In summary

Data suggest that budgets for the UC could be running counter to our diversity, equity and inclusion pronouncements.

By Charles R. Hale

Charles Hale is dean of social sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Bill Maurer

Bill Maurer is dean of social sciences at the University of California, Irvine.

Katharyne Mitchell, Special to CalMatters

Katharyne Mitchell is dean of social sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In his memoir, UC Berkeley chancellor Clark Kerr relates a memorable story about the creation of UC Irvine and racial reckoning. 

One of the “sticking points” in negotiations between two landowners was that the Irvine ranch had restrictive covenants against ownership by people in certain racial and religious categories. Even though such covenants were ostensibly “no longer enforceable,” all agreed they stood as a barrier to the transaction. 

Kerr intervened. “It was heavy going,” he wrote, but in the end, he prevailed: the restrictive policy was removed. The University of California, Irvine, was born.

As we emerge from the pandemic and continue the newly energized racial reckoning work that accompanied it, good budget news is on the horizon. 

In contrast to dire predictions, the California state budget has a multibillion-dollar surplus, bringing the UC budget back from the brink. The first draft of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2022-23 budget allocates a 5% increase to the UC, and commits to a “compact” of a 5% increase over the next five years. In return, the governor asks that we redouble our efforts to improve access to the UC for all Californians, with special emphasis on “diversity, equity and inclusion” goals: an overall 4-year graduation rate of 75%, an elimination of racial gaps in graduation rates, a reduction of student debt, especially burdensome for low-income and minority students. 

We applaud these goals, and favor tailored budgetary allocations to meet them. To advance racial equity on our campuses, we need to budget racial justice.

This principle has special resonance for the social science units that we lead. We endorse and practice strategies for racial justice that move away from understanding racism as individual prejudice, toward an analysis of the histories, structures and systemic practices that reproduce racial inequities over time – an approach aptly illustrated by Kerr’s tale about restrictive covenants in Irvine.

We identify underlying conditions that lead to race-based inequities; with these insights, a wide range of actors – from politicians like Newsom, to community activists, to university regents – can advance effective anti-racist actions. Our faculty apply this analysis to the broader society, to the communities where we live and to our own university. 

While the UC system has responded vigorously to the call for racial reckoning, much hard work lies ahead. Our three campuses have become Hispanic Serving Institutions and Asian American/Native American/Pacific Islander Serving Institutions

We have exciting new diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Yet with regard to budgets, our social science units are plagued with structural deficits that threaten cuts to our permanent budgets; staff shortfalls leading to burnout, health problems and turnover; and overenrolled majors whose instructors are hard-pressed to provide students with the first-rate education they deserve.

While these problems are campus-wide, they affect the social sciences disproportionately. 

With 25% or fewer total faculty members, social science departments in our three campuses are responsible for more than 40% of total undergraduate degrees conferred. We teach more than our campus share of underrepresented minority, low-income and first-generation students. We are proud to have a higher percentage of underrepresented minority faculty than the campus average, but concerned that disproportionate burdens could impede future recruitment. These and other data suggest that budgets could be running counter to our diversity, equity and inclusion pronouncements.

In “Broke: The Racial Consequences of Underfunding Public Universities,” Laura Hamilton and Kelly Nielsen document the UC-wide expression of this problem for minoritized students – now the state’s demographic majority. They show how inequitable funding formulas have benefited the wealthier, whiter campuses, even though state funds come from an increasingly diverse taxpaying public. What “Broke” demonstrates systemwide, we experience daily on a campus level. To address these issues – both across the UC and within each campus – we need a significant reallocation of UC funds. 

If budgets do not reflect our racial equity principles, our diversity, equity and inclusion discourse will eventually wear thin. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously taught us, budgets are moral documents. To make good on King’s inspiring principle, we must explicitly and rigorously budget racial justice.

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Charles Hale, Katharyne Mitchell and Bill Maurer have also written about racial (in)justice and the UC budget crisis and investing in the University of California and not cutting core instruction. The Kerr story is from Clark Kerr, The Gold and The Blue (2001), Volume One, with thanks to Kyhm Penfil, whose family was able to purchase their home in Orange County only after restrictive covenants were removed from deeds.

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