Blatant Disregard

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The Editorial Board laments the sheer lack of attention that UCOP has paid to California state law regarding student tuition increases.

Over spring break, the California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office quietly determined that the tuition increase proposed by the University of California Office of the President last year did not comply with a critical state law.

It’s an affirmation of a stance which students have been arguing for months: that the tuition hike was sprung out of nowhere without adequate student input and that there must be protections for students who can’t afford a surprise 5-percent hike for five years.

As it turns out, there is a law that requires these exact provisions. Chapter 620, also known as The Working Families Student Fee Transparency and Accountability Act, requires that the University of California and the California State University systems follow a set of guidelines before implementing any kind of tuition increase. The guidelines specify that the university systems must follow “prescribed public notice and student consultation procedures,” in addition to developing a list of factors to consider and providing the legislature with annual reports on tuition and fees.

UCOP was found to be noncompliant with most of the notification protocols specified by Chapter 620. The LAO even recognized that the university failed to meet with student representatives about the increase in a timely manner — the mandatory consultation happened nearly three months late. Furthermore, other steps, like providing information to student representatives and informing the public of the first meeting to consider an increase, were never completed in any way.

What the LAO opinion more clearly demonstrates is the blatant disregard for state law and student well-being that UCOP exercised when this increase was first proposed. According to Principal Fiscal and Policy Analyst for the LAO Paul Golaszewski, the UC system used its status as autonomous from the state to justify its actions in enacting a tuition hike. But whether the state has direct oversight of UC finances or not, the university system should not be allowed to ignore several important provisions of a law enacted to protect students.

It’s further evidence of the instability in the UC’s governing body, which seems to be more and more run by one person rather than a board made up of representatives. UCOP proposed this tuition hike without following the procedures outlined for them by the state, then pushed it through despite student outcry. Finally, the office announced that tuition hikes would be postponed indefinitely as President Janet Napolitano negotiates the UC budget with the state legislature.

Therefore student finances seem to be entirely at the whim of UCOP and a UC president who is acting without proper oversight at every stage of the process.

Representatives from the UC system have, of course, stated that they disagree with the LAO report and that they did everything they could to alert student groups of the increase. But with the news becoming public knowledge for most students in September of last year, we strongly disagree that this was adequate time for students to thoroughly make their opinions known.

The LAO’s analysis is a major validation for student groups who have been protesting this increase for months. However, Golaszewski revealed that Chapter 620 is just about useless in enforcing the provisions it outlines. Because no penalties are specified in the legislation, the UC system was able to act with impunity, and they likely knew they would face no real consequences.

At this point, what Chapter 620 allows the legislature to do is hold oversight hearings that would force the UCOP to explain their actions surrounding the tuition hike. And while we think that it would be preferable for the legislation to specify actual penalties for UCOP over this action, we encourage the legislature to move forward with the hearing process, as it would at least make UCOP explain its actions to students somewhat honestly.

Potentially the most damning part of the LAO report is the finding that the CSU system has been compliant with Chapter 620 since it was passed in 2012. The CSU system has faced many of the same budget shortage issues and even more overcrowding in some cases than the UC system. For the other public university system in the state to succeed in these simple guidelines shows that it’s not asking for the world when we demand the same of the UC leadership, and perhaps Napolitano could follow the CSU budget strategies as an example for acting in students’ best interests.