Representatives from City on a Hill Press, The Daily Cal, and student newspapers at other University of California campuses had the opportunity to ask UC President Mark Yudof about the state of the UC on September 19.
The Prodigy at UC Merced: Our question is, more of a general thing about the state budget and tuition. As you probably know, since 1980, the percent of state budget spent on corrections and prison has significantly increased, while the portion allocated to higher education has dropped. Should we take a systemwide stance against these shifting priorities to prevent further budget cuts and tuition increases?
Mark Yudof: Well, I’ve certainly taken that position. I’ve said many times to the governors, the legislators that it’s… a total embarrassment, an improper allocation of resources, that the expenditures on prisoners are a multiple now of what they are on higher education, that we now have whatever … half as much to spend per student than we did 10, 20 years ago, and the priorities are upside-down. And I’ve told them; I’ve taken a position on that. I don’t control the votes in the legislature, but I think you’re exactly right. I see Prop. 30 as perhaps, at least an opening … to try and change that, and try to get increasing appropriations for the university. As you know, we’re down virtually a billion dollars in the last four years, we’ll be down another $375 million if Proposition 30 doesn’t pass. We have a $22 billion-plus budget, and $2 billion, roughly, if it doesn’t pass, will come from the state of California. So this is a disgrace in my view, and a lack of commitment to the students, and I’m with you, I’ve said it publicly, I’ve said it over and over.
The Highlander at UC Riverside: At last week’s Regents meeting, there was a discussion on a variety of long-term proposals to increase revenues or cut across the UC system. These proposals included increasing enrollment of out-of-state students and differential tuition among campuses or majors. With the UC’s future funding unclear, which proposals are most attractive to you at this time, and why?
Mark Yudof: I would say, the differential tuition by campus or by discipline is probably near the very end of the list. It’s very unpopular with students, it’s unpopular, I think, with the Regents, it’s not something the faculty is for. In this world, I don’t want to rule out anything, forever, but I would say, if there were 20 proposals, that would be 20th on the list. I would say the things that would make the most sense is restructuring our debt, which was blocked in the legislature last time, which would enable us to pay less money to Wall Street by refinancing things and paying lower interest rates. For whatever reason, it was blocked. We can save a block of money there, up to $80 million per year, which would be an $80 million offset of any tuition increase that might be needed. Some higher payouts from our endowments, that’s another $20 million or so. I think we need to be careful about non-residents. Our first obligation is to Californians, but the truth is that we’re so under-funded, that when we enroll a non-resident and they pay full freight, that enables us to admit a Californian. And actually, our California enrollment has been going up, even as non-resident enrollment has gone up. I would guess those are probably the ones near the top. There’s some things we can do with common IT systems that would make sense. The other things are pretty draconian. We can freeze faculty hiring—we’re already 15 percent below market on faculty salaries, we could do some of that. We could trim health and welfare benefits, but that would take some time and some consultation with the labor unions and with our non-represented employees. That’s pretty much the picture as I see it. We’re going to be working diligently, because even if Prop 30 passes, we’re hundreds of millions of dollars short. The state gave us $90 million, and our biggest cost-drivers, our pensions—we reformed our pension two years ago, or the state did—but it’s expensive to fix it, and health benefits are very costly for us, and then energy costs and a few other things.
The Highlander at UC Riverside: President Yudof, you’ve been a leading voice in the UC urging support for Proposition 30. The election in November is rapidly approaching, and the political whirlwind surrounding it grows each day. If you were to meet a UC student on the street today, what would you say to the student about the significance of the upcoming election? In your opinion, how might possible outcomes of the election affect the student?
Mark Yudof: I would say to the student that this is critical. This has more of a direct relationship to your pocketbook than virtually anything that I can imagine. It may be that if the speaker’s bill had passed and we had gotten more scholarship money, that would have been a big help. But absent something like that, we need to have a steady stream of increasing appropriations. And we have worked out a plan, it’s not official, it’s not approved by everyone, but believe it or not, in about five years, we could be back at 2007–08 levels of state appropriations. That would take a lot of pressure off of tuition. And you’ve had these gargantuan tuition increases over just many, many years. So I would say, look, it’s a little bit more on the sales tax, and the income tax, it’s not perfect. I used to do local and state taxes when I was a law professor, taught courses, but this really is an opportunity to reverse this 20-year trend and have increasing appropriations to the university for a decade. And we have a big, big swing on this. We froze tuition, but no one paid for it, and that’s $125 million. And in addition to that, if it doesn’t pass, another $250 million in cuts. We have a $400 million swing. And $400 million is one hell of a lot of student tuition money, just take my word for it, do the math. So I would say, if we get this done, we can maintain the quality, maintain the faculty. I don’t promise no tuition increases, but I’m hoping we could keep them in the single digits, rather than what you’ve seen over the last five to 10 years. That’s what I would tell them. And I hope you do tell your parents and your friends this election matters. And that’s every opportunity, when I’m out on the hustings, speaking, I do that. And as you know, we’re going to need each vote. And as you know, we got the Board of Regents to endorse it, with only one dissenting vote, so I’m very hopeful. But the polls are close, as you know.
The Daily Bruin at UC Los Angeles: My first question is about the rebenching policy. I wanted to know what prompted you to approve the rebenching policy, which aims to equalize the amount of per-student state funding across campuses. And I also wanted to know what your response is to UCLA officials who say that our campus will receive disproportionate cuts under rebenching.
Mark Yudof: Look, let’s be candid about this. Campuses have always paid for the Office of the President, we’ve never been free. We have the general counsel’s office, we have the people who do the bonds, we have pension plan, we have the outreach programs…on and on the list goes. We’ve never been free. Under the old system, which I didn’t like. There was no transparency, none. We just took whatever we needed, and out of a variety of central pots, very unevenly, with uneven policy consequences, and life went on. So the rebenching policy was designed to say, we’re going to try to do this on a uniform—someone calls it a tax, that’s fine if you want to call it that, but it’s not new money, we always had the money. We’re just trying to do it in a more transparent, more fair way. And we left it up to the campuses to decide where the money came from. So the campuses actually, in general, have the discretion, to decide against what base to levy this tax to support these central activities. And by the way, this is also admission and financial aid as well, a lot of stuff in there that’s related to students. It’s a better system… we’re always happy to share with you what we spend that money on, and you could look at it, and critique it, the digital library that the campuses share together, it goes to campus research grants, it’s a lot of different things. I actually held this up for fear it might have a negative impact on UCLA, so I want to be honest about this. And I didn’t like some of the projections I saw. And if I understand it, we are reconfiguring how the rebenching, it’s not so much rebenching, this is, well… the needs of… we’re looking at it to make sure it doesn’t have an untoward effect on UCLA. I’m very sensitive to that, and we want to be fair to everyone, but you can’t re-do the world in a day. UCLA’s a critically important campus, I didn’t want to do anything that would put it in jeopardy over a very short period of time…. It was held off expressly for that reason, and I was the guy who held it up.
The Daily Bruin at UC Los Angeles: My second question was about UC governance. Last spring, there was a proposal from UC Berkeley leaders saying that UC campuses should be given more autonomy. And you’ve said in past interviews that the governance structure of the UC should be re-examined. So what problems do you see with the UC’s governance model, and what changes would you want to make to it?
Mark Yudof: Let me say, I’m not getting too specific about any of the proposals. Of all the problems we have, none of them would be solved by having 11 boards of regents. Firstly, I find one more than enough to keep me busy. You can argue until the cows come home that maybe if UCLA had its own board, and Berkeley, and so forth, that would be a better world. I’m not sure it would be. But the point is, it’s in our constitution, it’s worked well for over 100 years, so I’m not in favor of having a replication of functions and building board upon board. I think we have enough bureaucracy and enough wasted money on administration, and we don’t need more. What do I see as the problems? I think if I had my way, we’d have more campus autonomy, probably on admissions, and we have a lot, but I probably would do some more. One of the things I wish, that our Regents meeting, with the comment period and so forth, were less theatrical, and we had more time for the regents to actually learn how the campuses operate, and what their problems are, and what their aspirations are. So we’re trying to figure out ways that strengthen the expertise that the members of the board have about actual conditions on the ground, on the campuses; I think that’s an issue. I think we can try to control costs and do other things, but probably do some more work to expedite construction projects on campus, maybe some additional work to get more returns on our tech transfer when we license things. And—this might be controversial—I probably would have less central control of salaries than we do today. I don’t know anyone at so many of these compensation items, a deluge on the board of regents every couple of months, and I’ve been at Texas and Minnesota and Michigan and part of Harvard and so forth, it’s a lot of sand in the gears in terms of expeditiously doing our building, so I probably would have more autonomy. On the other hand, I’d probably have some more centralization in other areas. I think we ought to be buying our IT systems together, and trying to save as much money as we can. I think it’s good to have common procurement systems. so we all buy our pencils together, get a bigger discount, and we’re doing some of that. So have more centralization but mostly decentralization.
The Daily Cal at UC Berkeley: I wanted to ask you specifically, since you mentioned increasing autonomy—what kind of dialogue has been established surrounding the proposal that was released by Chancellor Birgeneau? And to what extent do you think increasing autonomy or using some of the ideas presented in the proposal is a viable option for the UC?
Mark Yudof: We’ve had a lot of discussion among board members, among chancellors. I’ve actually talked to some Berkeley alums about it. And I just think you have to be very specific when you use the word “autonomy,” about what it is you’re trying to achieve. I don’t think we’re ready for local control of tuition, and I don’t think it changes anything in terms of the political dynamics, the dynamics of the students, the dynamics for the media and so forth. I would favor more control, local control, of compensation, maybe more local control of facilities projects, things like that. And I don’t really mind having sort of beefed-up advisory boards that could be very useful to the students, the faculty, the staff and the chancellor, but I don’t think a full-fledged board of regents at the local level… but steps toward a more autonomous local board of regents … I don’t think is viable. There’s a lot of legal issues. We don’t draw on a clean slate. We do have a state constitution, we do have a governor appointing most of the members of the board, we do have a confirmation by the state Senate, I mean this is a deeply embedded governance structure. Those are the things that come to mind, maybe you have in mind some other things that I’d be happy to discuss .. but this is a pretty difficult set of issues, and I think this is going to take some time. We’ve also had them with UC San Francisco, which has also adopted a system with an advisory board to the chancellor.
The Daily Cal at UC Berkeley: The UC has been developing its [online education] program rapidly for the past two years, but what’s your vision for the future of online education? Will this end up being a university-wide effort, or will it vary by campus? Do you think this could be a significant source of revenue for campuses down the line?
Mark Yudof: Those are really good questions, and I wish I knew all the answers. I would actually say… that in my view, it’s been very slow. We’re hopeful to get 25 courses up. We’ve been at it a couple of years. I’m not saying… you know, we try to do it right in terms of quality and in terms of faculty participation and the like, and we’re trying to do something that a lot of these valued programs aren’t doing – and that is, we want these courses to be for credit, we want them to be high-quality, we want them to be available to students on the campus. And a lot of these programs … I don’t know where it all is headed. We have a lot of evaluation. I guess, at a minimum what I’d like to see is by having some really great courses available to students on campus that we can reduce some of our cost and therefore not see tuition rise as much and adjust to the new financial world. Could it make some money? Maybe down the line, but it’s totally untested. Could we market it abroad and so forth? We’ve thought about it. But right now, we’re trying to get it right for our own matriculants. One of the things that hasn’t been written up much is it’s trying to create a common platform where these courses would be available systemwide, and you would get credit for it, even though it may be a Berkeley professor putting it together, there you are, sitting in Irvine, and you can get credit toward your degree at Irvine. So that turns out to be complicated … but I’d like to make it easier for our students to cross-enroll across campuses, and this should be a good start.
The Daily Cal at UC Berkeley: In light of Prop. 30, what strategies does UC have or has it been discussing to keep UC schools an economical option for both in-state and out-of-state students?
Mark Yudof: We have the most generous financial aid system in the United States. … 30 percent of our tuition gets turned back into financial aid. In addition to that, we have Pell Grants and we have Cal Grants and so forth. The result is, half of our students pay no tuition. That’s pretty affordable. I don’t say it’s free, I mean, you have to have a roof over your head, you have to eat, you have to buy books, you have to travel, you have issues, but in this world, that’s pretty good. Our average debt is $120,000 a year, we’ve controlled it pretty well. That’s significantly below the national average, and I’m talking about only public universities. For private, it can be much, much higher. So I think we’ve done a good job. We’re committed to doing that, and if you actually look at our actual workload amount, that is what students are expected to pay, they’ve been relatively flat over the last three years, even as tuition, and even gone down even as tuition has risen. So we’ve done a pretty good job. You always have to look at the net tuition, that is, on average, what are people paying, and this is heavily discounted with, as I say, half our students paying no tuition and another segment of them getting scholarships. … So I’m not saying it’s easy. We live in a world of foreclosures and unemployment and I think giving prospects for college graduates, I hope it gets better, so I’m not saying it’s easy, but we’ve worked awfully hard to keep it affordable.
New University at UC Irvine: My question is regarding UC governance and regent reform. I know this was sort of mentioned before, but what is your stance on the student campaigns that call for reducing the regent term to 8 years and increasing the number of student regents to facilitate communication, or more communication, in relationship with students.
Mark Yudof: In general … I don’t critique my bosses. It’s a good lesson in life I’ve learned, so I feel it’s not my prerogative to tell the regents or California, I’ve only been here four years, you don’t have the right way of selecting regents, or you have too few or too many or so forth. The one thing I would say is I think, since I’ve been here, the student regents have been pretty terrific. And my experiences when I was president of Minnesota were also good. I’m very sympathetic, I don’t think it’s my decision, but I am sympathetic to having more student representation. The other thing, and I will opine this, I don’t think the one-year terms are long enough. That’s my personal opinion, having discussed it with no one. It just takes a long time to understand all the gobbledygook and rigamorale and the numbers and so forth. When the student regent is firing on all cylinders, it seems time for he or she to move on. So in my way of thinking, it might be a good idea to at least have a two-year term so that you get a little more continuity.
New University at UC Irvine: Regarding the upcoming UC campus-wide campus climate survey, what can students expect in terms of being able to participate and just being aware of it, and also once the results are compiled, how accessible will the findings be, and in light of previous reports, what differences will we see in terms of dealing with campus climate issues?
Mark Yudof: That’s a tough set of questions. I mean we’re going to advertise it. we need to get at least 30 percent participation for it to be valid. And by the way, it’s students, faculty and staff. So, you know, to the best of our ability, we’re going to advertise and try to make people aware, because the higher the rate of return, the more accurate the survey is. You can help us in your newspapers, and student government can help, because this is not a random sample type thing. In the ideal world, everyone would respond, so we’d have a really good sample. If we don’t get 30 percent, my fear is it wouldn’t be accurate. The return, the information will be totally public. We will make it public, probably put it online, or share it with you. I’m hoping it will lead to more intelligent policy. I get thousands of letters a month saying something about campus climate, but they’re all anecdotal, and it’s sort of hard to know what students really think. I mean, whether it’s Hispanic students or Asian students, Asian-American students, or Jewish students, do they feel comfortable, do they feel safe? There’s a lot of anecdotal stuff, and a lot of people outside the campuses that have opinions. We’d like to know what you think. If you’re gay and on the staff, do you feel that you’re appreciated, or do you think there are impediments in your career? And frankly, it’s a lot of money, like a half million or $600,000 and time that is not great for us financially. But if we’re ever going to make progress on the campus climate issues, we need to know exactly what the problems are. The only way to know that is to ask people on the campuses, and that’s what we’re doing. So I hope we can have your help in the papers, talk it up so more people will participate.
The Guardian at UC San Diego: Obviously in the last couple of months, since July, there’s been a lot of buzz about the advisory council on campus climate reports both for the Jewish and Arab-Muslim student reports. How are you approaching the findings of the report, and when can we expect a decision regarding the Jewish report’s recommendation to ban hate speech on campuses, and what about all the other recommendations in both reports?
Mark Yudof: Well, first, there’s a lot of misinformation about that. These sets of recommendations are not coming to a vote in the campus climate committee. I mean, these are reports that I commissioned to advise me, and my staff and I will be wading through them and looking to see what makes sense. For example, the report on Muslim students had some recommendations about community places for prayer for Muslim students. I’ve already brought that to the attention of the chancellors, and we’re working to follow through. So we’re going to go through them, but there’s no up or down vote on it. Second, I wish I could create a hate free campus. I’m a constitutional lawyer. I’ve taught First Amendment for 25, 30 years. We can’t do it. If by hate free you mean people cannot speak out what they think about other people or events or whatever, and it’s simply pure speech. It is the case that we have protected Ku Klux Klan speech in Illinois, we have protected draft dodgers in the First World War, and their speech, advising people not to report for the draft. We protect speech in this country, and that’s what our First Amendment is all about, so I’d like our campuses to be hate-free. I think I and the chancellors ought to speak out, we have a moral obligation, when people are anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim or anti-gay or anti-African-American or whatever, but we cannot and should not try to prevent speech. The cure for bad speech is good speech, and this climate on the campuses should be one of thriving diversity of opinion, and amidst all the flowers there will be some weeds, but we can’t chop them without jeopardizing the entire enterprise. And then, finally, to answer your question, I think we have just about gotten right, I have spent a lot of time with our legal counsel, and it occurred after the San Diego incident, what was protected speech. There is some wiggle room in some of the speech codes, and I think where we are today at the University of California is pretty much the settled law of the land, and I’m not planning on trying to go further than our constitution permits.
The Guardian at UC San Diego: My second question is, recently there have been a couple of challenges to Proposition 209, the affirmative action ban, and the ban has been reaffirmed by recent court rulings. Will UC take any new steps to ensure that enrollment of minority students continues to increase? And does this remain a priority?
Mark Yudof: It’s a very high priority. We filed a very strong brief in the United States Supreme Court, in the Fisher case, saying that in effect we’re not satisfied with our progress in achieving diversity. We believe Proposition 209 is a great impediment, and more relevant to the U.S. Supreme Court, we believe that the state should be free to practice affirmative action without violating the 14th amendment. That was signed by myself and all 10 chancellors, actually 11. That’s our position. It’s very hard for us, I am deeply in favor of overturning Prop. 209, and at this point, given what’s happened to the courts, at least today, I don’t think a legal challenge is likely to succeed, although it would be great if it did. What we have done is we have tried to redouble our efforts to recruit in the high schools, we’ve tried to give a lot of scholarship money to low-income kids, many of whom are Hispanic or Afrian-American and so forth, and we have a holistic admissions system on the nine academic campuses, so your life is not summed up into two numbers, your grade-point average and your SAT score. We’ve tried to do as best we can the things that would strengthen the possibilities for more underrepresented groups that need admission to the university. But frankly, 209 does tie our hands to a large extent. It’s just true.
City on a Hill Press at UC Santa Cruz: So we all know that the UC faces $300 million in funding gaps for this fiscal year, and if Prop. 30 doesn’t pass, an additional budget gap of $375 million in cuts will happen. You said in your opening remarks at last week’s Regents meeting that tuition increases would not be discussed within the potential strategies for increasing revenue. If Prop. 30 does pass, is there any chance you could see plans for decreasing tuition in the long term?
Mark Yudof: What I said is we’re not going to discuss tuition at that board meeting, because I wanted to focus on alternatives, things we could do to either not raise tuition or to reduce the amount that would be raised. So I was trying to keep the board focused on these 10 or 20 proposals, I didn’t say it would not be raised. I think the chances are very high tuition will be raised. Even if Prop. 30 passes, we’re down $879 million in the last four years, and the amount of new money from the state is $90 million. And you know, as I said, the big ticket items are pension funds, compensation for faculty and health benefits, energy costs and a bunch of other things, and so my plan is to put together a total package for November, really it’s going to be two plans, one if Prop. 30 passes, and one if it doesn’t. I wish I could tell you otherwise, I think the probability is quite high. Our budget is going down, if it does not pass, from $3.4 billion to it’ll probably be under $2 million within a four year period. Most prices will continue to go up, and we have these expenses, and a third of the tuition is being put back into scholarships. It’s highly re-distributed, the way we do it. We will probably be discussing it in November, along with a bunch of other proposals to save money, to tamp down as much as we can any possible tuition increase.
City on a Hill Press at UC Santa Cruz: It’s unfortunate that tuition does have to rise and has been rising, and the state budget has been going down, but in your opinion, do you think students will continue seeking out the University of California if tuition continues to rise as it has?
Mark Yudof: Obviously it depends on how much it rises, but applications are up 9 percent this year. You’re talking about some of the world’s best universities at $12,000 a year. And you compare that to other public universities around the country, most of them don’t have anywhere near our quality. Now, I mean, your point’s excellent. If the tuition goes up too much, people are price-sensitive, they can only avoid to pay too much, so much, excuse me, too much and so much, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near that price point. In light of historic tuition increases, applications, and I’m talking about residents, non-residents are also up 10 percent, they’re up 9 percent. So you’re getting a very high quality education at a very good price, even if it hurts. Part of the problem is, it’s a dereliction of the master plan and the way it was supposed to be. And the state of California loves the Master Plan, it just doesn’t want to pay for it. And that’s sort of a problem. The quality’s there, access is there, we’re maintaining affordability as best we can, we still have more Nobel Laureates than most countries, research is there, but it’s a problem. And I hope we’ll be able to slow this rise down, it’s not healthy for us, it’s not healthy for you either.