Unified Appeals Key in Ensuring State Funding, Stable Finances

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Correction Appended

"We have come up hither to this house of our expectations." UC Berkeley's then President, Daniel Coit Gilman, uttered these words in the fall of 1873 when the University of California moved from Oakland to Berkeley. At that time, the vision of a university offering a free public education to all qualified applicants was a principal feature of California law, enshrined in the state's "1868 Organic Act of the University of California."

Today, however, under the pressures of budget constraints and state ordered UC systemwide funding cutbacks totaling $637.1 million for 2009-10, our "house of expectations" suffers from severe foundational decay which not only threatens the integrity of "our house," but also impairs the long term sustainability of the state's economic viability as well.

To capture the attention of political constituencies to the cause of economic justice within public higher education, however, we must not make our case for adequate state funding based solely upon demands and claims of historically legislated entitlement. Instead, our cause must be advanced by also educating elected officials and the public at large to once more view higher education as a public good. Public recognition that the success of our university, state universities and community colleges is intertwined with the success of the state will lead to an acknowledgement that rebuilding the greatness of these public institutions will preserve California's excellence.

Statewide, the Public Policy Institute of California reports that by 2025, if current trends continue, 41 percent of jobs in California will demand a college degree, but only 35 percent of Californians will have graduated from college. The shortfall will not be caused by a lack of interested applicants. The state finance department has estimated that by 2014, California's state colleges and universities will have 640,000 more applicants than they will have room to handle. This public education budget crisis is crippling Cal students, faculty, staff and administrators, but in the broader sense, the short-sighted legislatively mandated cutbacks are also crippling California's future. A poorly educated public means fewer high-earning workers, which will reduce tax revenues and disposable income, resulting in diminished public services and an economy robbed of spending for economic growth.

The solution side of this crisis inevitably depends on increased access to public monies for the funding of public higher education. Federal funding sources for federally-inspired land grant public universities, like Cal, must be tapped. State funding from California's general revenues, as well as targeted and guaranteed sources of additional public financing, like a modified version of Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico's oil and gas extraction assessment designed to supplement and not supplant existing state funding for public higher education, must be increased, not merely maintained. As students, we must be active and public in pleading the case that public higher education is a necessity for all Californians, not merely a right for California's student population.

To be effective advocates in this political battle, students must first become educated about the current crisis and the range of possible alternatives to debilitating fee increases or wholesale cutbacks in program offerings. Attending programs like the town hall meeting with the Chancellor and teach-ins about the budget crisis will provide a level of knowledge that will make advocacy more effective. As I wrote this August in the Daily Cal, registering to vote and communicating your sentiments to state and federal policymakers in person and in writing must occur if change is to take shape.

Angered taxpayers and big-picture vision impaired politicians, who call UC students selfish or spoiled, must be educated about the greater benefits that a well-educated populace can produce for all of the state's citizenry. We cannot accomplish that inherently political task if instead of looking outward to mobilize support in favor of the greater communal good we instead turn inward on ourselves trying to cannibalize individual departments deemed "less worthy."

Every department, division and auxiliary unit of Cal is a room in our "house of expectations." Every department, division and auxiliary unit of Cal needs to work together to engage the attention of the public and the energy of the entire Cal extended family in rebuilding the foundation of what was originally intended to have been a public system of higher education envied all over the world.

Full, complete and expanded state funding for the UC system is an investment in the state's future, not merely a maintenance expense to one house on the Berkeley hills. A quintessentially political solution requires the constructive, visible and sustained political activism of the entire campus community. Without focused and intelligent activism, however, our beautiful and magnificent house will crumble. With foresight and unified appeals to the win-win nature of a broader based financial solution, the lofty expectations of former President Gilman and of those gathered in 1873 will last well beyond today and well into our house of tomorrow.

Correction: Tuesday, February 9, 2010
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the state ordered UC systemwide funding cutbacks totaling $813 million for 2009-10. In fact, state funding for the the UC was cut by $637.1 million for 2009-10.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

Will Smelko is president of the ASUC. Reply to [email protected]

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