"Conspiracy Theory" Proven - Taking UCSF Private

Students and faculty at the University of California have come up with a vivid, and prescient example of how the hired executives and bureaucrats have taken over higher and health care education. 

"Run in the Interests of the Administration"

Two weeks ago, the Orange County Register reported:
Over the past few months, the University of California has raised undergraduate tuition by 18 percent, awarded raises of as much as 23 percent to a dozen high-ranking administrators and announced a possible 81 percent tuition increase over the next three years.

Students haven't taken the news well.

At campus rallies across the state, thousands of students and their faculty supporters have decried the actions, staging raucous rallies and 'Occupy'-style sit-ins that in some cases have ended in clashes with law enforcement. They've also descended en masse on UC regents' meetings, disrupting proceedings and even forcing officials to retreat to a private room.

Behind the angry chanting and acts of civil disobedience is a growing sense that the 10-campus UC system is no longer a public institution accessible to the middle class, but rather a sprawling bureaucracy of hospitals and auxiliary research institutions buffeted by an ever-expanding roster of administrators.

The problem, as the student activists see it, is that none of these functions translates directly into expanded course offerings or improved student-to-faculty ratios, even as their tuition dollars help sustain the system.

'The university is now being run in the interest of the administration,' said UC Irvine student activist Anne Kelly, a Ph.D. candidate in earth system science. 'They're promoting their own internal growth, asking us to sacrifice with higher tuition – but administrators have had raises.'

In higher education, as well as in health care education and in health care in general, the pattern is the same: rising costs without any obvious increase in quality or quantity of services. As in health care, however, the pain never seems to extend to administrators/ managers/ bureaucrats/ executives. Worse, as their numbers grow, these insiders seem to run organizations more for their own benefit, and less for the mission.

One Manager Per Faculty Member

Furthermore, UC faculty have data:
The students' growing frustration is fueled by UC employment data that show that almost three-fourths of UC's 152,500 employees last year were designated 'non-academic personnel,' according to an annual UC employment report.

In the report, UC characterizes the growth in its non-academic staff as the inevitable byproduct of 'an increasingly complex university system that 'requires greater professionalization of its staff, who must meet higher technical and competency standards.' Non-academic personnel includes everyone from custodians and food-service workers to accountants and plant operators. [The question begged is whether it was the managers and executives that caused this complexity - Ed.]

UC Davis horticulture researcher Richard Evans, who has independently analyzed UC personnel data, offered a different take on the data, publishing a tongue-in-cheek piece for UC faculty in 2010 entitled 'Soon every faculty member will have a personal senior manager: Is this a good way to spend money?'

'Data available from the UC Office of the President shows that there were 2.5 faculty members for each senior manager in the UC system in 1993,' Evans wrote in his piece. 'Now there are as many senior managers as faculty. Just think: Each professor could have his or her personal senior manager.'

In his analysis, Evans compared the number of UC employees classified as either 'senior management' or 'managers and senior professionals' with the number of tenure-track UC faculty members.

As of spring 2011, UC employed 8,144 senior managers, managers and senior professionals, and 8,521 tenure-track faculty members, according to the latest available UC data.

This pattern is similar to that seen in some data we discussed a long time ago about the ever rising numbers of administrators/ managers/ bureaucrats/ executives in health care.  In 1988, Alain Enthoven advocated in Theory and Practice of Managed Competition in Health Care Finance, a book published in the Netherlands, that to decrease health care costs it would be necessary to break up the "physicians' guild" and replace leadership by clinicians with leadership by managers (see 2006 post here). Thus from 1983 to 2000, the number of managers working in the US health care system grew 726%, while the number of physicians grew 39%, so the manager/physician ratio went from roughly one to six to one to one (see 2005 post here). Health care went from being controlled by clinicians to controlled by a growing volume of managers.  Most of these managers were generic, in that they had little if any knowledge of, experience in, or sympathy to the values of health care. These generic managers have used the same techniques advocated for the management of supermarkets or automobile manufacturers to manage health care organizations, despite all the obvious differences in context, goals, values, and people involved.

A "Conspiracy Theory" About the Privatization of the University

At the University of California, the Register reported that there is a "conspiracy theory" about the next step to increase the domination of the managers:
The salaries and size of UC's administrative staff, in particular, have fueled conspiracy theories among students and faculty that the system has deliberately sought to 'privatize' itself – in other words, to compete with private universities on all fronts, from the scope of its non-instructional programs to executive compensation to the amount of tuition that students pay.

Three years ago, the head of a UC faculty group advanced the privatization theory in a multi-part series called 'They Pledged Your Tuition.'

Of course, the administrators denied, sort of, anything so far-fetched:
For its part, UC denies all such allegations, saying that while the university has arguably become privatized, outside influences beyond its control are entirely to blame.

"It is not something we advocate, not something we want,' Klein said. But, 'he added, 'times have changed; the economic model has changed.'

Not Just a "Conspiracy Theory" - UCSF Chancellor Advocates Privatization

It only took two weeks, however, for the notion of administrators taking the university private to go from "conspiracy theory" to official plan. Yesterday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported,
UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann told the regents, delicately, that she wants out.

Under her proposal, UCSF's medical school, hospital, clinics and research facilities would remain a public university connected to UC, the chancellor assured the regents. But the tendrils connecting the two entities should be thinner than they are today.

Desmond-Hellmann said she envisions a relationship like those of UC Hastings College of the Law, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which contract with UC for health and pension services. While ultimately accountable to the regents, they are autonomous with their own boards of directors.

Referring to 'alternative governance models' and 'examining UCSF's financial relationship with UC,' the chancellor and campus executives talked of their ambition to become the world's leading innovator in the health field - a goal better achieved, they hinted, without the rest of the university weighing it down.

To Health Care Renewal readers, that UCSF would be proposed as the first part of the University of California to privatize should not come as a shock. After all, Chancellor Desmond Hellmann came not from academia, but from the world of for-profit biotechnology. She was a former president for drug development for Genentech.

Two and one half years ago I suggested that "hiring a lavishly compensated top executive from a biotech firm known for its high drug prices to run a public health sciences university does considerably blur the line between academic medicine and the health care industry." Furthermore, three months ago I noted that Dr Desmond Hellmann seemed be advocating that the university's focus turn to product development, so that it would start to emulate a contract research organization. Now it appears that Dr Desmond Hellmann wants to traverse the line between government and the private sector, so that the organization could "make a ton of money," and "focus on spinning innovations into business deals," according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

What any of this has to do with the university's fundamental mission to discover and disseminate knowledge, and with this health care university's mission to take the best possible care of its patients is not clear.


Turning UCSF into a private, quasi contract research organization might conceivably yield some good research and drug development. Why a formerly academic organization would be better at this than a purpose-built CRO is hardly proven. Whether UCSF recast as a CRO would yield better research, leading to better patient outcomes than would have resulted if it continued as a state government sponsored health care university is also hardly proven.

Turning UCSF into a quasi CRO, however, would likely be very much in the self-interest of its administrators/ managers/ bureaucrats/ executives who would be freed from any constraints on their incomes, and the disclosure of same that were previously obligated by the messy representative democracy to which they formerly had to answer.

On the other hand, it is hard to conceive of how such a privatization would be good for students or patients. In fact, it is not the least bit clear why a medical, nursing, or other health professional student would want to study within what would basically be a contract research organization. It is also unclear whether patients seeking care from such an organization could trust it to put their interests, rather than the organization's revenue and the self-interest of its administrators/ managers/ bureaucrats/ executives first.

We are now a good 30+ years into our ill-fated American experiment about the effects of turning medicine commercial and making health care a commodity. So far, it has yielded the highest costs in the world, but declining access, mediocre quality, and demoralized professionals. Turning one of our once proud and  prestigious state government sponsored academic medical institutions into a private contract research organization would be a powerful symbol of our final national health care decline.

Let us hope that the students and faculty whose "conspiracy theory" about privatization proved true will now mount a more effective protest before UCSF falls into the muck.