March 22, 2001, Thursday

Maintaining the Master Plan

One of California's crowning achievements of the 1960s, along with the freeway and water networks, was the Master Plan for Higher Education. This division of responsibilities enabled state-supported colleges and universities to excel at all levels, and what the pact sought to achieve has held together over time better than the freeways and maybe even the water project.

That is not to say there hasn't been friction between University of California and the California State University. The Master Plan makes UC the state's research institution and, with that comes the right to confer doctoral degrees. The Cal State system sees conferring doctorates in education as an extension of its responsibility to train the state's teachers; it is now asking the State Legislature for permission to offer that degree.

This is an old dispute. In the past UC has agreed to work with CSU on a joint Ed.D., though it's not hard to believe the accusations that UC has dragged its feet. Equally credible is the rejoinder that Cal State has more than enough to do in improving teacher training rather than to seek out the greener pastures of doctorates for administrators. Most believable of all, though, is that the Legislature isn't the place these rivals should go to arbitrate their differences.

Rewriting the Master Plan piecemeal -- bestowing some kind of doctorates here, some kind of professional schools there -- would soon mean no Master Plan at all. What has been a logical and sensible ordering of the tiers of higher education in California would collapse as elements were juggled to conform to local pressures and politics.

Right now, the Master Plan is working. Leave it that way, lest it begin to resemble the freeways or, dare it be said, electricity.