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This week, the UC Board of Regents will meet at UCSF Mission Bay to discuss a multitude of issues facing the University — the fate of UC online education courses, the potential for future tuition hikes or freezes and general managerial concerns of finance and compensation amongst other issues. While past meetings have seen slews of passionate protestors, this week’s gathering comes in the wake of some more positive steps for the University, namely a tuition freeze as a result of Proposition 30’s passage last November. Student Regent Jonathan Stein — a UC Berkeley law and graduate student — weighs in with the Nexus and offers his unique perspective as the only UC student with voting power on the Board.
Hi Jonathan. Do you have any specific goals for this week’s upcoming meeting?
I do. There are a couple of items that are of great interest to students, and I plan on being the student voice on all of them. In terms of faculty diversity, I plan on making clear that the staff diversity is of importance to students; they don’t just care about diversity at the undergraduate level. If students see no mentors and role models in academia that look like them, we’re never going to diversify the economy. It’s important that we begin to improve our faculty diversity. Secondly, I’d like to make sure that the University knows that the students support its sustainability goals, which in total are very impressive. We want to make sure that the University doesn’t take its eye off the ball when it comes to student sustainability because times are hard and there isn’t a ton of money. The University is one of the nationwide leaders in higher education sustainability, and we want to make sure that stays. We’ll also be dealing with online education and, while the Regents, administration and the governor are extremely excited for online education, I will intend to make clear that students have to be convinced that this is the way we want to go. We’ve passed very serious concerns about online education that need to be addressed so that students can support a widespread break of new technology [within] higher education. Importantly, this is sort of ‘new’ news; it looks as though that if the university gets certain monies in the next budget and it may be able to freeze tuition for the next consecutive year and I plan to make it clear to everyone there how important that is for students.
In the past two years, we have seen protests at UC Regents meetings grow increasingly frequent and creative. Do you expect to see a large turnout of student protestors during this week’s meeting?
There will be people who get angry and emotional during public comment. There always are and there should be. Given what happened to the quality of our education cost over the years, people have every right to be angry. But I don’t necessarily believe that there will be any massive protests in the ways that we’ve seen recently. I think, in part, that may be because of the governor’s recently proposed budget released on Thursday of last week, [which] grants new money to UC and it gives new money to almost nobody. Basically, it’s K-12 schools and the entire public education [system] and everyone else either gets nothing or gets cut and UC [campuses] potentially getting $125 million or even more … Obviously, because of the passage of Prop 30, we have a tuition fee buyout for the 2012-13 year; it’s plausible that we’ll see a tuition freeze for 2013-14 school year and I think that that will probably forestall any major protests. But I could be wrong. It’s also worth noting that the labor unions representing workers in the UC are maybe dissatisfied with their contracts or any number of other issues, and as a result, there may be protests from that community, which I know less about.
Could you give students a breakdown of Prop 30’s effect on the UC budget? What’s your take on Brown’s recent budget proposal?
Oh boy, Prop 30’s a distant memory now. Proposition 30 — its passage gave the UC $125 million for a tuition buyout in the 2012-2013 school year and eliminated the possibility of any cuts to the UC’s operating budget. Had Prop 30 failed, we would not have gotten the $125 [million] for a tuition buyout. A tuition buyout is basically a tuition freeze; it’s called a tuition buyout because the legislature “buys out” a tuition increase for students — it pays for a tuition increase instead of students paying for a tuition increase … Had Prop 30 failed … we [also] would have received a $250 million cut to our operating budget, which would have left a massive budget hole and probably would have resulted in a massive tuition increase. But Prop 30’s passage meant that we got the money that we needed for the tuition increase for 2012-2013, and the governor’s budget shows a commitment to higher education for the second year in a row. Like I said, there are very few entities or constituencies that get as much new money in the governor’s proposed budget. And the UC is one of those few — it receives $125 million in increase to the base budget and it potentially gives as much $80 million in what they call ‘debt restructure,’ which is slightly more controversial. And the University has indicated that because the budget must go through an evaluation and a vote by the legislature, we’re not clear what the UC will ultimately do. We’d like to get the governor’s budget but it’s not clear that we will. So the UC has indicated that if we do get the governor’s budget — if we get the $125 million in new money for the operating budget and we get the debt restructure proposal that’s worth about $80 million — that will probably be enough new money for the UC to freeze tuition again for the 2013-2014 school year.
Despite the optimistic state budget and passage of Prop 30, officials have acknowledged that tuition hikes are still a possibility. What measures could we take to avoid such a situation?
The first thing is that we need to be aggressive in Sacramento — more aggressive than we have been in the past. Students have traditionally lobbied once in the spring — that’s at the Student Lobby Conference … I think that students should be lobbying in Sacramento [in] January, February, March, April and then into May, when the budget will emerge in its final form. We helped pass Prop 30. It was massive student voter registration and voter turnout that passed Prop 30, and we need to take that message to Sacramento and make clear that because we passed Prop 30, we should see the benefits of Prop 30. Then, after the state government hands down its budget, we need to be lobbying internally at the UC at the Office of the President and the Regent level to avoid tuition increase. Now I want to make clear why I say lobbying, that’s really shorthand — it doesn’t just mean lobbying. What it means is all the different ways the student movement puts pressure on the power structure — we should be lobbying at the campus level … at the [Office of the President] level; we should be the lobbying the Regents; we should be protesting on campus or marching on campus … [and] at the Regents or marching at the Regents … we should be marching and rallying at Sacramento — we should be using all the tools of advocacy that we have used so effectively over the past couple years. Anyone who thinks Prop 30’s passage means we can be content or complacent is mistaken. The battle continues just like it always has; it just means we are fighting for a bigger slice of the pie.
Rilla Peng, Marissa Wenzke and Patrick Kulp contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of January 15th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.