LOS ANGELES – In an otherwise cordial meeting of the University of California Board of Regents yesterday, some controversy arose when UC Berkeley’s chancellor and the California lieutenant governor debated the UC system’s shaky financial future.
At the meeting, the second of three this week at UCLA, the 26 members of the board of regents heard a report from UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau claiming that plans and efforts to freeze student fees are shortsighted and would hurt low-income students in the long run. The presentation, based on an analysis of the debt students incur during their terms at the UC, provoked extended debate between Birgeneau and California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi.
Birgeneau asserted that while fees have grown at a steady rate in recent years, the cost of living has overshadowed the fees and soared much higher. He also said that since financial aid – in the form of Pell and Cal grants – bases its loans on tuition levels, freezing fees would hurt students as the price of room, board and books continues to climb.
Thus, should the board vote to freeze fees, as Garamendi is set to propose in a resolution scheduled for today’s meeting, Birgeneau said low-income students would actually find themselves less able to pay for an education at the UC.
As a solution, Birgeneau recommended that the University take one of several possible steps. In one instance, he pointed to Harvard University as an example. Harvard recently altered its financial aid policy in such a way that students whose families earn between $120,000 and $180,000 would only pay 10 percent of their income to the university. Additionally, he suggested that the regents strike a deal with the legislature in which an endowment raised from the private sector would be matched by the state and set aside to assist those least able to afford it.
“We have to start now,” Birgeneau said. “Financial aid is complicated. Freezing fee makes sense, but by doing it, you increase debt.”
UC Student Association Campus Action Committee chair Christine Byon said she will travel to UCLA tomorrow to rally in favor of the fee freeze. Byon, UCSB’s Associated Students External Vice President of Statewide Affairs, alleged that Birgeneau’s plan is simply an excuse to raise student fees further.
“Students are being targeted to make up for the budget crisis,” Byon said. “I think that’s just really skewed logic. It’s just an excuse to constantly raise fees.”
The meetings, which will continue through today at UCLA, are also expected to shed light on the governor’s working 2008 budget, which in a controversial attempt to alleviate California’s current budgetary woes, proposes decreasing funding to the University by 10 percent.
Chancellor Henry T. Yang said that while the budget would deal the UC a blow, the direct effects on UCSB are not immediately obvious.
“Clearly the financial challenges facing the State of California are very serious,” Yang said. “Our campus will continue to work closely with the regents, with [the] UC Office of the President and the campus community as we learn more about the budget cuts for 2008-09 and their impact on each of the campuses.”
During yesterday’s meeting, the board also examined faculty and staff retention. At the heart of the discussion was the large discrepancy between the salaries of the 10 UC chancellors and the heads of other, comparable private and public institutions.
The difference in executive compensation – roughly 30 percent below the median of 26 schools compared to the UC – has led some regents, such as Richard C. Blum, to fear that the University will no longer be able to attract competent chancellors or retain the ones it already has.
“No matter how you look at it, [executive salaries] are ridiculously low,” Blum said. “If we wait for the right time to do this, we’ll be here for the rest of our lives.”
The 10 UC chancellors, however, have unanimously expressed their view that, in light of California’s shaky financial situation, the issue should be deferred.
The board agreed to postpone a decision on the matter until March. Currently, the average UC chancellor makes about $360,000 a year, while the heads of 26 other comparable universities make on average $518,000.