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Scapegoating 101, California State University System

A CSU chairman takes the fall for, well, all of us.

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Scapegoating 101, Cal State System

Nov. 18, 2008

Who says California elected officials can't get anything done any more? They're awfully good at scapegoating people for systemic problems

Herbert Carter, the chairman of the board of trustee for the California State University, was the latest person to take a bullet for the broken governing system. He failed to win re-appointment to his post, despite support from Democrats and Gov. Jerry Brown.

What was the problem? Well, as a procedural matter, certain appointments -- including Cal State board chairman -- require a two-thirds vote, and Republicans withheld their support. This is just one of the nonsensical two-thirds requirements in a California that is drunk on supermajorities.

But Carter's biggest sin was being in a leadership position at an institution -- the Cal State system -- that suffers naturally under California's constitution.

Other pieces of the budget have special constitutional or initiative protections. But not the two university systems, including Cal State. So they are easier to cut -- and they've faced non-step cuts. That's forced the system's leaders, including Carter, to support big hikes in fees to cover cuts in state support.

So students and politicians protested Cal State's fee hikes. But they got even angrier when Carter and the board had to hire presidents for campuses in the system. Given the cuts in state support, however, it's hard to convince people to take these jobs. Who wants to deal with never-ending cuts and fee hikes? So to lure people here, the board had to offer higher salaries.

The knee jerk reaction from students, faculty, politicians and the public is: how could they offer such big salaries at a time of cuts? Of course, that's a dumb objection. At a time of cuts, you have to offer bigger salaries to get people who are good.

But getting angry about salaries -- and scapegoating Carter for them -- is easier than dealing with the underlying problem: diminished state support of higher education, and the broken governing system that guarantees that diminished support.

Maybe Carter can use the time he used to spend on Cal State matters to work on constitutional reform.

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