Regents Meeting Marked by Future Financial Plans, Protests

The UC Board of Regents Talks About How to Deal With Another Drop in Funding for the System

Photo: UC President Mark Yudof, center, and the Board of Regents discussed the system's current funding issues on Wednesday at UCSF.
Kevin Hahn/Photo
UC President Mark Yudof, center, and the Board of Regents discussed the system's current funding issues on Wednesday at UCSF.

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SAN FRANCISCO - After almost two decades of decreasing state support for higher education, the UC Board of Regents deliberated Wednesday how to navigate another blow to the University of California looming in the form of a proposed half a billion drop in funds.

In Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget, which slashes state spending by $12.5 billion to help close California's $25.4 billion budget deficit, the UC is slated to sustain a $500 million funding reduction and could experience an even deeper cut if Brown's proposed tax extensions are not realized.

While often criticizing the state for being an "unreliable partner," the board discussed possible solutions including reducing enrollment, increasing fees and redistributing responsibilities away from the UC Office of the President.

2011-12 Budget Cut Impacts

Three UC chancellors - UC Berkeley's Robert Birgeneau, UC Santa Cruz's George Blumenthal and UC Irvine's Michael Drake - came before the board to describe the impacts previous state funding cuts have had on their campuses and the potential effects if the most recent cuts go through.

Across the UC, 4,400 faculty and staff have been laid off while 3,700 more positions have been either eliminated or gone unfilled since 2007-08, said Executive Vice President for Business Operations Nathan Brostrom.

Funding reductions force campus administrators to focus on triage rather than think long-term, Drake said.

"We're spending a significant fraction of our time mitigating against the damage caused by cuts rather than building for the future," he said. "When I go to the school of engineering, we're not talking about nanoscience, we're talking about having enough people to man the labs."

All of these problems could be exacerbated if Brown's proposed tax extensions do not get on a ballot measure or if voters do not approve them, which could leave the university facing an approximately $1 billion cut, said UC Vice President for Budget Patrick Lenz.

The board has yet to take a position on the tax extensions. Several regents voiced doubts over whether the tax extension revenue would be realized.

"We can't look to legislators and voters for the answer," said Regent Rex Hime.

Decentralization

Wednesday's presentation also included proposals for radical changes to the relationship between the central Office of the President and the ten campuses in order to save money.

The proposal, endorsed by UC President Mark Yudof, would return $225 million previously held by the office to the campuses and allow campuses to retain all the revenue they generate.

This decentralization of revenue dovetails with the office's decision to allow the campuses more flexibility in implementing the cuts.

"It puts the politics where the politics belong, on each campus where each constituency can make its case," Yudof said.

The central office would retain the ability to set systemwide fee levels and distribute systemwide financial aid.

A Grim Fiscal Future

But regardless of which party in the university controls funds, the fiscal outlook for the next five years could be catastrophic.

If the university's revenue levels stay stagnant from 2011 to 2015, the university's budget gap could grow from its current $900 million to $2.4 billion by 2014-15, according to Brostrom.

"We face not only an immediate fiscal crisis, but also longer term threats to financial sustainability," he said.

To address this funding chasm, several regents advocated for "innovative, out-of-the box thinking," a phrase frequently heard in regents' meetings since early 2009. Regent Norman Pattiz suggested at the meeting creating a team of salesmen that would pitch UC's services to the private sector.

Brostrom also outlined a model which would rely on increased tuition levels at rates of up to 12 percent per year to fill the funding gap, depending on the level of future state contributions to the university.

But David Crane, appointed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to the board in December after several years spent working in the state government, said state funding for the university, which has been identified by the board as critical to the UC's sustainability, will not improve.

"We ain't seen nothing yet," he said. "You're going to look back in a few years, five years down the road, and you're going to say, these were the good old days."

Tags: UC PRESIDENT MARK YUDOF, ROBERT BIRGENEAU, UC BOARD OF REGENTS, JERRY BROWN, UC OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT, PATRICK LENZ, DAVID CRANE


Jordan Bach-Lombardo is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected]



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