State Budget Leaves UC in Need of Funds

Helen Hwang covers higher education. E-mail her at [email protected].

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UC should brace itself for further cuts in state funding and may have to increase student fees to make up for the deficit, said a top UC official yesterday.

In a presentation to the UC Board of Regents, UC Vice President of the Budget Larry Hershman called the budget situation "distressing."

The final 2002-03 state budget, approved earlier this month, decreased UC funding by 3 percent compared to last year.

But Gov. Gray Davis left room for further reductions, authorizing mid-year cuts of up to $750 million in state operations funds, the bulk of which go to UC and CSU systems.

"There's significant pressure on (the state Department of Finance) to make cuts due to revenue problems," Hershman said.

Some UC officials have targeted raising student fees as a means of increasing revenue.

The regents voted in July to increase nonresident undergraduate tuition by 16 percent.

In-state fees, however, held steady for the eighth consecutive year.

Previously, the state had offered UC additional funds in lieu of raising student fees.

Regent Velma Montoya, former chair of the board's committee on educational policy, said she opposes raising fees.

"I can't even imagine how much they'd have to be raised to make up the difference," she said.

UC Student Association Chair Stephen Klass said the proposition of an automatic raise in student fees is unreasonable. Nonresident students "are already considered a political minority" and have been unfairly targeted, he added.

The problem of reduced state funding has been further compounded by salary concerns at all levels.

Hershman said UC salaries, from chancellors and faculty to staff and clerical workers, are below those of comparable institutions, citing a study by the California Postsecondary Education Commission that showed UC faculty salaries are behind by 7.5 percent compared to a handful of public and private universities.

The recent strike by lecturers and clerical workers at UC Berkeley further demonstrated that salary disparity is an issue of increasing importance.

Montoya said UC's primary focus should be teaching.

"Clericals provide many vital functions in our ultimate goal of teaching, and I can understand why they're striking," Montoya said. "If something has to be lowest on the totem pole, it should be administrative salaries. They're already too far out of hand."

Critics have questioned the disproportionately high raises given to some higher-level officials within the past year.

But UC spokesperson Paul Schwartz said despite authorized raises as high as 10 to 20 percent given to "a few folks," no actual salary increases were implemented.

Some said the feasibility of across-the-board salary increases is doubtful in light of UC's current budget situation, which Regent John Davies likened to the economic crunch of the early 1990s.

"When are we going to be talking about reality?" he asked. "Our problem is money: We don't have it."

The magnitude of the cuts will not be known until January, when the recommendations of the state Department of Finance go to the state Legislature and then on to the governor for final approval.

Davies said UC should not wait before it takes action.

"We're already assured that the cuts will be substantial," Davies said. "It's going to be painful."


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