Regent Committee Passes Fee Increase Measure

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    UC president Mark Yudof speaks to reporters after the Finance Committee voted to increase student fees. Photo by Nita Rose-Evans.
    UC president Mark Yudof speaks to reporters after the Finance Committee voted to increase student fees. Photo by Nita Rose-Evans.
    A student is escorted out of the Regents meeting at UCLA on Wednesday. Photo by Nita Rose-Evans.
    A student is escorted out of the Regents meeting at UCLA on Wednesday. Photo by Nita Rose-Evans.

    The UC Board of Regents’ Committee of Finance passed two undergraduate educational fee increases — a 15 percent mid-year increase which will take effect in January, coupled with another 15 percent increase for the 2010-2011 school year.

    Student Regent Jesse Bernal, a UC Santa Barbara graduate student, was the only committee member to oppose the measure.

    “Fairness seems to be highly unbalanced,” Bernal said. “In principal I oppose and will not support the fee increases.”

    The proposal will go before the entire Board of Regents on Thursday, Nov. 19.

    “It’s probable, but it’s not over ‘til it’s over,” said UC President Mark Yudof on the chances of the measures being passed by the entire board.

    The meeting, which was held at UCLA’s Covel Commons, was temporarily adjourned three times due to singing and screaming by students inside. Expletives and screams of “vote no” and “we shall overcome” permeated throughout the meeting, which was open to the public.

    Twelve students were arrested at two different points prior to the committee vote and eventually all spectators were cleared out of the room by UC police officers after numerous disruptions. The fee item was passed without any students present.

    The first of the fees would begin next quarter and would consist of a system-wide fee of $585 and the second increase would begin in the 2010-11 school year, increasing student fees by $1,344. Overall, student fees will be raised to a yearly total of $10,302, or a 32.5 percent increase in current fees.

    UCSC fourth-year and President of the UC Student Association Victor Sanchez spoke to the regents before the vote took place.

    “I implore this committee to vote no,” Sanchez said. “If you vote yes, not only will the public perception continue to yield negativity for the UC, but the prospect of working together in a year where thousands have expressed discontent will be lost and severely damaged.”

    Before the vote, some members of the finance committee stressed the need for the fee hikes.

    “We will make a departure from our core values. Fee increases take us in the wrong direction, but they are necessary,” said regent and committee member Eddie Island. “There must be a limit to student fee increases … [but] I will vote yes. It is reluctant and it will be my first time. I hoped to never do so.”

    The regents emphasized that most students, especially those with lower incomes, would not be affected by this fee increase, emphasizing that 33 percent of the revenue from the hikes will go to financial aid.

    “We want [high school] graduates in need to know that fees are not a barrier to a UC education,” said Marsha Kelman, UC associate vice-president of policy and analysis. “[The regents] estimated 81 percent of students this year are covered by financial aid, 74 percent of students will be covered by financial aid due to the mid-year fee hikes and 53 percent of students will be covered in the 2010-11 school year.”

    In a separate press briefing during lunch recess, President Yudof commented that “If you’re a family making under $70,000, you don’t have a problem, we are taking care of your fees.”

    The Finance Committee also approved an expansion of the Blue and Gold Opportunity plan. Under this new plan all undergraduates whose parents make $70,000 a year or less will have their fees covered by the University. The previous threshold for the plan was $60,000.

    “What’s happened this year, after a steady erosion over the past 20 years, is this year we hit the negative jackpot,” Yudof said about California’s contributions to the UC.

    “The result of budget cuts [from the state] is that we are recommending a mid-year fee increase,” said Patrick Lenz, UC’s vice-president for budget, in a presentation to the regents.

    The State of California, currently experiencing it’s worst fiscal crisis in years, subtracted $637.1 million in allocations to the UC in Spring 2009 — leaving the UC with only $2.6 billion in state funding for the 2009-10 fiscal year.

    “I think we are doing it in a way that makes sense … [student fee revenue] will end the furlough plan and extend library hours,” Yudof said in a speech addressed to the regents.

    Without revenue from fee increases, the UC would have faced a $792 million dollar budget deficit.

    Along with hiking fees, the regents approved a budget that will request $913 million from the California State Legislature for the next fiscal year. This money will be requested to alleviate the financial issues that have arisen from the one-time cut of $305 million the legislature made last year. The regents also hope the money will shrink the gap between the number of students currently supported by state funds and the actual number of students attending UCs.

    Even if the $913 million is granted, however, the UC will still face a $144 million gap next year.

    “We have to fix this,” said John Plotts, the UC assistant vice-president of finance, about the budget deficits, “or we have no future.”