Disparities Between UC Campuses Should Be No Surprise

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The economist Jerry Green, when he was provost at Harvard University, once told me a joke about the devil visiting an ambitious academic administrator with the offer to become president of a university.

The administrator looked at the university and was impressed: it had a strong student body, top-notch faculty, high quality facilities. What could be the catch?

"Well," the devil replied, "it has two medical schools."

Yes, that's academic humor -- medical schools are very expensive and difficult to manage. Green's joke story came to mind after reading recent newspaper coverage of the supposed outrage in disparities on spending between University of California campuses.

In particular, the papers seemed shocked, shocked, shocked that spending per student at UC San Francisco -- a medical school -- was more than $55,000 a student -- compared to $12,000 or so per student at other campuses.

This and other disparities -- showcased in a new report from the state auditor -- shouldn't be a surprise.

UC's campuses are part of one system, but they have different histories, different programs, and different private fundraising.

Disparities are to be expected.

The audit does provide a couple of useful notes.

The first is that it shows how, with nearly constant state budget cuts, the university has kept itself alive and expanded by increasing tuition.

Second, the audit makes the point that the university system should be much more transparent about its finances.

Such transparency isn't merely good public relations.

It's good management.

People care about the university, and by making its full financial data available on line, it would be inviting researchers and others who care about the university to crunch the data themselves and come up with ways to make the institution more efficient.

Because the University of California needs every dollar it can get.

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