Michael O’Hare
Michael O’Hare

Michael O’Hare, a professor at UC’s Goldman School of Public Policy, will formally welcome new students to the classroom on Wednesday.

But in advance of starting his first-day lecture, O’Hare has written a lengthy welcome note that tells students how they have been “swindled.”

The once gold-plated education offered by UC Berkeley is now a tarnished version of its former self, ruined by the state’s self-interests and narrow viewpoints, according to O’Hare.

“Welcome to Berkeley, probably still the best public university in the world,” O’Hare wrote on his blog. “Meet your classmates, the best group of partners you can find anywhere.  The percentages for grades on exams, papers, etc. in my courses always add up to 110% because that’s what I’ve learned to expect from you, over twenty years in the best job in the world.”

“That’s the good news.  The bad news is that you have been the victims of a terrible swindle, denied an inheritance you deserve by contract and by your merits.  And you aren’t the only ones; victims of this rip-off include the students who were on your left and on your right in high school but didn’t get into Cal, a whole generation stiffed by mine.  This letter is an apology, and more usefully, perhaps a signal to start demanding what’s been taken from you so you can pass it on with interest.”

“Swindle–what happened? Well, before you were born, Californians now dead or in nursing homes made a remarkable deal with the future.  (Not from California? Keep reading, lots of this applies to you, with variations.) They agreed to invest money they could have spent on bigger houses, vacations, clothes, and cars into the world’s greatest educational system, and into building and operating water systems, roads, parks, and other public facilities, an infrastructure that was the envy of the world. They didn’t get everything right: too much highway and not enough public transportation. But they did a pretty good job.”

“Young people who enjoyed these ‘loans’ grew up smarter, healthier, and richer than they otherwise would have, and understood that they were supposed to “pay it forward” to future generations, for example by keeping the educational system staffed with lots of dedicated, well-trained teachers, in good buildings and in small classes, with college counselors and up-to-date books.  California schools had physical education, art for everyone, music and theater, buildings that looked as though people cared about them, modern languages and ancient languages, advanced science courses with labs where the equipment worked, and more. They were the envy of the world, and they paid off better than Microsoft stock. Same with our parks, coastal zone protection, and social services.”

This deal held until about thirty years ago, when for a variety of reasons, California voters realized that while they had done very well from the existing contract, they could do even better by walking away from their obligations and spending what they had inherited on themselves.  “My kids are finished with school; why should I pay taxes for someone else’s?”

Read the rest here.

It’s an interesting salvo to send, since the governor and legislature more amply funded the university this year than last, clearly trying to avoid the demonstrations and protests that erupted in the early weeks of the 2009-2010 school year.

But, since the motto of the Goldman School of Public Policy is “Speak Truth to Power,” O’Hare clearly has institutional backing to point out the deficits of the UC system.

Hat tip: Richard Brenneman

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...