A systemwide, 32 percent fee increase approved Wednesday amid the state's budget crisis sparked protests at several UC campuses, including both Santa Cruz and Berkeley, where groups of students seized control of several administration buildings.These 32% rate hikes, we are told, are unavoidable. The students have their doubts. So do I. The ugly truth is that universities have become mini-versions of Neoliberal corporate America. The people at the very top- the presidents and provosts and countless vice presidents- make a quarter million or even a half million dollars a year. A good chunk of all teaching is done by "Adjunct" professors, meaning that getting their PhD has landed them a job where they teach 4 classes a semester (more than full-time faculty) at a couple of thousand dollars a class with no benefits. And the staff- always underpaid- remains so. It's unclear exactly how all of this happened. I personally blame Ronald Reagan, as I do for most things. Not only did Reagan start the trend of cutting education from the federal budget, but he also oversaw the deregulation of banking that led to commercial banks taking over student loans. The result of all this is a country where the average college student takes out tens of thousands of dollars in debt and often doesn't even manage to get a degree. Worse, being able to take out such huge amounts of money has set universities loose to charge higher and higher prices, without regard to what people can actually afford. In this debt-for-diploma system, the point is no longer education, but the bottom line. At my own alma mater, the president of the college isn't an academic, but an MBA. College has become a product sold to students and their families as the "perfect educational experience." The perfection of this experience involves a physical plant where not a flower is out of place, dorm rooms nicer than my house, and cafeterias, I mean "dining halls," with much nicer food than most Americans have access to. When I suggest that the best way to solve the financial crisis of higher ed is to "throw the bums out," get rid of the people making ridiculously high salaries and replace them with smart people willing to work for a mere $100,000 or even, gasp, less, people look at me like I've just suggested having meatloaf for Thanksgiving. "No one would do it for less than half a million a year," I'm told. Hmm. I bet they would. Especially in this economy. "No one would come here if it weren't perfect," I'm told. Hmm. I'm guessing that students would far rather get a good education than have lobster night at the dining halls. Or at least the sort of students any college should want to attract- the ones who know that it's not about "perfect" but about knowledge- which can happen in crumbling buildings with no air-conditioning and weeds all around. And knowledge which can happen without the help of vice presidents without end earning 5 times what the professors teaching them earn. In fact, I'd be willing to say that few students care about the administrators they encounter in their four years at college and if the cost of the administrators was offered to them as a choice, a sort of educational menu, most students would choose lower costs over "perfect." The problem is that like Wall Street, the people in charge see nothing wrong with profiting from debt. And like Wall Street, people think they deserve these salaries even though they're completely out of line with what students can actually afford. And like Wall Street, many university administrations act surprised at the anger from below. The students at Santa Cruz are expected to be arrested today. The students at Berkeley already were. But maybe it will take whole families, parents and siblings and grandparents, sitting in and demanding an education that is affordable rather than perfect that will finally turn things around. Because unlike Wall Street, most college administrators did not start out motivated by personal profit. They started out as educators. And I still believe that inside the university ruling class beats the heart of a teacher. Hopefully these former teachers will begin to see that universities are not about the bottom line or the "perfect" education traded on the futures of our students. Hopefully a university president will stand up soon and demand an end to debt for diploma starting with his or her own salary. After that, the university can sell itself as a different sort of product. Not the "perfect" educational experience, but an educational experience that is about knowledge, not profit. Santa Cruz students still occupy building in protest. UC-Berkeley quiet - San Jose Mercury News.