The first of three public comment sessions for the UC Board of Regents business conference in San Francisco yesterday was overwhelmingly comprised of representatives from UC Merced, who professed dire consequences for the school if critical funding is taken away from the UC budget.
Hosted at the UC San Francisco Mission Bay Community Center, the regular UC Board of Regents business began yesterday and continues today and tomorrow, providing a forum for interested speakers to express their opinions in public comment periods. In light of what UC President Mark Yudof called in a letter: “the extraordinary reduction in funding to UC proposed by the Governor and the Legislature” due to California state budget shortfalls, Yudof proposed both a series of spending cuts and progressive furloughs to balance the budget deficit.
Three UC Merced professors spoke during the public comment period. Jan Wallander, professor of psychology, Kevin Fellezs, assistant professor of arts and Ignacio Lopez-Calvo, professor of Latin American literature, spoke about the ramifications of crippling cuts to the youngest of the UC campuses at the very outset of its existence.
“I saw [teaching at UC Merced] as an exciting opportunity to create new and innovative programs. Lopez-Calvo said. “We need to create a realistic funding model that will encourage the growth of the campus.”
No other UC was present to make a public comment yesterday, however, Wallander noted that UC Merced’s dependence on the state for funding is by far the most profound. As a young institution, UC Merced receives 57 percent of its revenue from the state budget, while most other UCs receive less than 20 percent from state funds.
Unlike the state of California, the UC system cannot operate without first balancing their budget. Due to recent education cuts written into the state budget, the only negotiable aspect is where the cuts fall the hardest, according to Peter King, media director for the UC Office of the President.
“Everybody is trying to direct the cuts,” King said. “It’s human nature to think there’s a better way than aiming the barrel at you. These are smart, passionate people. I think people just want to feel that they have their own say, and that we’re on the right course.”
Yesterday’s public comment session was relatively brief and uneventful, however King expects a far bigger crowd for today’s session in which each chancellor will outline their specific plan to implement the budget cuts at their home campuses.
“There will be comments before the committee of the whole, and they’ll be talking for every minute allowed,” King said. “There will be a series of committee-level open sessions where the rationale and the structure of the plan is laid out before the public, then the regents will give their opinions on what they feel about all this. They are the ultimate deciders.”
Any decisions that are reached in the UC Board of Regents meeting will take effect beginning Sept. 1, 2009. King explained that all parties involved understand that painful changes will have to be felt, but said that a successful meeting would allow the UC system to continue to deliver and educate despite deficient funds.
“What I’m hearing is sort of an acceptance that we’re in for short term pain,” King said. “The conversation going forward is about how we are going to re-imagine this university, one that still does world class research and produces solid citizens of a great state.”