I mention Erik's debut here for three reasons: as a reminder for anyone who hasn't yet prowled through the Correspondents section; because Erik is a long-time friend, who also happens to join me (and Lawrence Wright and Caleb Carr and the composer Greg Tornquist) in the loyal band of writers/artistes who share a birthday; and because I agree so much with the subject of this first essay.
It's about the demise of a great, proud public institution: the University of California at Berkeley, accelerated by today's California budget disaster but underway for a long time. Erik, who went to college at UCB and lives nearby, says:
For decades, legislatures and governors of both parties viewed the University of California as a special jewel in the state's crown, worthy of nurture and protection. This pride in what the state had wrought paid dividends: Cal has long been regarded as one of the greatest universities in the country, and in the world. A remarkable, and unique, achievement for a public institution.My brother went to Cal; I've taught there and felt an informal part of its community for years; even though I grew up in the USC/UCLA fan zone, I rooted for the Golden Bears as a kid. When arguing about America's strengths and weaknesses in my years overseas, I've often used "Berkeley" as a shorthand reference for the glories of America's and California's commitment to public education and research. And now... read the rest of what Erik says.
But it now looks as if those days are over. It won't happen overnight, and it won't happen completely. But absent an unlikely, massive injection of private funding, the university is on an inexorable glide path downward....It's not the only tragedy [in California now], nor even necessarily the worst tragedy, but it's a very great tragedy.
Bonus note: Erik Tarloff is married to the economist and Clinton administration official Laura Tyson. My brief video Q-and-A with her at the Aspen ideas festival is here.