One cost-cutting option for UC: close some campuses

Desperate times call for desperate measures, as the old saying goes, and the University of California is certainly looking to make desperate cuts. One suggestion from a San Diego sociology professor: Close UC campuses at Merced, Riverside and Santa Cruz.

As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the budget Tuesday morning,  UC expected $1.15 billion in total cuts. This includes the initial $813 million cut from the general fund and an additional $335 million in costs not funded by the state. Some 100,000 UC employees will also be subject to furlough days and pay cuts, approved July 16 at the Board of Regents meeting.

“We hope the savings created by the furlough plan that saves $184 million, lessens the need for layoffs, said Leslie Sepuka, spokesperson for the UC.

The cut will break down to 25 percent from an increase in student fees, 25 percent from furloughs and pay cuts, 10 percent in system-wide savings, and 40 percent divided among the campuses. Layoffs, she said, are “not a part of the plan,” Sepuka said.
Such campuses like UC Berkeley are looking at $100 million in additional cuts, while UC Irvine is cutting $77 million, according to spokespersons from the universities.

The deep cuts are prompting proposals from throughout the system on the best way to balance the books.

Days before UC President Mark Yudof presented his plan to the Board of Regents meeting, UC San Diego sociology professor Andrew Scull gathered with 22 other department chairs to write a letter of suggestions to Yudof.

One of the suggestions: close UC Merced, Santa Cruz, and Riverside.

“We suggest…you drop the pretence that all campuses are equal, and argue for a selective reallocation of funds to preserve excellence, not the current disastrous blunderbuss policy of even, across the board cuts,” reads the letter acquired through the Merced Sun-Star. “Or, if that is too hard, we suggest that what ought to be done is to shut one or more of these campuses down, in whole or in part.”

Scull, who attended the University of Oxford and has been at UCSD for 31 years, said he considers the UC system divided into three tiers: the first includes UC Berkeley, Los Angeles, and San Diego, the second with Davis, Irvine, and Santa Barbara, and the third Santa Cruz, Riverside and Merced.  

Others might rank the tiers differently, with UC Berkeley and UCLA as the stars of the UC system and the other campuses – including San Diego’s – below them.

“I think all of the [UC] campuses provide very good to excellent undergraduate education. I would very much hope that they would all be preserved in that form because the loss of any one of them would be a serious blow to students and their families,” said Scull.
Yudof acknowledged in a letter to the 10 UC Chancellors on July 9 that these are difficult times to deal with, but no campuses will be closing anytime soon.

“Well-meaning as such suggestions might have been…each time in the past such a suggestion has been understood to be short-sighted,” said Yudof. “…all ten campuses will continue to be expected to serve the same tripartite mission of instruction, research, and public service in the future as they do today.”

Juan Carmen, the Associated Students President at UC Merced, found the letter from UCSD professors “extremely upsetting.”
“To have those select professors disregard the tremendous amount of work that many of my fellow students and I have put into our academics all while initiating some of the first clubs and organizations…contributing to the student life of our campus,” said Carmen.  “To stymie this growth would be the loss of a prototype for other universities to come.”

UC Merced opened its doors to students in September 2005, making it the newest addition to the UC system in 40 years. Scull thinks that funds should be better spent on preserving the UC mission of research.  

“We think, given the decline in state support that has persisted now since 1990…prospects are dire. The question is under those circumstances can you sustain ten research campuses at the level of excellence you want? Our argument is that you cannot,” said Scull.

Another one of his suggestions was to increase admittance to out of state students. “Not to exclude California students but so the mix changes,” he said. An increase in non-Californian students would mean charging those students the more expensive out-of-state which could potentially reduce cuts.

Yudof created a Commission on the Future of UC during the Board of Regents meeting in response to the fiscal hardships the UC will be facing.

“The next few months will undoubtedly be a difficult time for both the University of California as well as families across the state,” said Yudof in a release. “However, I remain confident that by confronting our challenges squarely, and working together to tell our story, we will emerge from this crisis with a more viable, sustainable plan for remaining a world-class research and teaching institution.”

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