The UC Board of Regents discussed the plight of the University in its first meeting of 2003.

The key topic of yesterday’s regents meeting was Gov. Gray Davis’ midyear and 2003-04 budget cuts, and the impact they would have on students. In addition, the regents revealed plans to apply for construction and management of a national biodefense lab in Davis. They also discussed the annexation of part of UC Merced as well as the UC’s response to the Los Alamos National Laboratory scandal.

The mantra of the regents’ meeting was “this is not a partnership.” UC President Richard Atkinson said the legislative analysts’ estimate of a $21 billion deficit is inaccurate because it does not allow for the expected growth in UC student population. He said he expects the 2003-04 budget to include more funding cuts.

“The midyear cuts are very difficult, but next year’s budget will be very, very difficult,” Atkinson said. “The cuts we’re taking today are just as bad if not worse [than those in the depression in the early 1990s].”

The regents discussed the state’s failure to provide funds promised under the partnership agreement Davis signed with UC in the late 1990s and how the University can maintain academic excellence in hard budgetary times. The partnership agreement calls for increased state funding in exchange for University growth and increased accountability. This year’s state funded budget is $147 million below what was promised under the partnership agreement.

Regent Ward Connerly said the UC should look into how it can regain autonomy over UC budget cuts, given the state’s inability to fund the partnership while expecting the University will grow without control over its dwindling budget.

“This is a strategic issue,” Regent Richard Blum said. “It’s something we need to negotiate for the future.”

A closely related issue discussed by the Regents was the cost of attending the University. Provost C. Judson King made a presentation outlining current average cost of attendance for students, parents and the financial aid system for four income groups: $120,000 per year, $81,000 per year, $47,000 per year and $24,000 per year. The presentation showed that according to a study by the James Irvine Foundation, the UC’s financial aid program is effective because it enrolls a higher percentage of low-income students than comparable institutions, including Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Stanford, Caltech and USC.

However, Connerly and others criticized the current system because it forces middle class families, those making between $60,000 and $82,000 per year, to bear the brunt of the fee hikes this spring and next year. Students that fall into this category are generally not eligible for the financial aid programs the fee hikes will fund.

“There is a huge number of middle class families who are squeezed substantially in these increases,” Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante said. President Atkinson said financial aid offices are “flexible” and will be able to respond to individual cases. He also said a ScholarShare program, although still in development, would provide adequate scholarships for needy middle class students.

In other news, the regents passed a bill giving Atkinson authority to oversee an application to the National Institutes of Health to establish a national biocontainment lab at UC Davis. The bill delegates authority to Atkinson to “submit and promote the application, provide such additional information to the NIH/[National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] as may be required and otherwise act in connection with the application.”

The center, which is set to be named the Western National Center for Biodefense and Emerging Diseases, would be a research facility for the study of serious infectious diseases, a diagnostic facility to support the California Dept. of Health Services and an advanced training facility.

The application, due Feb. 10, comes amid growing national concern over the UC’s management of its national laboratories — especially Los Alamos National Laboratory, where a recent scandal brought to light serious management and spending problems at the lab.

The regents also approved a proposal to allow the City of Merced to annex part of UC Merced into its jurisdiction for purposes of water and waste management. The bill calls for the annexation of 102 acres of the Merced campus to provide city water and sewage services for the first phase of construction.

Selected campus buildings on the UC Merced campus are scheduled to be completed in summer 2004, and after the first phase is completed in “several years,” UC Merced is expected to find another source of water and sewage treatment. The annexation will be made legal after the city of Merced has satisfied all legal requirements, the annexation of interceding properties has been approved, a revenue sharing plan with UC has been revised and Local Agency Formation Commission has approved of it.

The next UC Regents meeting is scheduled for March 19-20 at the University of California, San Francisco.