Seth Rosenfeld: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of UC

tags: Ronald Reagan, University of California, LA Times, Seth Rosenfeld



Seth Rosenfeld is the author of "Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power," which received the 2013 Ridenhour Book Prize.

Once upon a time, the University of California was a sacred trust, the top tier of a model educational system that helped lift the state to unprecedented prosperity. It was jealously protected from outside political interference.

Now UC is more often described in profane terms. The state's entire higher education system has been under assault for decades — free access is long gone; investment per student has shrunk; some rankings have slipped. The passage of Proposition 30 last year will help repair some of the damage, but UC's stature has been diminished and with it the dream of a truly excellent education for every qualified native son and daughter.

The causes are complex and largely economic, but in an important way, the troubles of the nation's greatest public university can be traced to the ascent of a California icon, Ronald Reagan, and his brand of anti-government conservatism.

UC's downfall was eerily anticipated by a man Reagan made his scapegoat: Clark Kerr, UC president from 1958 to 1967. Kerr, an economist and renowned labor arbitrator, sought to make a college education universally accessible. He oversaw the 1960 adoption of the influential Master Plan for Higher Education, coordinating the state's junior colleges, four-year colleges and universities to avoid redundancy, save tax dollars and deliver on the state's commitment to provide a quality education for its high school graduates....



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