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Who said privatization was bad?

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APRIL 23, 2012

If you don’t live under a rock — that is to say, if you don’t have classes exclusively in Evans Hall — then you’ve probably been following our campus’s perennial protests against tuition hikes. For years, demonstrators have rallied on Sproul Plaza, occupied buildingsvandalized landmarks and disrupted regents meetings in the name of fighting against the privatization of the University of California.

Indeed, “privatization” has been one of the movement’s favorite buzzwords, used to conjure up images of a conspiracy by the corporatist regents to rob every student of their last penny. Perhaps the clearest manifestation of the slogan’s popularity is the UC Movement for Efficient Privatization. As a satirical subdivision of the demonstrators, UCMeP’s website sarcastically calls for “the swift and efficient privatization of the University of California.”

It seems as if every apparition of this buzzword carries the same underlying assumption­ that privatization is evil. But this fundamentally stands in conflict with how we live our everyday lives. After all, most of the goods and services we buy and use are private, as markets provide for food, clothing, shelter and technology in an incredibly efficient manner. So, what makes education so exceptional?

Every intelligent Cal student should examine the presumptions being barked from that ever-so-annoying megaphone on Sproul Plaza before jumping on the protest bandwagon. Namely, why would the privatization of our University of California, Berkeley necessarily be a bad thing?

Having read my question, dear reader, you may think that I’ve radically gone off my rocker. Perhaps I have. This article ends my two-semester tenure as the Daily Cal’s political columnist, after all. So, I figured I could either finish with another sappy, self-congratulatory column about free speech or go out with a bang. Fortunately, for your entertainment I’ve chosen the latter. As music legend Neil Young once crooned, “It’s better to burn out than fade away.”

Let’s burn this bitch.

The root of stigma surrounding privatization is the assumption that tuition at an autonomous UC would be astronomically higher without public funding. After all, 28 percent of UC Berkeley’s budget comes from California state support. Without this source, opponents would argue, our campus’s operating costs would be shifted onto students in the form of higher tuition.

However, empirical evidence suggests otherwise. There are many private universities in America today that are both cheaper to attend than UC Berkeley and just as academically excellent. A recent article by the Bay Area News Group, for example, found that “a family of four — married parents, a high-school senior and a 14-year-old child — making $130,000 a year” would spend $17,000 to send their child to Harvard, compared to $19,500 at UC Berkeley.  The same goes for Princeton, Williams College and Yale.

Granted, many of these elite universities enjoy enormous endowments that make our $3.15 billion pale in comparison. But, at the same time, UC Berkeley as a larger school doubtlessly has a larger alumni network to tap into. Ironically, one of the greatest discouragements for alumni donating to our school today is precisely its public funding. After all, a Cal alumnus residing in-state may figure that he or she is already “donating” through taxes, so why ring up the bill even higher?

Fortunately, our campus has repeatedly proven that it can count on private donors to make up for lost state funding. Not only has UC Berkeley stepped up its donation solicitations over the past few years, raking in $283.35 million in 2011, but major campus programs have also been made and saved by private funds. The newly opened Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences was constructed primarily by private funds, with only $53 million of the project’s $257 million total coming from the state.

Furthermore, Cal’s baseballrugby, women’s gymnastics and women’s lacrosse teams were saved from elimination last year precisely by such philanthropy. So why exactly couldn’t a private UC Berkeley, as one of the world’s most respected institutions of higher education, find more sources to make up for state slashes without shifting the costs to students?

All right, it’s about time I take off my trollface. I ultimately don’t think that a private UC Berkeley would or should be a reality anytime soon, mostly because abandoning the university’s public mission for “Undergraduate programs (to be) available to all eligible California high-school graduates and community college transfer students” would be a breach of contract with taxpayers. However, as our campus continues to face cuts from a bankrupt state, we should embrace philanthropy for reinvigorating UC Berkeley in its time of trouble instead of shunning it with delusions of privatization.

One instance of shunning in my mind is the stigma surrounding out-of-state students. As fellow Daily Cal writer and Vermont resident Jordon Bach-Lombardo explained in a January article, many “voices preach that out-of-state students steal places in university classrooms from deserving Californian students.” Unfortunately, this xenophobia is only bound to increase with the UC Office of the President having announcing last week that out-of-state admissions increased by five percent for the incoming freshman class.

Such interstate hate is both discourteous and hypocritical. It is discourteous in the sense that out-of-state students pay more than double than in-state students do to attend our university, thus subsidizing the education of us Californians. It is hypocritical in the sense that many of the same people who would defend illegal immigrants’ rights to participate in our state’s social programs are suddenly decrying the same situation when a different class of foreigners wants to attend public schools reserved for “real Californians.”

Rather, we should welcome students, immigrants and investors willing to bring their labor, talents and wallets to the Golden State. Because if our university can survive its current budget-cutting catastrophe, it will more likely be through the private investment and innovation that make markets thrive than the public petitioning of a bankrupt state that could care less.

Contact Casey Given at 


APRIL 23, 2012