By Angelo Florendo
Initially when I started this interview, the process would be very strenuous. The typical emotions that were present were felt; the apprehension of finding a way to create a comfortable feeling with the interviewee, and the fear of the questions being relevant with the subject. With that being said, I sent out the e-mails of my intentions to some promising candidates; hoping to get a response from someone who spoke at the UC walkouts. To get such a quick response from a couple of interviewees was surprising. With my options open, I responded back to the first of my candidates, John Bruning, a grad student in sociology and heavily involved with the budget crisis, to which I considered when his name showed up in a blog regarding the budget cuts. A few e-mails later we decided to conduct this interview on a Friday at the UC Irvine student center. The interview started off with some friendly small talk regarding the tattoo on his left leg to his small hometown of Waukesha, Wisconsin and upbringing. Eventually we started up the interview while students were plotting a fictional story in the background.
Q: How have the budget cuts affected you personally?
A: As a grad student, we were very isolated, and in terms of… Well, both my parents worked as professors at the University of Wisconsin system, and they are getting furloughed so I’ve kind of seen how it affects them. And the grad students aren’t too affected. They are actually given a pay increase this year, which is still below the cost of the living fees. I mean last month the rent went up on campus. But in terms of class cuts and things like that, we’re not really affected. I mean we’re not getting furloughed, and were not getting laid off.
Q: Regarding the costs you mentioned earlier with living costs?
A: Well, the cost of living? I mean it is a lot more expensive to live around here than what it was a year ago. Living on campus is a lot more expensive. I think the graduate department’s cost of living went up about 5-10 percent regarding rent. I mean our pay went up about 1 percent… so it didn’t quite make up the difference, but we still came out a lot better than a lot of other people.
Q: Compared to?
A: Undergraduates and workers. Our tuition is also covered so… [Laughs]
Q: When did you become active with the UC budget cuts?
A: Probably last spring. There was some reporting on the stuff happening with budget cuts and tuition increases. A lot of departments were starting to tighten their belts like last winter. They started to see the cuts coming and started to cut back on stuff; shrinking some of their resources.
Q: Which resources were starting to shrink?
A: Printing and copying were probably the biggest ones. Things like that to things as basic as dry erase markers to pens and pencils. Probably later in the spring, we started to hear about the tuition increases, I don’t know if they were announced then. But I think it was pretty clear that it was going to happen. It started affecting the faculty around June, going more into the spring quarter because they were getting furloughed, so a lot of the faculty, especially humanities started meeting and talking with each other in response to how they are going to respond to the furloughs.
Q: With your involvement with the events regarding the budget cuts, have you found out anything extremely surprising?
A: [laughs] there were a number of things that were surprising. The biggest for us was a lot of the different cuts; given the economy, even though we don’t like or agree with it, it’s inevitable. Probably one of the biggest things was in the SAAS office (Student-Academic-Advancement-Services), an office which was funded through a federal grant with matching funds from the state, with office funded for this incoming year. They had money in the bank, already set aside for this office. Given that it wasn’t a budget issue, there was money put already for that, the money was used elsewhere. It was really shocking to a lot of people that this has happened.
Q: I was heading to class today and saw the rally. Who was that leaning more towards?
A: That was done by the campus workers and the janitors. A lot of the janitors are outsourced. They are hired through a sub-contracting company. They’ve been trying to work with the university to get in-sourced; to be hired directly by the university. They’d be covered by a contract, getting some benefits and then some. The university didn’t really welcome them to do that. Even in the past year they’ve been in touch with the university. It’s kind of tight, the whole budget stuff that was happening, including the stuff last Thursday [September 24, the UC walkouts).
Q: Yeah it got a little more attention from the crowds, being mobile, and having drums and loud chanting, etc.
A: [Laughing] yeah, actually, I helped organize parts of it.
Q: What do you think is the future of the UC system, and the budget crisis?
A: Optimistically, the future is undecided. I think we are at the make or break point; we don’t know which direction it’s going to go. It’s really hard to tell but, the way the administration is handling the cuts, it’s going to move more towards the University of Michigan model, and leaning more to a private institution. It’s kind of like a Stanford model, that’s funded underneath the state level. I think the way things are going, that’s the direction it’s going to go in. But if the students and faculty make enough noise, hopefully it will return more towards the original 1960s plan. But I don’t think it will ever return to the original mission free tuition.
Q: So I wanted to ask you, did you see the You Tube videos UC President Yudof?
Q: Yudof in that video had made some comments regarding “faith-based budgeting.” Yudof also has his belief that Schwarzenegger understands the higher education system, which the people are broke and the education system was basing our budgeting system on faith based budgeting, among other statements. How do you feel about that?
A: The whole thing is pretty difficult. The state budget obviously presents a lot of problems for the university. If there is no money, there is no money. One of the concerns that we’ve had and why there’s a lot of anger with Yudof is that it’s not really true that the money has been allocated in the best way possible. You can’t go to the university website and find the budget for the Universities of California. I mean you can usually get the department hall budgets so you can see where for example the social sciences spend their money. So there is a lack of transparency and when they’re not really making it transparent, it’s really easy to question whether or not they could’ve allocated the money differently.
Q: What would believe would be a rational solution for the budget cuts?
A: [laughs] that’s pretty difficult. I think honestly people would have to see the budgets, and see what actually can be cut. And we think salaries can definitely be cut. Yudof makes a little under, like $800,000 a year. He was talking about how he’s sharing his sacrifice; I mean how’s he’s sacrificing for the budget cuts too. I mean he’s making $800,000; you can sacrifice more than someone with a lot less.