Illustration by Kiri Rasmussen.
Illustration by Kiri Rasmussen.

Open up the books already. Seriously.

After years of hiding numbers, snickering, and insisting that everything is fine (“why don’t you just trust us?”), the University of California is finally increasing its transparency to the public. Now that California’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee has voted unanimously to authorize an outside audit of the UC, the state can finally begin to trust the financial operations of the university system. The financial review will be handled by the California State Auditor, the external auditor for California’s state agencies.

The California public deserves to know where its taxpayer money is going. It deserves to see which path the system’s private and state funds will take. Students deserve to rest assured that their fees are being spent efficiently.

The idea that we have been throwing money at the UC and trusting it sends shivers down the spine of any self-respecting taxpayer. It brings to mind the image of a hesitant donor trying to decide whether or not to give a dollar to someone smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer, asking for a couple bucks to spend on “food.”

With the amount of money it costs to run a public university system, it is baffling that this external audit is only being mandated now. As taxpayer money is pushed toward public education and students try to figure out how to handle a 32.5 percent fee increase, it’s about time. Both taxpayers and students deserve to know how the money is being spent.

State Sen. Leland Yee from California’s 8th District, which represents San Francisco and San Mateo, expects the audit to uncover fraud and waste at the university system.

Yudof insists that there isn’t any substantial amount of waste happening at the UC, and that this audit will not produce any groundbreaking findings. He is not expecting to see any easy solutions or quick fixes that should have been implemented years ago. He probably hopes for a crystal-clear report without any easy suggestions that money can be saved.

But looking around at the skyrocketing fees, mounting layoffs, and dwindling resources, we sure don’t. If this audit brings wasteful spending to the public eye, perhaps that money can be used for other valuable expenses. UC campuses will be forced to cut that much less from their resource centers, dining halls and employee salaries.

Really though, this isn’t about whether or not California’s nonpartisan auditor will uncover the fraud and waste that Sen. Lee anticipates. It’s about the transparency and accountability that Californians should be able to expect from their public institutions.

Can you imagine if a public business laid off thousands of workers, cut services, raised prices, and then tried to keep its finances a secret from its shareholders? People would be furious. This audit will hold the UC accountable to its “shareholders” — the California taxpayers and students.

It comes late, but we’re happy to hear about California’s plans to provide an honest audit of the UC. We expect it to be thorough, and we expect it to be complete.

So please, administrators, before you reach into our pockets any further, open up your books.