The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"Politics makes strange bed-fellows."... ...Charles Dudley Warner.

Commentary of the Day - September 19, 2003:  While the Cat's Away, the Mice Rats Will Play.

For the past several weeks the focus of the mainstream media here in California has been squarely on our gubernatorial recall election.  With more than 130 candidates in the race, some of whom lend credence to the notion that California is the land of the weird and the wacky (I really wanted to say "the land of the fruits and the nuts", but that's no longer politically correct), it's no wonder that the press has been ignoring most everything else that has been going on in the state.  In particular, except for brief notice of the final passage of a bill that allows illegal alien residents of the state to obtain genuine California drivers licenses (a bill roundly opposed by the lobbyists for street corner documents vendors), the fourth estate generally ignored the fact that our dysfunctional legislature was still in session through last week.

Unfortunately for the majority of Californians, who live in the urban areas of southern California and in the cities that ring San Francisco bay, news coverage of the legislature never has been stellar.  In recent years the major media outlets have all but ignored the goings on in the state capital.  Only the largest daily newspapers maintain bureaus in Sacramento, and virtually none of the TV and radio outlets have full-time correspondents in the capital.

Who can blame them.  As cities go Sacramento is pleasant enough, but it lacks the panache of San Francisco, the grittyness of Oakland, and the drive-by shooting and freeway chase excitement of the southland.  Sacramento is cold and foggy in the winter, and hotter than a two dollar pistol in the summer.  Except for a few committed political junkies like Daniel Weintraub, Dan Walters, and Peter Schrag who work for the ever watchful Sacramento Bee, most of the state's better political reporters avoid the place like the plague, choosing instead to focus either on the national scene or on the always abundant local scandals.

Fortunately, at least one reporter noticed the exceptionally fancy footwork of the California State University Chancellor's Office legislative representatives as the final days of the current legislative session approached.  In response to a scathing report from the California State Auditor that outlined major cost overruns, as well as implementation, security, and privacy problems with the "Common Management System" software that the CSU is requiring all 23 campuses to adopt; the legislature was about to adopt a bill (AB 491) that would have required legislative and gubernatorial review of any software purchase by the CSU (and the University of California system) that cost more than $20 million.  The bill also would have required the appointment of an independent auditor to oversee any information technology purchases that exceeded $3 million.  The latter provision would have had a direct impact on the "Common Management System" project since much of that software is yet to be purchased.

But as Andrea L. Foster notes in her excellent Chronicle of Higher Education story of September 12, 2003, CSU minions managed to kill AB 491 just as it was about to be adopted by using legislative slight of hand that would have made the late, great "Big Daddy" Jesse Unruh proud.

AB 491 was supported strongly by the faculty union (the California Faculty Association).  At the same time that AB 491 was working its way through the legislature, an "ethics bill" (SB 971) that would have required CSU faculty members to report any outside employment they might have to their supervisors.  SB 971 was supported strongly by the CSU, and opposed just as strongly by the faculty union.

The CSU representatives managed to get language written into both AB 491 and SB 971 that tied them together.  In other words, either both had to be adopted or neither could be adopted notwithstanding that the two bills covered entirely different subjects.  However, the maneuvering was enough to ensure that both bills were killed as the legislative session came to an end.

Now unless the legislature changes its mind when it reconvenes next year, Californians will never know if their college professors are selling real estate on the side, nor will they know how much money is being wasted on software schemes that look far too grand to succeed.

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