Texans, co-ops and socialists

Three seemingly disparate topics provide a Berkeley perspective into the future of higher education.

Roman Zhuk

The roots of our ills We like to make fun of Texas here. The people there speak funny. And âÄúDubyaâÄù was from Texas. What is there to like? Well, a lot, it seems, at least judging by the fact that Texas is one of the states that people are moving to, in the aggregate, while theyâÄôre moving out of California. The California dream is dying under the weight of its own short-sightedness. Despite having similar demographics to the Golden State and thus similar challenges, TexasâÄô public services have improved tremendously in the last 15 or 20 years. It would be wishful thinking to suggest the same about California. Texas has an unemployment rate 4 percent below ours, showing its low-tax, low-regulation, limited-government aid agenda works. CaliforniaâÄôs schools and roads are falling apart, and [CaliforniaâÄôs] credit rating has gone out the window. (All whining aside, the University of California system, with its autonomy and strong ability to attract private funding, does a lot better than many other public services that lack similar capacity.) In these rainiest of days, the Texas Senate unanimously passed a budget that actually sets aside money into a rainy-day fund. LetâÄôs not even mention what happens in Sacramento with the budget. The Economist has done a good job covering the dichotomy between these states. The Lone Star StateâÄôs public services lag behind CaliforniaâÄôs in many areas. But it spends a significantly larger portion of its budget on items that serve society at large âÄî transportation and education being prime examples âÄî not special interests. What do they spend less on? Entitlements to retired public-service workers and compensation to current ones. One of the downsides of having huge government is the creation of a class of mandarins that constitutes a significant and active voting bloc in and of itself. They frustrate any attempts at reforming a retirement system more generous than any other stateâÄôs âÄî at least 9,000 former public servants earn retirement pay over $100,000. This is not about taking away benefits that have been earned, but about changing future entitlements to allow California a chance at fiscal solvency. There are basically two camps on the UC-Berkeley campus regarding the budget cuts âÄî the far-left, anti-UC Board of Regents activists and the pro-establishment reasonable folks who call for complaints to be redirected to Sacramento and the apathetic. The problem with the âÄúcentristsâÄù position is that Sacramento only has one option for increasing UC funding âÄî raising taxes. As IâÄôve pointed out before, California is already one of the most highly taxed states. We need to look at the root causes of [CaliforniaâÄôs] insolvency that render it incapable of funding engines of growth such as transportation infrastructure and higher education. A good place to start would be re-examining whether market conditions truly justify the extravagant manner in which we treat our public service workers. A sweetheart deal I like co-ops. I really do. Dens of debauchery some of them may be, co-ops provide low-cost housing for students, they promote social interaction and theyâÄôre fun. None of these things, however, justify why UC-Berkeley ought to subsidize them. As you may have read or seen on Facebook, outraged denizens of Rochdale Apartments are complaining that the university [Berkeley] may renegotiate their lease agreement for the land on which the co-op stands. Sounds fine; nobody wants their rent increased, right? Well, the university [Berkeley] currently leases the land for $1 a year. With sales tax, I spend more on my daily McChicken. As a result, rents at Rochdale are as low as $3,600 a year. Co-ops are cheaper due to their nature, but the university [Berkeley] is substantially subsidizing the residents by not charging Rochdale something close to the landâÄôs market value. Rochdale supporters will respond that most residents are low income. But middle-class students who pay full tuition for themselves are already seeing their fee dollars (a full third of the impending fee hike) redistributed into financial aid for other students, including those same low-income Rochdale residents. How not to run a movement A UC Berkeley political science class ought to be a favorable arena for leftists to promote their views. But what transpired in one encapsulates how the movement against fee hikes, run by the far left, is an exercise in organizing incompetence. Two girls come into my class, invited by the professor to give a presentation. One of the girls wears a T-shirt reading âÄúSocialist Organizer.âÄù Error No. 1: If youâÄôre trying to convince people to join you, you might not want to make such blatant sartorial attacks on the basis of the society they live in. I thought IâÄôd be alone in challenging their demonstrably wrong information. Instead, this happened to be a well-informed class where numerous other students jumped in to question their claims. What is their response? Start talking about everything but the issue at hand. Mentioned were illegal-immigrant students, prison policy, health care, the war and the market economy. By the end of the rant, it seemed as if there was not a single student who was not alienated in some way: error No. 2. Exasperated, our comrade says condescendingly something to the effect of âÄúI know you guys are into making money and the stock market and stuff, but I believe education should be free.âÄù Because if youâÄôre not a greedy careerist, you must join her cause. Insulting your audience: error No. 3. Strikeout. Compare all this to how the most left-wing candidate in living memory was elected to the White House in a relative landslide just a year ago âÄî a campaign marked by remarkable discipline and unity of message. This column was originally published in The Daily Californian at the University of California, Berkeley.