The UC Board of Regents announced last week that it plans to relocate this year’s May 16 and 17 meeting from its original location at UC San Francisco to Sacramento, where regents will join UC students, faculty and staff in a day of advocacy for greater state contributions to public post secondary education.
State legislators slashed a total of $750 million from the UC system this year alone, with $100 million of the cuts added midway through the 2011-12 school year, further complicating the UC’s struggle to offset its increasing budget gap. The board plans to confine its official business to May 16, allowing regents to join demonstrators in the state capitol for the entirety of May 17.
In a statement released last week from the university, Board of Regents Chair Sherry Lansing said the UC system as a whole must unite and appeal to lawmakers, who she claims are responsible for the poor distribution of state finances that resulted in decreased funding for public higher education.
“Unless our elected representatives start funding us at a realistic level, UC’s ability to serve the state and its citizens will be at serious risk,” Lansing said in a press release. “UC is the best investment in California’s economic future that our state lawmakers can make. It’s up to all of us to remind them of that.”
Due to the board of regents’ constitutional structure, members — most of whom are lawyers, politicians or business executives — are appointed by the governor and lack accountability to any particular constituent group. Gov. Brown has yet to appoint any board members, but will be called on to do so in light of former-Gov. Schwarzenegger nominee David Crane’s failure to receive approval by the state legislature.
State Assemblymember Das Williams said the legislature has meanwhile struggled with partisan interests, allowing a one percent decrease in the sales tax last year — backed largely by Republicans — to further diminish sources of higher education financing.
“I think that everyone should be angry that the Republicans have not been willing to vote for the tax revenue necessary to fund higher education,” Williams said. “We are trying to bring the tax rate back to where it was this time last year. I’m losing faith that that’s going to happen in the state legislature itself.”
In light of elected officials’ lack of accountability to students, Associated Students Executive Vice President of Statewide Affairs Ahmed Mostafa said the regents’ willingness to support a protest initiative at the state level is a positive step toward increased funding, as legislators ultimately hold the responsibility of providing enough financial support for campuses to function without increasingly larger student contributions.
“The UC system has steadily declined over the last 40 years,” Mostafa said. “You can blame the regents all you want, you can blame the economy all you want, but the state gets to decide what percentage of money goes toward higher education. They basically told the UCs to just deal with [the cuts] so [the UC Regents] either have to raise tuition or cut programs. Either way, the state is putting us in a very difficult bind.”
In spite of the state’s role as the public system’s primary monetary source, Williams said poor decisions made within the university system — namely salary increases for top administrators — only worsened the poor distribution of funding to UC campuses.
“The regents have to do more than go in a protest,” Williams said. “They have to make sure that good leadership comes from the top and that means that people at the top [should] be making more of a sacrifice than people at the bottom.”
According to Williams, rallying regents will not convince legislators to increase funding for education; instead, Williams said regents and other UC supporters should be campaigning for the tax increases Gov. Jerry Brown will propose this November.
UC Office of the President Spokesperson Dianne Klein said the board responded to the initial $650 million cut at the start of this school year with raised tuition and student fees, extensive program cuts and efforts to find alternative sources of funding.
However, the board unanimously approved an 8 percent increase in systemwide spending alongside pay raises for 16 administrators and lawyers at its Nov. 28 meeting.
Despite the challenge of balancing its dual priorities, Klein said administrators always seek to put their students first.
“You can only do so much of that [and] there becomes a point where there’s this gaping hole,” Klein said. “Tuition increases are always the last thing we want to do.”