National Opinions

Jardine: To say closures help UC just a lie

There's an old joke about a student from Texas who got lost during his first day at Harvard University.

He sees a dignified-looking gentleman walking toward him and, in his Texas drawl, asks, "Can y'all tell me where the library's at?"

The man, who turns out to be an English professor, indignantly scolds and corrects the newcomer.

"Young man, at Harvard, we never end a sentence with a preposition."

The student thinks for a moment and says, "Thanks. Now can y'all tell me where the library's at, comma, you jerk?"

OK, so I changed the last word. This is, after all, a family newspaper.

Nonetheless, the joke depicts the stereotypical pompous college professor talking down to the blue-collar type.

Same thing's happening in the University of California system, where 23 UC San Diego department chairmen signed a letter imploring UC President Mark G. Yudof to close the campuses at Merced, Santa Cruz and Riverside.

After all, the state's economic freak show demands drastic cost-cutting measures. Certainly, these profs will contend they are only looking out for the good of the system, maintaining its integrity and keeping a UC diploma the elite piece of sheepskin it's been for decades, including before UC San Diego opened in 1960.

Who are they kidding? These folks are willing to stab in the back thousands of students and would-be students, UC faculty and support staff, and cities just to keep their own inflated salaries for what amounts to a three-day workweek.

These sun-soaked, fish taco-eating egotists want to protect themselves by picking on the weakest links. Merced is the newest of the UCs and in one of the state's poorest areas where they - eewww! - actually grow food and touch dirt and stuff. Rich folks in the cities love to load their gullets, but they can be downright snobby toward people and places producing anything that can't be uncorked, decanted and poured.

UC Santa Cruz is a quirky school with a quirky mascot, the banana slug, in a quirky town that values its quirky medicinal marijuana shops. It doesn't fit the stuffed-shirt image of a UC estate, but why should it?

Diversity and individuality, it seems, are OK as long as everyone looks, dresses and thinks the same.

Riverside, meanwhile, is hardly a garden spot. But that was the point in putting the university there, just as it was in Merced and Santa Cruz. Like the 21 California missions, the UCs need to be spaced throughout the state, accessible to students - and not just those in high-rent districts.

If anything, maybe UC San Diego is more expendable than the others. After all, the San Diego area has San Diego State University and the University of San Diego along with a passel of smaller colleges and universities. You could make the argument that it is oversaturated with four-year schools and community colleges. Selling it would be like stimulus dollars for the UC system.

Merced, Santa Cruz and Riverside each have a UC and a community college. Beyond that, higher ed means learning to weld, clean teeth or dye hair purple at a trade school.

Throughout the UC system, faculty and staff will take the same proportionate pay hits. Contrary to the UC San Diego professors' claims, none of these institutions will go belly up.

Beating up on the less affluent areas is old hat, though. During an economic downturn in the 1970s, some folks suggested closing California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock and pouring the money into other state schools.

Folks have been picking on UC Merced, in particular, since it was in the larval stage. Former state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton said he would "sell off UC Merced in an minute."

Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters called it a "boondoggle."

Yet the school opened in September 2005. It's growing and it isn't going away. To the contrary, Merced drew jealousy-based scorn from the Berkeley crowd when first lady Michelle Obama spoke in May at commencement.

Do these bombastic scholastics really think Yudof would close the campus that brought him his greatest public relations coup since he became president?

A campus that has room to grow and is perhaps the most affordable, all things considered, of all the schools in the UC system? A school that hasn't lost a game yet?

In words they should understand, it's academic.

In their letter, the San Diegans wrote, "We suggest, more generally, that in discussions systemwide, you drop the pretense that all campuses are equal and argue for a selective reallocation of funds to preserve excellence, not the current disastrous blunderbuss policy of even, across the board cuts."

(I'll save you a visit to A blunderbuss is a short musket of wide bore and flaring muzzle, formerly used to scatter shot at close range.)

The letter continued, "Or, if that is too hard, we suggest that what ought to be done is to shut one or more of these campuses down, in whole or part."

A selfish and bad idea, rife with snobbery, arrogance and condescension by some pontifical, pretentious profs.

I'll give 'em this much, though:

They didn't end their sentences with prepositions.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or