UC Regents Divided on Financial Future of System

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    Illustration by Jamie Morton.

    The recent UC Board of Regents planning session in San Francisco left many unsure about the UC system’s financial strategy for the next several years.

    The regents met on Sept. 15 to discuss and plan a stable financial framework for the embattled UC system. Discussion of UC President Mark Yudof’s proposal to mandate an 8–16 percent tuition increase every year for the next four years was notably avoided. The regular increases were proposed in an effort to reduce the $1.5 billion budget gap faced by the UC system.

    SFGate coverage painted the regents as largely opposed to Yudof’s proposal, with an increased focus on seeking sources of corporate donorship and philanthropy taking the bulk of the discussion period.

    “Get real — and don’t fool yourselves and think the legislature will turn around, or you’ll be waiting for Godot,” Regent David Crane said, voicing the popular sentiment that state aid is unlikely to be forthcoming in any appreciable amount.

    Many UC students are left wondering about the regents’ eventual plans.

    “Historically, the regents have always supported what Yudof proposes,” said SUA external vice chair Nelson Cortez. “However, it seemed that this proposal was not going to be taken lightly by the regents.”

    Cortez is wary of the regents’ focus on seeking more private sector funding.

    “While I think it is good the regents are finally looking at alternate forms of revenue and finally doing something to address the lack of funding from Sacramento, I think we need to take a closer, critical look at what exactly they intend to do,” Cortez said. “Privatization of the university is not acceptable and won’t be tolerated by students. This is why students must be involved with the process and this is why the regents must be transparent with their actions.”

    Steve Montiel, media relations director of the UC Office of the President, said though nothing was presented for a vote at the planning session, “[the planning session] was very distressing. It’s getting close to budgeting time and the ideal would be to have longer-term commitments from the state, rather than year-to-year.”

    Ultimately, state aid is what is needed to close the budget gap, he said.

    “What we’re looking to do is get some sort of signal from the regents on a multi-year plan so we can talk to the state about it,” Montiel said.

    This signal, he said, would be the four-year tuition increase or something similarly preemptive.

    “Some regents talked about corporate fundraising — we’ll do that with the regents and continue to look at alternatives, but when all is said and done, there’s that $1.5 billion gap,” Montiel said.

    Seeking private sources of funding is nothing new to the UC system, despite it being a public university.

    “$1.3 billion is given in gifts to the UC system every year, but they’re usually campus-specific and restricted,” Montiel said. “Only about 2 percent of gifts to the UC system are unrestricted.”

    Still, some regents feel waiting for the state to come to their aid is pointless.

    “[We should approach those] who can actually write a check — Chevron, Apple, Cisco and Google — all these companies sitting on money they don’t know what to do with,” said Regent Richard Blum at the Sept. 15 meeting.

    Regardless of what method is chosen, Montiel makes it clear there is an interest in making the difficulties of paying for a UC education more predictable for families.

    “The purpose [of the meeting] was to enable us to talk with the state about longer term commitments,” he said, “and to enable students to plan with their families with more certainty.”