Archive for February, 2014
John Arnold — the billionaire former Enron trader who has been the financial backing for a proposed California ballot proposition that would eliminate constitutional protections for vested pension and retiree healthcare benefits for current public employees, including UC employees, if it gathers enough signatures to make it to the November ballot — turns out to be the hidden money behind a new a new two-year PBS news series titled “Pension Peril.”
Here is an excerpt:
In recent years, Arnold has been using massive contributions to politicians, Super PACs, ballot initiative efforts, think tanks and local front groups to finance a nationwide political campaign aimed at slashing public employees’ retirement benefits. His foundation which backs his efforts employs top Republican political operatives, including the former chief of staff to GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey (TX). According to its own promotional materials, the Arnold Foundation is pushing lawmakers in states across the country “to stop promising a (retirement) benefit” to public employees.
Despite Arnold’s pension-slashing activism and his foundation’s ties to partisan politics, Leila Walsh, a spokesperson for the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), told Pando that PBS officials were not hesitant to work with them, even though PBS’s own very clear rules prohibit such blatant conflicts…
The stealth Arnold-PBS connection, however, represents a major escalation in the larger trend. In this particular case, PBS seems to be defying its own rules and regulations about conflicts of interest. At the same time, the fact that PBS is obscuring the financial arrangement suggests the network may be deliberately attempting to hide those conflicts from its own viewers…
But most troubling of all, the report on Vallejo promoted the city councilor’s “campaigning to change (state) law to give cities the right to negotiate for pension cuts.” PBS’s “Pension Peril” correspondent noted that the legislator’s coalition is “hoping to get the initiative onto the ballot” so that cities can unilaterally cut public employee pensions. What the PBS “Pension Peril” series omitted is the fact that the “Pension Peril” series’ own benefactor, John Arnold, is the major financier of the very California ballot initiative PBS was promoting. Arnold’s involvement in that ballot measure follows his earlier funding of pension-cutting advocacy in California, which PBS also did not mention.
February 5, 2014
Jeffery C. Gibeling
Vice Provost – Graduate Education and Dean – Graduate Studies
Office of Graduate Studies – 250 Mrak Hall
1 Shields Ave
Davis, CA 95616
Dear Vice Provost Gibeling:
It is with increasing concern that the Davis Faculty Association (DFA) observes that UC and the Academic Student Employees (ASE) represented by UAW 2865 have failed to reach an agreement. UC’s resistance to the ASE bargaining position is counterproductive. It is extremely important that the UC system maintain the national competitiveness of graduate education at UCD and across all UCs. We are writing to you because we know you are as concerned as we are in these issues, and have devoted much effort to improving conditions of graduate students on campus. It is our impression that many of the bottlenecks to an agreement originate with UCOP and its legal team, as opposed to at a local campus level where students and their interests have defenders such as yourself.
As you know, our ability to bring strong graduate students to our campuses is based, in part, on the level of graduate student stipends we can offer; in this regard we have increasingly fallen behind our peer institutions. For example, according to the most recent UCOP Graduate Student Support Survey, the gap between UC stipend offers for years one and two and those from ‘top-choice’ peer institutions grew between 2007 and 2010 to $2,697 and together with the higher cost of living at UC institutions created a total deficit of $4,978. When surveyed, prospective graduate students who went elsewhere consistently praise UC’s academic resources, but chose other programs due to the higher cost of living and lower levels of financial support at UC campuses (Findings from the Graduate Student Support Survey http://j.mp/1fF52dr). The Report of the Taskforce on Competitiveness in Academic Graduate Student Support (http://j.mp/1fF5BE7), adopted by UC Academic Council in June 2012, declares “rising tuition and uncompetitive stipends threaten to seriously undermine program quality” and asks that additional resources be allocated for net stipends for academic doctoral support.
The GSI wage in particular is so low that our students often take more than one outside job to make ends meet in a high cost-of-living area, thereby retarding their time to degree, on which there are now normative caps. One such cap is the 18-quarter rule, which bans students from being a teaching assistant beyond 18 quarters, even though average time to degree for many fields is slightly above 6 years. Currently the 10 month (49.5%) GSI stipend is $17,655 for an incoming student. Some students may come in with fellowships, but their income drastically falls as soon as they start teaching to levels that are sometimes nearly half that being provided at our rival private institutions.
Greater consciousness of debt burdens and unfavorable academic job futures mean that talented Ph.D. students today are ever less willing to choose a school they may intellectually prefer over a school that provides more economic security. This may be especially true for graduate student workers who are first generation college students. UC was slightly ahead of its peer institutions for under-represented graduate students in 2004 and 2007, but fell behind in 2010 (The Report of the Taskforce on Competitiveness in Academic Graduate Student Support). Once the low levels of child care support and dependent health care support are factored into the equation, parents and partnered people may also be unlikely to choose a UC campus. These low levels of support restrict who attends the UC and limit the range of role models for undergraduates.
The recruitment of the most competitive graduate students has become increasingly difficult given UC’s financial disadvantage and unsupportive social climate. These issues directly affect DFA members because graduate students are a large part of our academic community. Being able to recruit competitive graduate students is factored into a faculty member’s decision about where to teach and conduct research, and where to continue working. We believe higher ASE wages, along with a commensurate increase in TAS funds to cover increased salaries, more child care support, and increased dependent health care support will help to level the playing field, and cease to disadvantage our academic student workers. We urge you to take proactive steps to communicate to UCOP the importance of this issue for preserving the academic distinction of graduate education at the University of California.
The Davis Faculty Association board
cc: Chancellor Linda Katehi