Repost: On The Money: Fantasy Island, UC Owns Tropical Lab Near Tahiti

This article was written by Mike Luery and was originally published on CBS 13. The original article can be found here: On The Money: Fantasy Island

MOOREA, French Polynesia (CBS13) ―

The University of California is facing a huge deficit – yet owns properties around the globe worth millions of dollars – including one facility on a tropical paradise in a place some are calling “Fantasy Island”.

The tropical island in the South Pacific is called Moorea and it’s located just minutes from the main island of Tahiti (see animated map here).

Moorea is a hidden paradise where couples come to honeymoon in huts over the blue waters of the Pacific, at rates as high as $1000 a night. While it may be a fantasy for some, in reality it’s also home to the University of California, which owns a little-known property on Moorea known as Gump Station.

The Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station is a 35 acre facility in the middle of French Polynesia. CBS 13 hired a Tahitian photographer to bring you the exclusive video of the UC property, now worth an estimated $3.6 million.

“They should sell that property and bring it back to the schools,” said Ariana Hosseini, a junior at UC Davis. Hosseini added, “They should stop laying off our teachers and our professors and cutting classes so that we can’t graduate on time because we can’t take our classes and – help us with that.”

Tuition has jumped 32% in two years at UC campuses across the state. Students must now shell out more than $10,000 a year for school.

“I think it’s not smart that they’re raising our tuition.” Katrina Ghariri told CBS 13. The UC Davis sophomore stated, “They have like all this other stuff that we could be using this money, instead of putting so much financial burden on us.”

But the University defends the tropical lab, saying the scientific research there has been instrumental in saving California’s multi-billion dollar wine industry from an agricultural pest. UC officials say Gump Station is producing cutting edge research on climate change – and that selling it would provide only one-time revenue – that wouldn’t even make a dent in the University’s $1.2 billion deficit.

As UC’s Budget Vice President Patrick Lenz put it, “The value of the research far outweighs any position we would take on selling the property at this particular point in time.”

But the University does allow visiting professors to stay in the facility’s waterfront bungalows for as little as $41 a night.

“That’s a very big subsidy, Lenz admitted. “But again we’re not talking about the luxurious hotels that charge the $900 a night,” Lenz added.

But the subsidy is a surprise to UC Davis economics professor Gregory Clark, who says the University could make money by charging full market value for the rooms.

“I think that particularly since it’s not being advertised to the faculty that these rates are available, that we should absolutely do what we can to maximize the return on these kinds of investments,” Clark told CBS 13.

But California State Senator Jeff Denham was more direct.

“I think it’s outrageous,” the Republican from Merced told CBS 13. “We continue to see fee hikes and these crazy unjustified properties that anybody would love to have but we just can’t afford,” said Denham.

Legislators like Denham say they’ll be putting a lot more pressure on UC.

“We’re going to continue to go around the state and investigate all these pieces of property and we’re going to turn up the heat on the UC system,” Denham said.

CBS 13 has learned the University of California also owns a multi-million dollar facility in Mexico – along with some very pricey properties in California. Critics say those properties could be sold to help offset student fee hikes.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Repost: On The Money: Fantasy Island, UC Owns Tropical Lab Near Tahiti

  1. Joshua Clover

    I certainly agree that UC’s spending priorities are profoundly misplaced. At the same time something about this article’s stance makes me nervous (and it doesn’t help that the chief critics trotted out are a budget-obstructionist Republican businessman-politico, and an economist committed to markets über alles and social Darwinism.)

    This article falls into the “higher education is actually a wasteful scam” genre, far more than the “administrative policies are destroying public education” category. We should be very careful indulging such lines of attack, as the next one will be on how wasteful and absurd it is that college students are allowed to study obscure poetry or human sexuality or outdated political theories. The complaint in this article isn’t really about wastefulness — that’s just a cover. It’s about the supposed largesse of the University, and how its intellectual mission should be focused on appropriate projects. But how would we decide what’s worth studying, or how research should be structured? The real giveaway is when we are asked to accept that it should be run according to market principles: “we should absolutely do what we can to maximize the return on these kinds of investments.”

    Again, I’m not defending this particular UC program. But, far from arguing for a true public education and far-reaching intellectual curiosity, this article in fact basically argues for the logic of privatization. I hope we have far better places to put our outrage.

  2. Here’s an example of what happens when the senior management of University of California, President Yudof, does not oversight a Chancellor such as Birgeneau who is wasting $3,000,000. Current Threats to University of California Don’t Come From the Outside – $3 Million Extravagant Spending by UC President Yudof for University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau to Hire Consultants – When Work Can Be Done Internally & Impartially
    During the days of the Great Recession, every dollar in higher education counts. Contact Chairwoman Budget Sub-committee on Education Finance Assemblywoman Carter 916.319.2062 – tell her to stop the $3,000,000 spending by Birgeneau on consultants.
    Do the work internally at no additional costs with UCB Academic Senate Leadership (C. Kutz/F. Doyle), the world – class professional UCB faculty/ staff, & the UCB Chancellor’s bloated staff (G. Breslauer, N. Brostrom, F. Yeary, P. Hoffman, C. Holmes etc) & President Yudof.
    President Yudof’s UCB Chancellor should do the high paid work he is paid for instead of hiring expensive East Coast consults to do the work of his job. ‘World class’ smart executives like Chancellor Birgeneau need to do the hard work analysis, and make the tough-minded difficult, decisions to identify inefficiencies.
    Where do the $3,000,000 consultants get their recommendations?
    From interviewing the UCB senior management that hired them and approves their monthly consultant fees and expense reports. Remember the nationally known auditing firm who said the right things and submitted recommendations that senior management wanted to hear and fooled the public, state, federal agencies?
    $3 million impartial consultants never bite the hands (Chancellor Birgeneau/ Chancellor Yeary) that feed them!
    Mr. Birgeneau’s accountabilities include “inspiring innovation, leading change.” Instead of deploying his leadership and setting a good example by doing the work of his Chancellor’s job, Birgeneau outsourced his work to the $3,000,000 consultants. Doesn’t he engage UC and UC Berkeley people at all levels to examine inefficiencies and recommend $150 million of trims? Hasn’t he talked to Cornell and the University of North Carolina – which also hired the consultants — about best practices and recommendations that eliminate inefficiencies?
    No wonder the faculty, staff, students, Senate & Assembly are angry and suspicious.
    In today’s Great Recession three million dollars is a irresponsible price to pay when a knowledgeable ‘world-class’ UCB Chancellor and his bloated staff do not do the work of their jobs.
    Pick up the phone and call: save $3 million for students!

  3. have you seen these two stories that broke late last week?
    The latest in an ongoing investigation by Spot.us highlights how some UC Regents may be making millions of dollars from university investments. Their latest report can be found here: http://blog.spot.us/2010/02/11/uc-regents-schwarzenegger-and-wachter-are-they-making-a-profit-from-university-investments/.

    The Californiawatch.com story regarding UCLA’s consulting firm that has been plagued by accounting scandals can be found here: http://www.californiawatch.org/watchblog/ucla-consultant-involved-accounting-scandal.

  4. two annoying PR stunts:
    Mark Yudof writes: “As always, the remedy for bad speech is good speech. For that reason, we call on all members of the UC community — students, faculty and staff — to affirm and defend the values of the University of California. We are speaking out and ask that you do the same whenever, wherever and however you confront behavior that violates the principles and values of this university.”

    Yet, just a few short months ago,in October 2009, Mark Yudof and his UCOP crew etc and Arnold Schwarzenegger fight against and veto whistle blower protections for University of California workers?

    The students see the headlines, the alumni see the headlines listed –and the stench of the hypocrisy and corruption at UCOP REEKS..

    Mark Yudof forgets that he lobbied heavily for a VETO of “GOOD SPEECH”

    the other annoying thing is: UCOP has tried to co-opt the “Our University” moniker from the students for their PR purposes:

    http://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/ouruniversity/0210/

    how unoriginal…

  5. Doye O Sivils

    Spineless, shortsighted leadership by UC President Yudof. Why does one of the top universities in the world have to spend $3 million of taxpayer money for consultants to do what should be done impartially and internally by UCB Chancellor Birgeneau and his (bloated) professional UCB senior management?
    Who teaches auditors how to audit? Do UC professors and researchers not have the knowledge to perform what they teach?
    Having firsthand knowledge of consulting, I know one cardinal rule, “Don’t bite the hand that pays you.”
    In a nutshell, we have a high-paid, skilled, worldclass UCB Chancellor who is unable or unwilling to do the job he is paid to do. Why do we wonder that UC and California are in a financial crisis!
    I’m sure taxpayers would not object to the $3 million payout if the money is reimbursed by taking money from the UCB Chancellor’s salary over the next 10 years.
    Stop the spending of $3,000,000 on consultants by President Yudof and the UCB Chancellor and do the job impartially, internally.
    Phone your Assemblymember and Senator. These days ever dollar in higher education counts

  6. Transparency

    UCB Chancellor Birgeneau Loss of Credibility, Trust
    The UCB budget gap has grown to $150 million, and still the Chancellor is spending money that isn’t there on expensive outside consultants. His reasons range from the need for impartiality to requiring the “innovative thinking, expertise, and new knowledge” the consultants would bring.

    Does this mean that the faculty and management of a world-class research and teaching institution lack the knowledge, impartiality, innovation, and professionalism to come up with solutions? Have they been fudging their research for years? The consultants will glean their recommendations from interviewing faculty and the UCB management that hired them; yet solutions could be found internally if the Chancellor were doing the job HE was hired to do. Consultant fees would be far better spent on meeting the needs of students.

    There can be only one conclusion as to why creative solutions have not been forthcoming from the professionals within UCB: Chancellor Birgeneau has lost credibility and the trust of the faculty as well as of the Academic Senate leadership that represents them. Even if the faculty agrees with the consultants’ recommendations – disagreeing might put their jobs in jeopardy – the underlying problem of lost credibility and trust will remain.

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