Controversy surrounds appointment of UC Regent

The Daily Californian, 4/22/11.

Daily Cal Senior Staff Writer

David Crane rides BART and runs to catch the bus.

He is a registered Democrat.

He worked almost 25 years at a multibillion dollar investment firm.

And since former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him to the UC Board of Regents in late December, Crane has become one of the most controversial appointees to the board in recent memory, with petitions circulating against his approval due to perceptions of his stance on collective bargaining in the public sector.

The University of California faces significant obstacles in the coming years and Crane knows it. But as debate rages on in Sacramento and across the state, it remains to be seen whether his opinions will become commonplace in the discourse that will shape the UC’s future for the next 12 years.

Crane identifies one major source for the university’s funding woes – the state.

“When the state Legislature 30 years ago was providing 30 percent of UC’s funding and 10 years ago 21 percent of UC’s funding, and now they’re down to 11 percent of UC’s funding, even though state revenues have risen sharply in those 30 years, then at whom should the finger be pointed?” he asked. “(The UC) is becoming a public university in name only, because the public is going away as a funding source.”

The university faces at least a $500 million reduction in state funding for the next fiscal year. The cut is but the latest in a trend that has seen state funding for the UC plummet by over 50 percent in the last two decades – a trend that Crane, who worked closely on state budget issues as Schwarzenegger’s adviser, says has no prospect of reversing soon.

But to address the drop in funds, UC leaders must truly understand the problem before them, he said.

“Sometimes I feel like people are acting as if these problems don’t exist, as if people can magically say, ‘We can have it all, and you can raise wages for people working there and lower tuition for people and don’t worry about the state giving you more money,'” he said. “I think people aren’t paying attention to the math.”

To navigate this funding gap, Crane considers finding alternative revenue streams – rather than focusing on organizational efficiencies – paramount if the university is to maintain its excellence, access and affordability.

“You should always be as efficient as possible, but in a world where the state is reducing its funding so dramatically, almost no amount of money will make up for the amount the state has withdrawn,” he said.

He said that he would explore the UC’s five medical centers – which generated $5.9 billion in the 2009-10 fiscal year, according to UC documents – as one source of that revenue.

The main goal in finding new revenue is to preserve the university for the group Crane considers its main constituents: students and their families.

“I have to look at (proposals) in the context of what would it mean on holding the line on student undergraduate tuition,” he said. “What I’m focused on is … maintaining access and (the UC) remaining the finest public university system in the world. That access I care the most about is for undergraduates.”

In his time in the public sector – he served as Schwarzenegger’s adviser from 2004 to 2010 – Crane gained a reputation for zealously advocating for his points of view.

“David Crane is very brash, confrontational and very aggressive in pursuing his point of view, and in a place that revolves around compromise and relationships, he didn’t conform,” said Democratic strategist Steve Maviglio.

Crane does not deny this characterization, but said that his method could be just what the board needs.

“The establishment always thinks that way of people who raise controversial issues or propose paths different than those prescribed by conventional wisdom,” he said in an email. “In my experience, all boards need people who play different roles, including someone unafraid to point out when an emperor isn’t wearing clothes.”

When Schwarzenegger appointed Crane in the waning hours of his governance, some in the blogosphere termed it “the Terminator’s parting shot.”

Already faced with opposition due to his perceived close relationship with the Republican former governor, Crane’s confirmation, contingent on state Senate approval, became a point of even greater controversy after he wrote an op-ed about collective bargaining rights in the public sector.

“Collective bargaining is a good thing when it’s needed to equalize power, but when public employees already have that equality because of civil service protections, collective bargaining in the public sector serves to reduce benefits for citizens and to raise costs for taxpayers,” reads the piece, printed Feb. 27 in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Many, including state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, interpreted this as a declaration of war on collective bargaining rights in the public sector.

“I think it’s pretty clear that based on the writings of David Crane that he felt that our UC employees are not to be organized and represented by unions, and I think that’s not a position I can support,” Yee said.

Crane’s op-ed does not explicitly state that he wants to strip UC employees of collective bargaining rights.

The piece, published barely two weeks after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker stated his plan to eliminate state employees’ collective bargaining rights, struck a similar chord with unions and faculty groups statewide.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, University Professional and Technical Employees and the Berkeley Faculty Association have organized rallies or written petitions in opposition to his confirmation. The association’s petition has garnered 1,475 signatures to date, according to Christine Rosen, co-chair of the association and associate professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

Crane rebuts this interpretation of his writing, saying he simply presented the history of an issue that becomes a political hot potato the moment it is raised.

“It’s Kafkaesque in a way … It’s there in black and white, but someone is saying something completely different, and I can’t control that,” he said. “What’s a substantive argument with someone who wants to maintain the Master Plan, who wants to maintain access, affordability and excellence?”

The Chronicle supported Crane in an editorial titled “State Sen. Leland Yee’s attack on the truth,” which chastised Yee’s actions as the misquotations of an “opportunistic politician.” The editorial went further and endorsed Crane for confirmation to the board.

But that is no done deal. According to Yee, many of his colleagues in Sacramento – among them state Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, who has also spoken up against the confirmation – will not vote for Crane.

Maviglio said despite the opposition, there is no way to know whether the confirmation will be voted down.

“It’s almost like picking the pope,” he said. “You never know what’s going on in the back.”

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