Student fees may be raised to pay for wage increase

Student fees may rise to provide UC faculty and staff salary increases, this after Gov. Gray Davis’ proposed 2002-2003 budget provides less funding to the the UC system than requested.

California revenue shortfalls prompted Davis to reduce the budget. Nearly all state-funded programs were affected, and the UC system was no exception.

The university requested $125 million to fund a 2 percent across-the-board cost-of-living salary increase for faculty and staff, and an additional 2 percent for parity adjustments to bring salaries to more competitive levels in areas where UC salaries lag behind the market.

Davis’ proposed budget, on the other hand, allocates $47.6 million dollars for a 1.5 percent merit increase and no money for other increases.

Sandy Harrison, assistant director of California’s department of finance, cited “”a huge problem with revenues falling shorter than we had anticipated”” as the reason for the smaller budget.

Harrison said that in forging the budget, the state looked to save in areas of new or increased spending rather than cutting from existing programs. Harrison also noted that cost-of-living adjustments were suspended for many other state workers.

Davis and UC President Richard C. Atkinson have an agreement called the partnership for Higher Education, which guarantees certain funds for the university. This is the second consecutive year that partnership funds have not been provided in full.

“”The funding we get under the partnership … is the core drive for compensation systemwide,”” said UC spokesman Paul Schwartz. “”Every year we don’t get full partnership funding, we fall farther and farther behind.””

Atkinson is thankful that budget cuts were not deeper, but has made clear his desire for more funding for salary increases.

“”Our faculty and staff are the heart of the university, and competitive compensation for them remains a high priority for UC,”” Atkinson stated in a UC Office of the President press release.

Figures from the U.S. Department of Labor show that consumer prices — a generally accepted cost-of-living index — have risen over the last five years an average of about 4 percent per year in the San Francisco area and an average of 2.24 percent per year in the greater Los Angeles area. Data for San Diego County was not available.

Stephanie Navrides, interim director of UCSD’s Academic Personnel office, said that faculty and staff salary increases have kept pace with cost-of-living increases only “”sometimes.””

Every fall, the university allocates a “”range adjustment,”” which increases faculty salary scales by 0.5 percent. Navrides called this adjustment “”very modest.””

Increasing salaries have been an issue of concern for university administrators, she said, because of concerns over parity and competition as well as cost of living.

“”We have been working very hard to bring our salaries to parity with the Comp. Eight,”” Navrides said. The Comp. Eight is an index of eight universities comparable to UCSD.

Economics professor and chair of the Academic Senate committee on faculty welfare Ross Starr echoed the need for higher salaries.

“”One year’s delay in bringing salaries to a competitive level is not in itself a problem,”” Starr said. He also said, however, that salary problems have been “”chronic”” for the University of California.

“”In order to attract capable new faculty, we need to pay prevailing salaries to capable people,”” Starr said. “”Good people don’t come cheap.””

Starr fears that the setback in salary increases will hurt recruiting and retention, and will also put the university at a “”disadvantage.””

Atkinson emphasized his commitment to seeking further raises in a UCOP press release, stating, “”We will continue to seek additional salary funds as the state finances allow.””

The UC Board of Regents plans to lobby the California legislature for increased funding in March when the regents will attend UC Day, an event that brings members of the UC community together with legislators to discuss issues relevant to the university.

The regents will follow UC Vice President for Budget Larry Hershman’s advice and ask legislators to revise the budget to provide a 0.5 percent salary increase for all faculty and staff in addition to the 1.5 percent merit increase already in the budget, according to UC Regent Velma Montoya.

Montoya called the increase “”our first priority.””

Lobbying for adjustments under such a tight budget, however, may be difficult.

“”Adding something means removing something else,”” Harrison said. “”It’s generally a zero-sum game and the legislators have to prioritize.””

In the absence of more money through the state budget, the university would have to seek funds elsewhere.

The regents also discussed raising money through increased student fees at their last meeting. Regents Ward Connerly and John Davies suggested the idea, Montoya said.

Connerly and Davies were unavailable for comment, and the official minutes from the meeting have not yet been released.

Such a measure is not the university’s first choice, according to Schwartz.

“”Raising student fees is not our preference because it necessarily impacts accessibility and because we believe full partnership funding for salaries is the proper remedy,”” Schwartz said. “”Increasing salaries while keeping [the University of California] affordable are both high priorities of ours.””

Student regent Tracy Davis said such proposals are not unusual.

She said the topic of raising student fees “”comes up every year around budget time, but it comes up more strongly in times of financial crisis.””

She also emphasized that the discussion was “”conversational,”” and not necessarily indicative of how regents would vote should the issue reach that stage.

Davis said she was the only regent to specifically speak out against the prospect of increasing student fees to fund the salary increases at the regents meeting.

She said that while student fees have remained level for the last seven years, the cost of housing and other living expenses in California have risen.

“”The total cost of attending [the University of California] has increased although tuition has stayed the same,”” she said.

Montoya also opposes increased fees, saying she thinks growing numbers of students, especially those in the middle class, are being “”priced out”” of a UC education.

Revelle junior Vanita Patel advocates gleaning the money for salary increases from other budget cuts, and said the university should look to cut excess staff or funding before passing the cost onto students.

However, Patel added that she might be open to the idea of fee increases in cases of dire need.

“”If it’s for a really good cause — something where the money can’t come from anywhere else — then it’s justified,”” she said.

Schwartz is confident that student fee increases will not be necessary.

“”It’s doubtful that the legislature and governor would really raise student fees in order to boost salaries,”” he said.

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