UC System – Extortion at its Finest

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I have worked UCSD for about 5 years and as much as I have enjoyed my time here, I have learned what a complete money racket it actually is. This is a bit of a rant on my part having been issued an unjust parking ticket today, but its still very true, and everyone I know that works here agrees. UCSD is a fine educational institution, but their bureaucracy and system of extortion is truly a thing of beauty. I don’t know if this is true at other campuses around the country, but I know its true for the UC system and its complete BULLSHIT!

So how does UCSD extort money? Well starting from the top, most people who work at UCSD are funded by some sort of grant. Some are research grants and others, like mine are for developing and maintaining an educationally and scientifically beneficial resource. Whatever your grant is, UCSD immediately takes 54.5% of the grant money for itself. In most cases this is taken into account prior to applying for grants, but its a huge chunk of money that is consumed for esentially nothing, and can make obtaining a grant that much harder. Part of that fee is justified since they provide hr, payroll, workspace, electricity and internet for you, but its a standard percentage fee for all projects and that has major impacts on most grants holders. Some projects, such as mine, are very well funded, but we have an extremely small team (3 offices – 10 employees), yet end up paying on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars just to use said space and serivices. Smaller projects give less money but have to have to spend half of their time applying for new grants just to squeak out a measly salary. Keep in mind most of these people are PHD’s who are now making on the order of 30-40k per year, and are working hard, not to make millions, but to better the world in one way or another.

Moving down the chain of extortion, if losing more than half of your grant wasn’t enough, UCSD places a 50% overhead charge on any equipment you purchase that is under $5000. That means that if that desktop you need costs $2000, you actually have to pay $3000 for it, $1000 going to the university. They also do not allow you to bundle purchases together. If I want to buy 3 of aforementioned systems, I would have to pay the 50% overcharge PER ITEM.  “So what, I’m just going to buy top of the line desktops and avoid the overcharge!” you may be saying. In certain cases that is preferable (especially if you’re hovering around the $4k mark) but certain things just cannot be bought at that value. Pens, paper, printers etc. All of the purchasing is strictly controlled by the university and we have allowed vendors we can deal with. There are exceptions, but require exhausting amounts of justification. With that in mind, a $5k laptop is not a possibility. Even a $5000 desktop is hard to come by, but even then budgets are usually too small to buy such exorbitant equipment. To make matters even worse, all hardware over $5k (in my case servers) have to be justified up and down and have to go through countless approvals.

So the university has eaten half your grant, and has pumped you out of another 1/3 of what’s left, but that is it….the rest is yours to get paid and do science. WRONG. On top of everything that UCSD has taken, it still requires all employees to buy parking permits in order to park on campus. This isn’t news for anyone that works in academia, but to you guys and gals in the real world, they actually charge us money to come to work, and its not cheap. I have a staff permit that runs me $78/month. Faculty has to pay ~$98. Oh and unlike other places where you rent a parking spot, UCSD does not guarantee you will even get a spot. The part of campus where my office is located has always been pretty close to capacity as far as spaces were concerned, but recently UCSD felt that they needed to do something about that. First they took 20 spots and converted them to visitor spaces, in which we, who pay monthly for our privilege to park, are not allowed to park and must buy an additional $8 daily pass. This wasn’t enough, so they took half of the parking lot and have begun to erect student housing. Not only do half of us now have to park across the campus and ride the bus to get to the office, but they are erecting student housing there, where upon completion will increase the demand for parking by another several hundred cars. They also have an army of meter maids that will slap you with a $45 ticket for any excuse they can find, including expired tags. Keep in mind, these people are not police, they are UC employees who have the power to cite you for almost any infraction. Forget parking off campus as well, because its not really possible. University City area of San Diego is mostly covered with no street parking signs and the university is surrounded by malls where they will fine you if you leave your car too long, and will most likely have your car towed. San Diego is also a special case since our public transportation is dismal. People who live in the vicinity can choose between a 30-45minute walk, or 35 minute bus ride. I live further away (15-20 minutes by car) and my public transportation timed arival was on the order of 1 hour 30 – 2 hours each way, depending on traffic and bus schedule.

USCD is also a state university which means that its partially funded by the state and the tuitions of students are subsidized as well, bringing in tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars each year. So where does all this money go? I really don’t know. According to the emails that I have been receiving from the university, the state is broke so the non-grant funded staff is probably not going to be paid next month, or will at the very least have to take temporary pay cuts. The students still pay their tuition, my grant is bleeding into their pockets and my personal bank account keeps coughing up parking fees and the university is crying about being broke? What we get in return is massive buildings that are half empty, disgusting pieces of art that look more like litter and garbage than art and a massive bureaucracy who’s only real purpose is to sustain itself. Its a massive extorsion racket and its a damn shame.

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