Board of Regents convene amid budget uncertainty

    In reaction to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed 2004-05 budget cuts for the University of California, the UC Board of Regents stated at its recent meeting that it is ready to negotiate with the governor and the state legislature on a feasible budget plan.

    During the meeting at UC San Francisco on Jan. 14 and Jan. 15, the Regents considered concerns raised about the governor’s cuts, discussed priorities for the next fiscal year and designed several possible courses of action. These included increasing undergraduate fees by more than the governor’s proposal of 10 percent in order to preserve money for other priorities, such as enrollment, faculty and research funding, and outreach programs, and shifting more financial aid from middle-income to lower-income students.

    “”The budget cuts over time have begun chipping away at the quality, accessibility, and affordability of the university,”” UC President Robert C. Dynes said. “”These things are hard to regain once they are lost, and these things have a direct impact on the opportunities we are able to provide California students and the contributions we’re able to make to the state’s economic growth.””

    Under the proposed cuts to the UC system, undergraduate student fees would increase by 10 percent, which would raise tuition to $6,028. Fees for nonresident students would increase by 20 percent, while graduate student tuition would be raised by 40 percent.

    “”A 40 percent fee increase for graduate students will effectively decimate programs like my own, which draws very heavily from out-of-state students,”” said Jennifer Loa, a first-year biomedical graduate student at UCSF.

    The budget cuts would reduce the percentage of student fees that go toward financial aid from 33 percent to 20 percent, which would decrease the UC’s financial aid budget by nearly one-third.

    Funding for outreach programs provided by the state would be eliminated under the proposed budget. According to Student Regent Matt Murray, outreach programs were largely responsible for small gains in the admission rates of minority students to the most selective universities in past years.

    “”The outreach cuts, if enacted, would end the efforts to diversify the university and return it to a place of exclusivity for privileged elites,”” Murray said. “”In the long term, outreach is the university’s effort to ensure than K-12 students, no matter what their educational opportunities may be, understand and have access of fulfilling the requirements to be eligible to attend the University of California.””

    Freshmen enrollment for fall 2004 would be reduced by 10 percent if the proposal is passed. As a result, the University of California will probably enroll 3,200 fewer students, instead of enrolling an additional 5,000 students as planned.

    UC faculty and staff will also be affected by the budget cuts, as salary raises have remained at a minimum and the fear of possible layoffs looms.

    Adam Birch, who works in a UC hospital as an administrative assistant and is a single parent with two children, said that he is living just below the poverty line.

    “”My daughter Š is due to go to college in two years, [and] I can’t even afford to pay the fees for the UC system, and I work for that system.””

    Schwarzenegger is also proposing a further 5 percent reduction in faculty, which would result in a 20.7 to 1 student-faculty ratio. The Regents made it clear at the meeting that no further reductions should be made, and are considering ways to reduce the ratio to about 17.6 to 1.

    “”We are very concerned and have made that clear to the Department of Finance and everybody else we’ve talked to, that it’s absolutely vital that if we’re taking students, we give them a quality education,”” said Larry Hershman, UC vice president of the budget.

    Hershman acknowledged that such cuts were necessary given fiscal realities, and that the budget proposal could have been worse.

    “”The governor finally chose to spread the cuts to all areas of the budget, not just discretionary programs Š if he had not done that, this budget would be a lot worse,”” Hershman said.

    However, some were dissatisfied with the governor’s proposal.

    “”Others, in uncertain times such as this when they’ve had a financial crisis, described Œsharing the pain’ as splitting cuts in budgets along with increases in taxes,”” said Regent Richard C. Blum. “”So I don’t find this really Œsharing the pain.’ I think this is simply 100 percent coming out of the budget.””

    As a result of reduced freshmen enrollment, Schwarzenegger has proposed that students be given the option of attending a community college first while guaranteeing admission to a specific UC campus after two years. Several regents raised concerns with this plan.

    “”The smartest kids Š that are not offered direct admission to the UC but are deferred to the community colleges are not going to accept,”” said UC Board of Regents Chair John Moores. “”So the inevitable consequence of this, I believe, is that a handful of the least competitive [students] are going to be the ones who accept Š so I’m afraid what’s going to happen is that we’ll quite possibly lower our academic standards.””

    The Regents will vote on a final budget in March.

    “”We’re going to work with the governor and the legislature,”” Hershman said. “”History has taught us that it’s better to work with them than to go to war.””

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