Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chico State colleague Richard Ek dies

CHICO, Calif., USA - I received word today that a colleague of mine from my teaching days at Chico State, Richard Ek, died of a gunshot wound yesterday. The story was published in the Chico Enterprise-Record and is a little sketchy (read: incomplete). Perhaps more details will be forthcoming.

  • Story from Chico Enterprise Record

  • Richard Ek
    Richard Ek

    I taught with Dick Ek for four years at Chico State in the 1980s, where he was a senior professor and I was as junior a professor as a junior could be. We both came from strong journalism practitioner backgrounds and so had a lot in common.

    We were never really close, Dick was too much of a curmudgeon for me. And I was too busy advising the campus newspaper, The Orion, and trying to figure out university politics enough to get a tenured professor's slot.

    But Dick was a big help at those times when The Orion, would put its foot into it - which it did with amazing frequency. He once came into my office after the newspaper had skewered then-university president Robin Wilson for, oh, probably the fourth or fifth week in a row. He offered that if the newspaper kept giving Wilson hell, that I would not be much of a candidate for tenure - or even getting a position leading to tenure.

    I still remember the look on his face when I told him that after my 10 years in the newspaper business - where tenure is basically two-weeks-severance pay and a kick in the ass - the rumblings of university presidents really didn't scare me.

    Dick played a lot of tennis and stayed in good physical shape most of his life. I heard from a friend that his health was slipping and that might have been a contributing factor to what happened.

    Whatever the case, thousands of journalism students across the U.S. owe Richard Ek a debt of gratitude for holding their feet to the fire in various journalism classes.

    And I'll lift a glass to him tonight, wishing him Godspeed to some tennis match in heaven. With luck, he's already there, beating the snot out of former Chico State unversity president Robin Wilson with drives to the baseline.

    Friday, May 08, 2009

    California's public universities go to the deep pocket

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. USA - That California's two major university systems have voted in recent weeks to raise student tuition for next year at all of their campuses should not be a surprise to the public or students or university faculty. Especially university faculty.

    While both systems have been dealing with declining revenues from the state year after year, neither has made any secret that they would be looking to the students to keep the funds flowing, and budgets nicely topped off.

    In the CSU, its trustees have adopted long term plans to raise fees - and also raise administrative salaries so as to be competitive. Those plans started back in the mid 1990s with former Chancellor Barry Munitz, who in 1997 went on to fame with the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

    Barry Munitz
    Barry Munitz

    It might be more accurate to refer to Munitz's time with the Getty as infamous, as the link below explains.

  • What happened, Barry?

  • I won't bother to revisit all the baloney thrown out by both university systems about the need to hike administrative salaries so they systems can be competitive. I'm not sure even the CSU Trustees or the UC Regents really believe that hogwash.

    But students ! Ah, the students are ideal onto which to push the burden. They are not organized politically. They have relatively short time at each institution. And for the most part they are busy doing what they went to college for - racking up units to get a degree.

    And those few students who do decide to ask questions and get vocal either find themselves in hot water (politically) on their campuses - or get co-opted by their respective administrations. Watch most student government meetings and you get the eerie sense that the students have been coached - and not by a faculty member.

    But non-university critics of the two systems, who routinely argue that the universities are profligate in their spending, miss one major point.

    The systems do spend waaaaaay too much on administration. (And also love to create new administrative positions to fill with overpaid staff.) But as a percentage of their total budgets, it's not as startling as it might seem on the surface. Much more important is that the two systems are slowly killing their academic programs through starvation.

    And the regents and trustees don't really care.

    It much more fun to encourage the universities to divert funds to things like marketing and public relations (and maybe sports). Finding funds for more classes for students is infinitely less amusing.

    The major objective of CSU Trustees - and UC Regents - would seem to be to ensure well-paid administrations and to be obnoxiously supportive of their campus presidents, chancellors and top staff.

    "Students? Who are students?" they might ask, if ever pressed.

    When CSU Sacramento faculty held a vote of no-confidence in the leadership abilities of CSU, Sacramento President Alexander Gonzalez several years ago (which was a landslide against him) the CSU Trustees went out of their way to ignore all the fiscal issues raised.

    Alexander Gonzalez

    But the trustees have continued to keep raising students fees at about 10 percent per year- and will continue to do so.

    How else will they have the money to keep their 23-campus administrations happy?

    Oops! I meant to say competitive.