As revealed at the Regents meeting yesterday, UC President Richard Atkinson claimed to have two priorities for the University in these tough economic times:

1) “To maintain quality and access in the core instructional programs, that means funding for enrollment growth and funding to maintain the high quality educational experience that students expect of the UC.”

2) “We must provide salary increases for faculty and staff so that we don’t fall further behind the market. Competitive salaries are key to quality – we must prevent further salary erosion and also begin to close the salary gap.”

I have a few interesting and possibly enlightening facts regarding these comments that may help students, staff and faculty filter the realities from the b.s.

First, the salary of clerical workers at the UC has decreased substantially in real spending power under Atkinson’s watch. Why is it all of a sudden a priority to address salaries when the president only has 10 months left in his career and when the state budget is predicted to worsen next year? Maybe because it is easier said than done, and he knows he doesn’t have time to do it.

Second, the idea that the University of California Office of the President is offering the unions a 4.5 percent pay raise for 2002-03 is hilarious. They have only doled out a meager 1.5 percent to all non-union staff and are offering the same to union employees. Two sentences – “The budget calls for a 4.5 percent salary increase,” and, “It is unlikely … that this budget will satisfy the union’s demands” – totally misinform Nexus readers about the facts surrounding staff salary increases. I’d like to know where the 4.5 percent figure came from. I can venture a guess that some of the unions would jump at the chance to get 4.5 percent this year. This was, after all, the raise that Governor and UC Regent Gray Davis promised the UC a few years ago in the infamous Partnership Agreement.

Third, UCSB is the lowest paid and the most overworked of all the UC campuses. The Staff Assembly, a group of non-union employees that works with the University to address staff issues, brought figures to a meeting with Chancellor Henry Yang showing the highest student to staff ratio and the lowest pay scales in the state at UCSB. Meanwhile, UCSB’s lower middle class pay scale strains to support people in one of the most unaffordable towns in the state. Chancellor Yang smiled and chalked it up to efficiency. Sorry Henry, but you’re not tweaking semiconductors anymore. These are people. If quality is so important to President Atkinson, and he makes the connection between competitive salaries and quality workers, how does he propose to remedy the quality education/salary conundrum? He calls for an increase in student enrollment and for fair market raises for staff and faculty. Can the UC possibly, given the 2002-03 budget, increase enrollment, increase staff to meet those demands and, at the same time, increase staff and faculty salaries? This sounds like a dream come true. Or, maybe just a dream Atkinson would like us all to believe in his final months as the most unaccountable corporate boss in California.

Bill Quirk is a resident of Santa Barbara.