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Got the Monday blues? Start your week off right with a helping of useful information and informed opinion. 

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For the Week of June 21, 2010

Despite furloughs and student fee increases, UC’s payroll continued to increase in 2009 because “UC is relying more heavily on private sources of funding such as research grants and hospital fees,” according to a Sacramento Bee analysis.

Public employee pensions are under fire as states deal with budget shortfalls. In California, four public employee unions agreed to a pension roll back, though a bill making its way through the state Senate which would have reduced benefits for newly hired workers was derailed in committee. Meanwhile, California budget negotiators tread a rocky road. States across the country are also looking at pension funds as taxpayers rebel against public employee “perks.”

The governing board of CalPERS, the nation’s largest public pension system, voted to demand a higher contribution from California to cover anticipated pensions. CalPERS is valued at $201.9 billion and serves more than 1.6 million public employees.

Despite the size and strength of CalPERS, health premiums for state workers (including those at the California State University system) could rise an average of 9.1 percent depending on individual health plan rates and union contract negotiations. Health insurance premiums are rising from 3.4 percent for Medicare beneficiaries to more than 16 percent for one Blue Shield policy.

The Nation’s Amy Traub takes aim at the rising attacks on public workers and public-sector unions from the right wing. She notes a recent joint study from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence and the National Institute on Retirement Security that shows that state and local workers earn 11 to 12 percent less than private-sector workers, and they still lag behind even when pensions and health care are included. That study also found that the pay gap has grown over the past 15 years. The Center’s webpage also has a convenient fact sheet on their findings.

UC is failing to recover $300 million in indirect costs of grants because it is not aggressive enough in charging for secondary costs, according to an advisory group reporting to last week’s meeting of the UC Commission on the Future.

Will the regents do in California’s higher education master plan at their meeting on July 13? According to columnist Thomas Elias, the regents will be considering changes recommended by the UC Commission on the Future, including three-year degrees, increasing tuition even further, turning campuses into “specialty” schools by eliminating “duplicative” programs, and allowing out-of-state enrollment to double. He points out that this massive change in the 50-year-old education master plan will downgrade the meaning of a UC degree and seriously constrict educational opportunities for qualified Californians.

Meanwhile, enrollment of Californians has jumped at Texas Southern University as students have been forced out of state by high tuitions.

The Supreme Court ruled last week that the National Labor Relations Board cannot make decisions with just two seats filled out of five, a ruling that labor groups say will further delay justice for workers in many cases. Congressional Republicans have been blocking Pres. Obama’s appointments to the NLRB, and previous legal opinions by the Justice Department stated conditions under which a two-member board could operate.

On Friday, a San Francisco Superior Court judge again barred nurses from striking UC hospitals as being contrary to the public interest. RNs blasted the decision as “a dangerous infringement on democratic rights and an encouragement to hospital officials to continue to ignore pervasive safety problems in UC hospitals.” An op-ed piece in the New York Times makes a strong case for why this issue is so critical.
The Academic Senate at UCB passed a resolution to reform UC governance 263 to 113, as announced June 17. The Berkeley group will now have to convene a special committee “to collect, study and formulate” a set of reform proposals, which will have to be put to a vote.

In response to the disruption of a speaking event by an Israeli official earlier this year, UC Irvine has suspended the campus’s Muslim Student Union. UCI said the MSU had orchestrated the disruption, but the students say they were exercising their free speech rights. Some Jewish groups claim there is an anti-Semitic atmosphere on campus, but a 2005 investigation by the federal government found that Muslim students were protesting Israeli government policies.

An investigative panel comprised of UC Berkeley faculty, students and staff has concluded that UC bungled handling of the demonstration outside Wheeler hall last fall and the arrest of 40 protestors. The Police Review Board’s report includes a description of a student being shot with a rubber bullet, among other actions taken by police. Berkeley’s chancellor has called the report “sobering.” The Nov. 20 occupation was triggered by the regents vote to increase student fees 32%. 

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