars, would likely be shared between the two patent holders. Science reports the Broad Institute is likely to challenge the European ruling, which would cover the technology’s use in about 40 countries, while Berkeley is also likely to continue fighting the US ruling.

In other news, the UC system saw its first drop in applications from international students in 12 years, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The article argues that the one percent drop from last year is driven by the election of President Donald Trump, noting that the decrease in applications from Mexico and nations with large Muslim populations were 30 and 10 percent, respectively. In The Atlantic, a right-leaning writer wrote a lengthy piece criticizing UC for spending $1 million on its investigation into misconduct by former UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. Also, a planned visit to Berkeley by Ann Coulter has raised fears of violent protests. The event is co-sponsored by an organization that promotes discussion across the political spectrum.

3/27 – Europe says University of California deserves broad patent for CRISPR (Science): The article quotes a patent expert who advocates for the two sides to work out a deal. According to the article:

Cook-Deegan (from Arizona State) long has advocated that the public would benefit most if UC and the Broad reached a peace treaty and agreed to share, through what’s known as a cross-license agreement, in the CRISPR spoils. The new decision, he says, “further emphasizes the need for a cross-licensing deal, so folks can have some sense of what they can do and sell without getting sued, and from whom they need to get licenses.”

You can read UC Berkeley’s press release on the matter here. To brush up on the February ruling, click here for coverage from the LA Times.

4/1 – UC sees 1st drop in international applicants in more than decade (SF Chronicle): The article notes there is a precedent for US foreign policy impacting international applications:

The last time undergraduates from around the world shied away from UC, the United States had just led a multinational invasion of Iraq in 2003. The war coincided with a plunge in international interest in UC campuses and other American universities in 2004 and 2005 that even post-9/11 security crackdowns had failed to achieve.

3/31 – Commentary: Spending $1 Million to Get Rid of a Single Bureaucrat (The Atlantic): The right-leaning author recounts the Katehi story and criticizes UC for spending $1 million on its investigation.

3/29 – Planned Ann Coulter Visit To UC Berkeley Has Organizers Fearing Another Backlash (CBS): The article notes concerns that the event will result in protests similar to those which prevented right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus.

Curious how the right-wing media is covering the Coulter news? Here’s a link to Breitbart’s take, which focuses on the violence which prevented Yiannopoulos (a former Breitbart editor) from speaking. Surprisingly, the article, much like UC Berkeley, seems to blame the violence not on students but outsider groups. The article also notes UC Berkeley’s history in the Free Speech Movement.