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Charles Hale, Katharyne Mitchell, Bill Maurer: Racial (in)justice and the UC budget crisis
Guest Commentary

Charles Hale, Katharyne Mitchell, Bill Maurer: Racial (in)justice and the UC budget crisis

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The UC student population now mirrors the racial and ethnic demographics of our state, with 63% of the admitted students in the class of 2024 who identify as Latinx, Asian American, Black or Pacific Islander. This diversity makes the UC a powerful engine of upward mobility and a potential brake on the trend toward deepening economic inequality.

While the budget crunch brought on by the pandemic is not likely to reverse this positive demographic trajectory, we fear that it could lead our university to fail to deliver on the soaring hopes for social mobility that this progress has raised.

Just as students of color – thanks to the hard work and struggles of their families and allies – have secured their place in the UC System, the conditions for their success could be denied. The percentage of the UC budget supported by state funds has declined steadily over the past decade, at a rate precisely inverse to the percentage of non-white students enrolled.

Students will continue to take classes and even graduate on time; but as budgets shrink the value of their degrees will erode. The racial dimension of the decline will not be lost on anyone.

This problem reverberates with special urgency in the Social Sciences for three reasons.

First, we live with a long-term disproportionate resource deficit in relation to the STEM side of our respective campuses. For example, a 2018 study at UC Santa Barbara highlighted a disturbing gap between faculty-student ratios in the Social Sciences, in relation to campus averages. We do not begrudge our STEM colleagues for making claims on scarce resources, and we affirm the many tenets of higher education excellence that we all have in common. Still, these disparities result from choices that demand greater scrutiny, based on transparent budgetary data – especially when the equity principle is at stake.

Second, Social Science faculty teach disproportionate numbers of underrepresented minorities, first generation and low-income students, who stand to benefit most from UC’s engine of upward mobility. At UC Santa Cruz, for example, the campus average for underrepresented minority students is 36%, while it is 42% in the Social Sciences; the campus average for first generation students is 34%, but 39% for the Social Sciences.

Third, the convergence of resource deficit with a disproportionate number of these students in the Social Sciences sends the message that the future of our units (together with those in the Humanities and Fine Arts) is as “teaching service providers” rather than as researchers who produce knowledge crucial to addressing the most intractable societal problems.

A cruel irony follows from all three factors: just as our students begin to call the UC home, the mortgage on their house has gone into default.

This problem in the making can and must be resolved, turning our lenses inward, to analyze these troubling trends within our own university system and across the country. We must:

Train a bright light on the budgetary priorities that our universities set, and that the state Legislature thrusts upon us;

Uphold the highest pedagogic standards, making sure that budgetary distress neither lowers the quality of a UC education, nor affects some areas of campus more than others;

Say a definitive “no” to reductions of core instructional resources that force us below the threshold of educational excellence; and,

Face the reality that the funding model for higher education, for UC and across the country, faces a profound crisis that precedes COVID-19 by two decades.

The problem that we highlight is a call to conscience and action, which builds on the protests of last summer. If decades of work to advance racial justice are put aside in the name of a budgetary crisis, when protests come again pledges of solidarity will be rejected as empty promises. We must act energetically now, in defense of the foundational principles – including social mobility and racial justice – that made the UC the greatest public university in the land.

Charles Hale is dean of social sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, crhale@ucsb.edu. Katharyne Mitchell is dean of social sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, kmitch@ucsc.edu. Bill Maurer is dean of social sciences at the University of California, Irvine, wmmaurer@uci.edu.

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