Radical changes may be on the table for UC

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Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown said UC tuition could double. Thursday, Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, mulled closing a UC campus to preserve the flagship institutions. And through it all, UC administrators have remained mum on these kinds of radical proposals, saying only that "all options are on the table."

These political figures - who, because of the university's constitutional autonomy, do not have the direct authority to close a UC campus or raise systemwide tuition levels - have suggested the most controversial changes to university operations in the face of the potential $1 billion funding reduction facing the university. Testimony at a Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review meeting Thursday heard drastic ideas - including closing a campus or reorganizing the UC's research enterprise - raised as cost-saving measures in the event that $14 billion in revenue from tax extensions is not realized.

"If we're forced to go to an all-cuts budget, we are in a desperate state, and California could end up being an unrecognizable place," said Hancock's spokesperson Larry Levin. "Do we just let everything grind down ... or do we try and restructure in some way to save what we can?"

Judy Heiman, a principal analyst for the state Legislative Analyst's Office - a non-partisan fiscal and policy adviser to the state - said the political obstacles to closing a campus could prove insurmountable and that such a move would not save money in the short term.

"You would be shifting the students elsewhere, so you would be putting the cost of instruction somewhere else," she said. "What you would be saving would be the cost of operating the campus," which she said would not generate significant savings for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

University officials have not discussed closing a campus, according to UC spokesperson Steve Montiel.

But such drastic action could be necessary given the university's dire financial straits. A $500 million funding cut - an over one-sixth reduction from the state's 2009-10 general fund allocation to the university - was signed into law by Brown March 24 and could double if the tax extensions are not approved. Exacerbating the problem, federal stimulus funds that have backfilled state funding reductions in previous years are no longer available.

UC President Mark Yudof has repeatedly stated that he does not want to raise tuition - a fund source always at the tip of the tongue when talk turns to raising revenue.

But with the university teetering on the edge of a $1 billion dollar funding chasm, tuition increases could occur. UC Vice President for Budget Patrick Lenz said in a March 28 interview that, although the university's preference is to leave tuition levels for the 2012-13 academic year untouched, a mid-year fee increase could be necessary.

Tuition, which has increased 40 percent in the last two years alone, broke $10,000 for the first time for the current academic year and will be $11,124 for the 2011-12 academic year.

At the committee meeting, legislative analyst Mac Taylor suggested a reorganization of the UC's research enterprise to focus research at certain campuses.

"Not every UC campus has to be a full-blown research institution," he said at the meeting. "We could have University of Californias that are liberal arts colleges, and we could maybe focus our research so we're not duplicating the same type of thing at each of the ten."

This proposal would significantly reduce overall costs by reducing the proportion of time a professor spends on research at some campuses, according to Heiman.

The final report of the UC Commission on the Future, released Dec. 6, also proposed streamlining multi-campus research to reduce redundancies. Increasing the amount of research undertaken across multiple campuses would reduce the material costs of research while enhancing the stature of each individual campus, according to the report.


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

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