California State Senate Proposes Plan to Take Over UC System

In the wake of the UC Board of Regents’ controversial five-year tuition hike, two California State senators introduced a constitutional amendment on Thursday, Dec. 4 which would return control of the UC system to the state legislature if passed. Dubbed SCA-1, the proposed legislation would need a two-thirds majority approval of both the State Assembly and Senate before being placed on the 2016 ballot.

SCA-1 is the bipartisan brainchild of Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres). While the amendment does not list specific powers, it would enable the California Legislature to oversee all necessary UC regent decisions if passed. For example, it could create laws that veto tuition increases or chancellor pay hikes, among other things.

“At a time when access, affordability and diversity are in question, we should allow the public to have a direct say in how its public university system operates,” Lara said in his statement.

SCA-1 would end the UC system’s historic independence from state control — which has continued for over 100 years — and implement a system more similar to how California State Universities are run. A similar measure was created by former Sen. Leland Yee in 2009, although it failed to win Senate approval.

“This constitutional amendment will accomplish [accountability] without interfering with the daily operations of the UC system,” Cannella added in Lara’s statement. “The students working hard to earn a degree and the families that support many of them deserve no less than a university system that utilizes its funding judiciously.”

However, SCA-1 is not without controversy. It has attracted the favor of some parties, like UC Berkeley’s A.S. Council, but has drawn sharp rebukes from the UC Office of the President.

“There are constructive discussions in the Senate, Assembly and with the administration about how we ensure that University of California remains accessible to future generations,” UCOP media specialist Brooke Converse told the UCSD Guardian. “This proposal, however, is a distraction from the central issue of the necessity for adequate state funding of higher education. It’s unclear what the goal is.”

She added that the entire UC system already submits public accountability reports to the state legislature every year and believes that changing the California Constitution would be counterproductive to maintaining its current education standards.

“Autonomy for the University of California has been guaranteed in the constitution since 1878. This was a deliberate decision by the state’s leaders at the time,” Converse said. “The UC [system]’s autonomous governance has worked out very well for people and communities in every part of the state for well over 100 years.”

Mary Gilly, chair of the UC Academic Senate, also raised concerns over political interference in the UC curriculum and implications for other nonfinancial problems that the system faces.

“It seems to be someone looking for a tool or a weapon to use in reaction to the proposed tuition increases,” Gilly said in a Dec. 5 San Jose Mercury News article. “It seems to be a nuclear weapon.”

Gov. Brown was a vocal opponent of the tuition increase, though he has thus far remained silent on the issue of SCA-1. The amendment would not require his signature to be implemented if the legislature and California voters both approve the bill.

UCSD A.S. Council President Robby Boparai finds the amendment intriguing, but is reluctant to form a definite stance on the matter while the legislation is still in such early stages.

“I don’t know what the outcome of this will be; there’s a lot of interesting politics and repercussions going on with the UC system,” Boparai said in a UCSD Guardian interview. “I think, in general, this bill has more pros than cons if passed, although there are a lot of concerns I think I might have … Keeping the status quo and changing it to Lara’s system both aren’t ideal scenarios, but maybe this new proposition might be a little better.”

He added that SCA-1 would ideally provide students with more incentives to go out and vote, should it pass through the state legislature, since voters have a greater pull on elected officials.

SCA-1 is one of several proposals released by the state government due to the recent UC tuition crisis. In a flurry of activity, Senate President pro tempore Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) announced Senate Bill 15 on Dec. 2 — his planned alternative to the Board of Regents’ five-year hike — while Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) suggested that Sacramento review the annual UC budget line by line starting next year.

AVP Local Affairs Daniel Firoozi also told the Guardian that while state legislators may not all be on the same page, they have increasingly been reaching out to the UC Student Association with new initiatives to address tuition hikes and other issues.

Both Firoozi and Boparai agreed that more concrete progress would need to be made on these proposals before A.S. Council or the UCSA could start student discussions and endorsing  particular viewpoints.

Additional members of the UCSA could not be reached by press time.