05/11/2012 11:12 am ET Updated Jul 11, 2012

No More California Dream?

Bad news today for California youth.

Yet another tuition hike at public universities. Enrollments will be capped further and tuition increased by 6% to 9%, even as demographic changes and economic conditions mean that the numbers of students are increasing.

The prison system now gets more state funding than universities, which means that the Corrections lobby is more effective than university leaders in working with the legislature.

But perhaps that is actually OK with university leaders. And that is why students and faculty continue to protest on campuses, as they did last week on May Day, rather than at the state capital.

As one student marcher at University of California, Irvine, said, "We're transforming what is the world's greatest education system, the world's best research institution paid for by the public and by the state and by the taxpayer money, and we are destroying everything that is making the UC system great."

As a former member of the faculty at the University of California, Irvine, and at San Francisco State University, I know this student is right. I taught these students for over 20 years.

Among the diverse students were those who were struggling, gifted, and determined. Students who worked three part-time jobs to pay tuition yet managed to maintain their GPAs. Students from immigrant families who lived at home to save money and became Phi Beta Kappa. Many who could not afford textbooks and diligently used library reserves.

As I left Irvine, the School of Humanities was cut drastically. My department, Women's Studies, was reduced by 40%, and others were eliminated.

It was not clear that university leaders worked either for students or for faculty. And because they didn't, these great university systems are being destroyed.

Some university leaders are open about their complicity. A recent article in The Financial Times of May 7, 2012, entitled "Universities Must Adapt To Financial Realities," written by the Dean of the Business School at UC Irvine, Andrew Policano, says it all.

According to Policano, the UC's must become like business schools and the sooner people realize that the better.

In Policano's opinion, the financial solution for these public universities is to charge what the market will bear, as do business schools: "Business schools have adapted rapidly to their environment and they offer their students a perceived value beyond the cost of their education." What this "perceived value" comes down to is that they apply "Michael Porter's well-known paradigm to understand their environment and react strategically." Universities need "market orientation, efficiency and entrepreneurial activities" in order to try and capture "market share."

Now I have to confess I have not read Michael Porter. (Perhaps because I have read John Maynard Keynes, Adam Smith and Karl Marx instead of management gurus. But that is precisely the difference between a university education and a business school.)

So, Policano asserts, universities need to "consider limiting their scope" and "assess the quality and net revenue production of each area." And if students are not willing to pay high prices for some programs, it means that they don't value them enough. The "traditional rationale for subsidy to higher education in America no longer makes sense," Policano tells us. Because students are mobile in a global market, California bears no responsibility to educate them and, consequently, the public university "will not be public 10 years from now."

Well, with friends (and administrators) like these, who needs enemies?

This language of the market excuses Policano from fighting for broader student access to a university education. He believes students should pay higher tuitions even as we find that student debt is now higher than credit card debt.

Clearly, the leadership of the university is reneging on the promise of education for all California residents. These universities now admit more international students who pay higher tuition, even as they limit enrollments and increase tuition for California residents.

Immigrants, low-income students, and education for learning, citizenship, democracy, pleasure, research for knowledge, the arts, and humanities -- anything that does not pay enough to cover ever-increasing tuition is out. Supply and demand -- but a simplistic grade-school version that does not see these as complex equations -- is used to justify the destruction of this great university system.

The language of corporate America and of the market is to be used even at the University.

At Yale University, where I teach now, there is no such move to a market-based utilitarian education and Yale is proud to be a liberal arts college as well as a great research university. So while the Ivies will continue to produce leaders and teach liberal arts, such education is no longer open to all Californians, as it used to be.

All this corporate-speak of "efficiency" and "productivity" and "perceived value" occurs at a time when many corporate leaders have revealed themselves to be selfish and predatory. Corporations don't always succeed, and many have gone bust. The current financial debacle has taught us to question this language of corporate globalization that turns everyone into mobile, exploitable labor.

That the great California public university that has produced thinkers, writers, artists, filmmakers, physicists, astronomers, politicians, sociologists, anthropologists, social workers, lawyers and outstanding info-tech visionaries should be reduced to a business school and a corporate market-based model is a frightening thought.

Fortunately, many of my former colleagues and students in California know that administrators like Policano are working against the promise of a democratic education.

And that is why they are marching.