UC: Butting heads in a committee of two

On the campus of UC Berkeley, Sather Gate. (Photo: cdrin via Shutterstock)

At a recent University of California regents meeting, Jerry Brown took a moment to do his favorite thing: harken back to his earlier terms in the governor’s office.

“If we go back to the good old days when I was governor in 1975, the state funded very specifically, even research,” Brown, an ex officio member of the board, told his fellow regents during their meeting in the Conference Center at UC San Francisco Mission Bay.

“The funding was about $52 to $53 million — the state actually funded that,” Brown said. “And one time I had (former UC) President Saxon in the governor’s office, I said, ‘David I want to go over your research budget,’ and his face turned crimson, he stood up and said, ‘No governor is going over our research budget, that’s called academic freedom.’”

Forty years later, the parsimonious Brown is still butting heads with the UC system’s president over money. The issue is simple: The state wants to know in detail how UC spends its money, the first step if the state is to give the system more money in the 2015-2016 budget.

Today in the Capitol, an unusual hearing will examine the issue.

UC is penciled in to receive a boost of just under $120 million from the General Fund — if student tuition remains flat.

But the UC regents have approved raising tuition, and President Janet Napolitano is playing hardball: She says UC needs $100 million more than what the governor is offering. And UC, required by law to give a new detailed report on its finances, has missed the deadline – twice – to submit that report. The failure to make the deadlines has raised eyebrows in the Capitol.

At the last regents meeting, she was successful in pushing the regents to approve tuition increases of up to 28% over the next five years. Students now pay about $12,000 for a year’s tuition; that’s excluding the cost of books, board and food.

Earlier, in an unusual move, the regents voted to approve what’s formally titled a Select Advisory Committee on the Cost Structure of the University.

And that advice will be coming from only two of the regents: Brown and Napolitano. The two, along with their staffs, will determine and present to the full board in March a new state funding strategy for UC. Their first meeting is set for Monday in the Capitol.

A helpful tool in that planning process will be a report from the UC, statutorily required by to have been provided to the Department of Finance last fall, which outlines the system’s expenditures.

At Wednesday’s meeting Napolitano said they would be filing that report in the next few weeks, but emphasized the challenges they’re facing in completing it.

“It’s asking now the university go back and disaggregate all of the things that had been aggregated pursuant to that (previous) understanding,” Napolitano said at the regents meeting. “That has been… a key difficulty, which is kind of a shift in the paradigm in the process by which all of these financial records are maintained.”

State officials have historically funded the university system as a whole, not on the per student level; then in 2013 the Legislature enacted AB 94 requiring both the UC and the California State University systems to provide the state with periodic reports that better convey where their spending priorities lie. CSU met its deadlines to submit the report; UC didn’t.

Much like in the days when David Saxon was in charge of UC, Brown says he wants Napolitano to make it clear whether the state is funding a system or its students.







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