If ever there was a time when student voices needed to be heard in Sacramento, it is now.
With the state facing a $34 billion budget deficit, funding for vital services – from healthcare to education – is in dire jeopardy. The University of California will get a total of $3 billion in state support next year if Gov. Davis’ current budget proposals are accepted. That’s $1 billion less than the minimum funding we should be getting under our state-university partnership agreement.
Yet even as higher education is suffering, Republicans in the state legislature refuse to consider tax increases of any kind. Though Davis has suggested some moderate tax hikes, he has avoided calls for any new taxes on California’s wealthiest corporations. And voices in Sacramento are conspicuously silent about the virtually untouched prison budget, though every year we spend millions locking up people for petty drug offenses.
The choices to protect the corporations and the prisons from the state’s budget problems have already cost us here at UC. Last December, the Board of Regents approved an 11 percent annual fee increase for every UC student. Professional school fees saw further hikes. For non-resident students, these increases are in addition to tuition increases of 16 percent for undergrads and four percent for graduate students that were approved in July after last year’s budget debates.
For this current year alone, the state slashed its funding to the University by over $234 million. Now they want to cut another $299 million. If the governor’s current budget proposals are approved by the legislature, student fees will increase an additional $795 for undergrads and $855 for graduate students, making a roughly 35 percent total increase in fees over just two years.
And student fees are just a part of the picture.
If the governor’s wishes are met, we’ll see total two-year cuts of state funding here at the University in areas like research ($61 million), student services ($25 million), outreach ($41 million), K-12 teacher professional development programs ($81 million), and libraries, instructional equipment and administration ($65 million).
These cuts are not just numbers on paper. They’ve already begun to push some of the best professors, staff members and administrators into leaving the University as their salaries fail to keep up with California’s high cost of living. They’re sure to mean even larger classes, fewer advisers and restricted access to tutoring and health services. And they’ll lead to longer work hours, tightened food budgets and even the loss of the opportunity to attend the University altogether for many students who won’t be able to shoulder the burden of increased fees.
While the regents have authority over the University’s policies, the state controls the purse strings. And when the state decides to deny 25 percent of its expected funding to the University, there is only so much the regents can do with what is left. State legislators will be the ones to make the decisions on who gets cut. Those legislators need to be accountable to us, the voters, and we need to remind them of that.
If we care about preserving the quality of our education, we need to speak out now.
Write or call your local state legislators to urge them to support the University of California. Their contact info is available at . Better yet, visit their local offices or get out to Sacramento to meet them in person. Whatever you can do to make your voice heard in Sacramento will make a difference.
These are trying times for the state and the University. We cannot let these decisions be made without us.
Matt Murray is an architecture major at UC Berkeley and is the current UC student regent-designate. He can be contacted at.