Davis should seek other sources for funds

If the economic downturn has not yet hit home, it will now. As the state faces an enormous deficit at the transition into 2004, the University of California stands to encounter considerably strenuous times. While budget cuts at this point are no doubt necessary evils, Gov. Gray Davis’ proposals seem to be questionable in aim and scope. Because the university stands to bear the brunt of Davis’ across-the-board cuts, it is essential to take a closer look at what will be affected and how.

Davis responded to the $35 billion state deficit with budget cuts that will leave few Californians unscathed. Among those suffering casualties are consumers, smokers, the wealthy and of course, inevitably, students. Through tax increases and budget cuts in a number of different areas, Davis hopes to streamline the state budget, which has already run rampantly into the red.

Community colleges, California State University and the University of California all stand, as of now, to cut programs and raise student fees. The question here is not a matter of why Davis proposed such crippling plans for higher education, but rather on the approach of his cuts. For example, he outlines very specific decreases in university programs, significantly affecting such vital areas as educational outreach and student services.

If the university is to accommodate the projected floods of students in the coming years, such programs will prove invaluable to this trend. One of Davis’ chief priorities was the improvement and maintenance of education, but with these specific cuts, how is the university supposed to recruit the minority and low-income students that both the state and the school so intensely desire?

A better option would have been to more loosely structure the budget cuts as to allow the Regents (who, while reviled, are actually on our side here) to allocate the cuts with more knowledgeable discretion. After all, with an almost $373 million cut in an 18-month period, the university should have tighter control around what should be affected least and most.

This seems all the more incendiary when the Partnership Agreement is taken into account. The agreement between the state and the university stipulates that the school will accommodate student growth in exchange for state funds that would feed faculty and staff pay increases, programs and other areas.

However, at this time, the university stands to be left short of almost $1 billion of projected funding. While the state obviously cannot currently live up to the agreement, this revelation, in addition to the program-specific cuts, seems to severely hurt the university, students and employees at a crucial time. To continue expanding and face such a monetary downfall poses a challenge that borders on the insurmountable. To his credit, Davis has allocated increases in enrollment and UC Merced campus funding, to avoid running completely head-on into the projected growth.

In addition, reports from non-partisan legislative analyst Elizabeth Hill have fueled speculation that Davis’ deficit estimate is inaccurate. Hill’s estimate is about $5.5 billion less than Davis’ estimate — not exactly pocket change. And while this discrepancy can be brushed aside as technical divergence, it calls into question the credibility and approach of Davis’ proposals all the more.

Of most immediate importance, it is safe to say, is the fee increase that students will most likely face. “”A fee increase?”” you ask. “”But we just had one!”” That one, the one that will go into effect next quarter, will be accompanied by a much heftier increase if Gov. Davis gets his way. How hefty? About $795. If passed, that would amount to a 35 percent increase. It sounds like a lot, but the university raised fees by a whopping 157 percent during the last budget crisis, only to cut fees a few years later.

When a budget predicament of such magnitude occurs, students should expect to be affected. Yet with an 11.2 percent increase freshly implemented, students will no doubt be more than wary of another substantial hike so soon. A smarter way to compensate for cuts would have been to gradually raise fees, generating more coverage without such a shock.

Luckily, the state says low-income and financial aid students will not be affected much with help from other students’ fee increases and other sources. However, for those not in university, state or federal programs, the $1,200 fee increase is still an oppressively large amount to dig up.

More importantly, reductions in areas that directly affect students — student services, libraries, etc. — will arguably impact them even more if the buget is approved. It will be difficult for the university to continue to deliver its world-renowned education with the unavoidable and obligatory layoffs, research-funding cuts and other drastic reductions.

Davis is not a greedy henchman seeking to cheat millions of students out of precious educations. By no means can the university escape from the state and nationwide dilemma that is a sad fact of reality. Schools shouldn’t expect to be immune from an economic slump. However, the governor’s approach to solving the state fiscal problem, especially pertaining to higher education, seems to somewhat disregard the impact that such repetetive budget slashing would have on students, professors and research.

On the bright side, the budget will continue to be scrutinized heavily until the legislature approves it, a process that’s bound to generate discussion on whether or not the schools will actually see their budgets cut. Until then, students can sit tight and treasure what may be, at least for awhile, the prime days of a still-preeminent university.