University of California President Mark Yudof recently appointed Nathan Brostrom, UC Berkeley’s vice chancellor of administration, to the post of executive vice president of business operations — the top position a UC budget administrator can hold. Earlier this month, Brostrom shared with the Daily Nexus his thoughts on how to wrestle the out-of-control state and UC budgets into a more manageable funding framework — no easy job when you consider that the UC has a budget of approximately $19 billion.

Daily Nexus: What do you think your experience can do to shake things up with the UC deficit?

Brostrom: As you are probably aware, the state has dramatically disinvested in the University … But what I really focus on is in the last 20 years when the amount of spending per students has actually declined in real dollars by half during that time. This is what really threatens both our commitment to academic excellence and access for all Californians. We are looking at ways of still advocating strongly with the state that we need the funding, that we need this restored, but are also looking at ways that we can shore up our own financial base and maintain these twin commitments.

DN: The UC is dependent on the state at this time. If the governor’s proposal for $370 million for the UC — which includes $51.3 million for enrollments — falls through before the final budget, what would happen?

Brostrom: We are actually one of the few areas in state government that actually saw an increase, so we appreciate the governor’s commitment to higher education. Plus, in the State of the State he introduced this very dramatic proposal about fixing the amount of funding that went to UC and Cal State at least 10 percent of the general fund budget. While I think the political prospects of that are somewhat shaky, at least it introduces the subject to the legislature and the electorate. … We are looking at both the original plan of having that money and also contingency plans if they are not able to realize that.

DN: What kinds of plans are on the table?

Brostrom: Most of the campuses are engaged in some pretty dramatic restructuring of their administrative functions to try to both improve services and reduce some of the costs … Some of the campuses are looking at increasing the number of non-resident students … there are a whole list of things that we are looking at both system-wide and on campuses to try to get us through this difficult period in the state’s economic history.

DN: The governor’s proposal in the State of the State and his budget did not include any money for capital construction project for the UC. What’s your comment?

Brostrom: That’s something that we’re deeply disappointed in, and frankly I don’t agree with the approach of the state. This is the time when you would want to be putting in more money to capital construction projects because these are truly shuffle-ready projects which will create jobs and create taxes in the state … these are really critical projects for the education and research on our campuses and something that we can’t fund on our own.

DN: What do you think popular opinion of the UCOP is in regard to the budget?

Brostrom: This is obviously an incredibly difficult year for everyone, but one of the principles that we tried to employ was something where the pain was shared across the whole system. So we had comprehensive furloughs that affected both faculty and staff,
we had student fee increases … And then there were budget cuts that had to be distributed to the campuses. … One thing that we are seeing within these budget reviews is that most of the campuses really tried to disproportionally pass those on to administrative units and not to the educational units. So there have been some declines in abilities to get classes and to meet progress towards degrees, but the campuses have really worked hard to try to mitigate that.

DN: You’ve been talking about maintaining the general excellence of the UC system despite budget cuts. As a UCOP budget exec, do you think the excellence of the UC and UC campuses is being maintained or is it declining?

Brostrom: I think it is something that is seriously threatened … I don’t think it is in decline yet, but I think if this trajectory of spending continues it would be threatened. And that’s why we have to look at every single avenue to maintain it and also to maintain it in a way where we don’t threaten our commitment to access for all Californians. The next five years are a very critical juncture for the University of California.

— Elliott Rosenfeld