San Francisco – The University of California Board of Regents has its fiscal back against the wall.
After seven years without raising undergraduate student fees, the regents talked of fee hikes along with a host of possible cost-cutting methods Wednesday in their meeting at UC San Francisco. Last week, Governor Gray Davis warned all California education programs – including the UC, CSU and K-12 – to brace for 15 percent in budget reductions. Davis will finalize the budget in December.
UC Vice President of Budget Larry Hershman said the estimated $450 million of state support could be the largest hit the UC budget has taken since the recession in the early 1990s. Beginning in 1992, student fees shot up three years in a row: 40, 22 and 24 percent, respectively. The university has reduced undergraduate student fees by10 percent and graduate student fees by five percent since 1998.
“One option might just be to undo the reductions,” Hershman said, alluding to an estimated $45 million the UC could gather. “But I don’t think I need to tell you how unpopular fee [increases] are.”
Regent Ward Connerly was firm in his assertion that raising student fees will be necessary in the future to make up for funding shortages.
“Fee increases have to be on the table and I am prepared to vote for them,” he said. “Make no mistake, we are going to have to increase fees.”
UC Student Association President Kenny Burch, who presented UCSA’s goals to the board, said fee hikes chip away at the university’s goals of access and affordability.
“We feel a fee increase will dissuade the type of students the university is trying to attract,” he said.
Regents offered other possible methods to fix the UC’s budgetary woes, including a cut in the university’s $300 million outreach program, limited hiring practices, delaying the construction of the Merced campus, slashing summer session state funding and even raising state taxes.
The regents will discuss budget options more thoroughly in their next meeting on Nov. 14-15.
The Regents Committee on Education also debated the merits of establishing a new admissions procedure, the “Comprehensive Review Proposal,” drafted by the UC Academic Senate’s Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS).
The proposal seeks to eliminate the UC’s 40-year-old “two-tier” system, whereby each campus accepts the top half of an incoming class through GPA and SAT scores, and the other half with additional factors, such as extracurricular activities. The UC would replace this with a more qualitative system that would allow campuses to choose all applicants based on both academic and non-academic achievements. The UC Academic Senate will vote on the proposal Oct. 31.
Many elite private institutions, such as Harvard, Stanford and Princeton, use comprehensive review system in their admissions. UC Berkley established a similar system in 1998, while retaining its two-tiered system. UC President Richard Atkinson said the policy would mainly affect campuses such as Berkeley and UCLA, which receive a high volume of very qualified applicants each year.
“The new process is a more thorough one, and we believe it will result in better admissions choices on our UC campuses,” BOARS Chair Dorothy Perry said. “The process will also allow us to look at the vastly different opportunities students have on our campuses.”
Comprehensive review critics, such as Connerly, charge that the proposal is a backdoor attempt at raising the number of underrepresented minorities on impacted UC campuses at the expense of quality academic achievement. Connerly also questioned the program’s $750,000 price tag in the face of a dwindling budget.
“We are a public institution, not the Rotary Club. We want scholars, not necessarily students that are going to be good community people,” he said. “Quality is the reason the university established the tier system in the 1960s, to send a message that the University of California has placed a premium on quality to establish a standard. How do we preserve the quality? Are we gong to eliminate tier-one and essentially create a universe of tier-two students?”
Regent Sherry Lansing was skeptical of the proposal’s ability to ensure objectivity in calculating the weight of extracurricular activities.
“How are we going to be deciding this holistic approach?” she said. “Is a cellist more important than the football player?”
Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante disagreed with proposal dissenters, citing Berkeley’s increased GPA, SAT II and number of honors courses achieved by incoming freshmen since adopting the new admissions process three years ago.
“I find it a little disappointing that one would argue against a comprehensive review,” he said. “It could be our process and older thinking is lacking in vision, and maybe we should look at the data which shows the qualitative approach is effective.”
UC Berkeley political science Professor Jack Citrin said many elite private institutions use the comprehensive program because their applications are already of high academic standing, and would comparably be very high in the UC’s tier-one. He told the board a story about a Berkeley applicant with less than a 4.0 who beat out a 4.0-plus GPA applicant, who was accepted by both Harvard and Stanford.
“These flabby and vague guidelines open up a Pandora’s box of problems,” he said. “If comprehensive review is accepted, you should be ready for a steady stream of similar stories and lawsuits.”
In other business, the regents passed a ceremonial resolution in memory of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, which had previously cancelled the board’s original Sept. 12-13 meeting. Atkinson noted that UC laboratories and medical facilities are now under increased security.
“We have taken a series of steps to ensure that the university community is safe. Every UC campus, laboratory and medical center has taken protective measures,” he said. “We are asking the chancellors and laboratory directors to identify chemical and biological materials that might present a special opportunity for terrorists; such materials have always been stringently controlled, and now they must be guarded with even greater care.”
The regents also selected Berkeley senior Dexter Gordon, apolitical science major, to serve as the student regent for 2002-2003. He began serving as the regent designate alongside current Student Regent Tracy Davis at the meeting.