Today, UCSB will host the first UC Commission on the Future forum. The Commission asks faculty, staff and student representatives to share their opinions on the direction of the University in the face of increasing budget shortfalls and decreased state funding. But without a clear idea of the university’s financial situation, how are we supposed to form an intelligent opinion?

University of California President Mark Yudof’s open letter to students was condescending and full of useless platitudes and vague promises. The only message that came across clearly was that the chain of command is shafting students. We know that already.

As students at one of the best public universities in the country, it’s safe to say we have the mental capacity to understand complex situations. But we aren’t mind readers: The Regents and the president can’t expect us to be able to offer intelligent insight on this situation when we are systematically kept in the dark about the hard facts of the shortfall. Students understand that we must accept our fair share of the pain from California’s budget problems, but it will hurt less if we feel we’ve been treated with respect rather than as scapegoats. The University must be more transparent with vital information and make actual (rather than general) budget figures readily accessible if it is serious about including students in a cooperative solution to this crisis.

In his letter, Yudof promised to lobby Sacramento to restore funding up to $1 billion and asked, “Anybody game for a march on Sacramento?” How are we supposed to take this seriously? The promise to lobby bureaucrats in Sacramento is an empty one. There is little hope of success, and even successful education allotments have historically been deferred or unpaid.

If UC is to survive this fiscal crisis, it must formulate a realistic, long-term action plan. According to a presentation Yudof made in July, 25 percent of this year’s budget shortfall was made up for with faculty furloughs. These furloughs are up for review at the end of the year, possibly reopening a major budget gap. And the current rate of tuition hikes is clearly unsustainable — students who entered UCSB in Fall 2006 will see their original tuition nearly double if the Regents approve a proposed 30 percent fee hike at their next meeting.

Yudof’s open letter was an opportunity to present a long-term plan and invite students to formulate a response in preparation for today’s meeting. That opportunity has now passed. Asking for student input in this critical situation is a nice gesture, but is it anything more than that?