PREAMBLE: In Tagore’s wonderful story, “The King and the Beggar, the beggar, surprised that the King asked him for something, knowing he had nothing to give, groped his sack for his tiniest possession, a grain of wheat. He later discovered he had a grain of gold and learned a meaningful lesson of generosity. I would like to believe this story is true, but in this parable, all grains, be it of wheat or of gold, would quickly be drained away.
And the beggar came forth with a lesson for the king
The phone rang and from the corner of my eye I caught a familiar ID. I picked it up. Hello, said the voice, I am calling from UCSD Alumni. Are you…?
The flow of the conversation took an unusual route, in spite of the cordial tone. I was about to say… “Sorry, I am busy” when I noticed the purpose of the call was to ask me to donate one thousand dollars.
The audacity pulled me in. I wanted to hear it again. “What did you say?”
One thousand dollars! (I said to myself.) The girl rushed her next line… had she read my mind and figured I was about to take over? “Or would you like to give 500, you may say where it goes. I see that your PhD is in Literature, do you teach…?
“Don´t get me started”, I warned. “I know this is your job and that you’re probably a student struggling to graduate…”
She tried to interject, to go back to her script, still managing to list the reasons for her attempt “to raise funds…” She was a warrior! “The libraries are closing; undergraduate students cannot afford tuition or books, and fall deeper and deeper into debt, unable to take the classes needed as the campuses are cutting classes, to the bare bones.”
And do I know that? This coming fall the textbooks for my daughter, struggling to complete her first two years of community college, add up to seven hundred dollars. My son starts his new job and career this August with a huge deficit that will take him years to deal with. I still have a huge debt myself, like Eréndira, in that famous story of Gabriel García Marquez. How could the UC reach out to me, the nerve!
Yes, I had something to say!
The qualities I look for in a University are basically three: excellent libraries, a diverse student body, and a strong faculty selected by open calls and competition and not through cronyism and nepotism. Done with the categories? Yes!
But the truth is far from my visions. Looking at the UC is so deceiving it wouldn’t be hard for at least one of the thirty Regents –to include two presidents, a secretary and a treasurer of the UC Alumni Associations- to figure out why I would not donate to that sinking ship, out of principle, not even the change in my pockets.
The system devotes three million dollars annually to pamper its ten chancellors with salaries that are higher than the salary of the President of the United States. To replace Chancellor Marye Anne Fox of UC San Diego, Pradeep Khosla was lured into the position with an increment of 4.8 per cent the pay of his predecessor. To the average US worker 4.8 seems reasonable, but not when the salary nears the 400 thousands.
I moved ten years ago –most junior faculty do, at their own expense, several times before they land a tenured position-. I paid my rent, my deposit, the U-Haul like any normal person would. Eight years before that another relocation took me to Arizona –same thing; packing frenzy, U-Haul, friends and more friends offering their support-. I could have used a little extra money in order not to squeeze in the added costs to an already meager budget; two or three hundred dollars would have been a miracle. Isn’t that how it goes? Heck no! Mr. Pardeep gets a relocation allowance of 100 thousand, a year’s salary for a professor of the ranks, to cover for his moving expenses! At 400 thousand per annum, moving at the expense of the taxpayers, the parents, and the students he is called to serve seems immoral. Is anybody out there outraged by this state of affairs, like I am?
Deans at the UC System have nothing to envy from a Chancellor or a Vice Chancellor, a group that triples that of Chancellor with salaries in the ranges of the 300 thousands. The highest paying Dean at the UC System is an MD who picks up nearly 700 thousand every year. The numbers are so high even the recent cuts, chopping off their “extra pay”, leave them with salaries inconceivably high.
Where did Academia go?
The highest salary for a professor –with no special assignment other than to teach, do research and pay service to the university- hardly surpasses the 100 thousands, leaving professors underpaid in a system that relies heavily on part time workers. Underpaid professors and their also underpaid part time associates, make up a third of the University’s payroll, as per a generous headcount that adds to this group administrators holding an academic degree.
The three largest campuses LA, Davis and San Diego, show the following ratio: 10,721 out of 41,773 employees, in UCLA; 8,332 of 29, 080, in Davis, and 8016 of 27391, in San Diego; And while academics are at 1 to 4 versus administrators and staff, on paper, the numbers change considerably when you look at only those academics with full time tenured jobs. Here is that ratio; 1 tenured academic in 25 employees, at UCLA and San Diego and 1 every 26 at Davis. The salary distribution amidst all university employees is as unequal as it is irrationally high for those on top. And the benefits –like the relocation allowance, and all the perks of top administrators- simply not there!
In all truth, the group of “academics” includes a peculiar work force acting as a reserve, adding pressure on the Faculty. That force constitutes the exploited of the system, having no benefits or contract, and thus legal protection. The effects on the academic labor market are such that the part timers play against themselves as they subsidize, with their partially free labor (while doing the same work as the professors of the ranks) precisely the salaries of expensive administrations. I was in this category myself for six years. As a graduate student, I taught classes as a regular professor, making half of the lowest salary. My debt grew, annually to make up for the missing half, at the rate of five to six thousand dollars per quarter.
With libraries closing or kept open less hours; with zero diversity caused among other reasons by skyrocketing fees, and with professors existing more like one in the list of endangered species, what is there to salvage through my donation? And what strong leadership quality strikes a chord in the Regents to turn students into Modern Day beggars, calling for help at large to squeeze yet a few more thousand dollars from the community they have it as mission to serve. I promised the girl it would pay better service to students, like her; to faculty, to the shrinking libraries if more people like me wrote about these painful matters. No fear!
I know it sounds like no dialogue took place, only me, rejecting the good will and better offices of the Alumni Association of UC San Diego. No! The caller insisted till the end, and having gone from 1000 to 25 dollars, she gave up, cordially, thanking my kindness.
Information obtained for this text comes from the following sources:
Photo and Text/Fotografía y textos © María Dolores Bolívar
This March (2014), the experience repeated itself. The phone, the voice, the request for my donation. For that reason I decided to republish this text of August 6, 2012, inspired by the first call. To corroborate that the educational model is that of soliciting donations to the alumni irritated me, considering the large sums are budget commits to raise the salaries of administrators.
Welcome to my blog. I currently freelance for local journals, the weekly Enlace and Vida Latina the publications in Spanish of The San Diego Union Tribune; and I contribute to the Online Journals Peregrinos y sus Letras and Opera Mundi. I am director and editor of Olas Civiles, a weekly, refereed electronic journal (currently in a recess).
Olas Civiles is home to 17 writers, painters, photographers, musicians and special guests. Participating with us are designers, illustrators and an advisory board of five members. and an Editorial Sub-Director. To publish a journal entails discipline, persistence and, above all, many hours of unpaid or poorly paid work. Journalism, nonetheless, is not just a trade or a profession, but an addiction.
I invite you to experience the weekly work and troubles of Olas Civiles. The logo used represents the origin of Olas Civiles, a print journal that started, kind of on the wrong foot, ten years ago. My newest project for you is Retablo/Vapalcalli -Mobile Museum-. Visit us!