State Budget Demands Belt-Tightening from Regents

    The ambitious verve that sold Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to
    California’s voters is going up in flames: No amount of ambition can overcome
    the state’s $14-billion deficit. Now that Sacramento’s lawmakers are
    reconciling their dreams with harsh fiscal realities, officials from the
    University of California must do the same with the intense financial scrutiny.
    This week’s UC Board of Regents meeting should be the site of that wake-up
    attitude.

    Short $400 million in expected state funding, the
    university’s regents are now charged with the heady task of trimming financial
    fat. The problem is that the system is already dead skinny from year after year
    of shrinking state support. Students themselves have felt the pinch: bigger
    classes, less programs, less services and higher fees.

    Amid this clamor, UC President Robert C. Dynes is presenting
    his Long-Range Plan for the system, a collection of initiatives and goals that
    will set the groundwork for advancement. Academic growth is one overarching
    initiative, which Dynes proposes should be achieved by upping faculty salaries
    to market-competitive levels. The problem? It will cost $263 million over four
    years. The same problem goes for Dynes’ hope to see technology infrastructure
    supported by state finances, a move with a one-time pricetag of over $300
    million in improvements.

    The plan, presented Jan. 15 at the regents’ meeting, will
    require major readjustments that take the state’s newfound crisis into
    consideration.

    So where should this fat be cut from? A heavy money-spender
    is the university’s collection of academic preparation programs, which form its
    main outreach tool. The Legislature blocked Schwarzenegger’s move to cut the
    programs by $19.3 million; it’s a repeated move from years past, when he
    demanded the university report on the effectiveness of outreach.

    This year sees a complete turnaround, with outreach
    receiving more money and less oversight (the governor vetoed language that
    would have demanded such accountability, though he encourages it). While
    accessibility is a major concern for the state’s universities, especially in
    today’s era of middle-class malaise, this fiscally tight year marks the worst
    time to give outreach proponents free reign over their programs. Instead, the
    university needs to scrutinize its most efficient outreach tools, and funnel
    more money toward those efforts.

    Many research projects have now been deemed extraneous: the
    Legislature rejected a proposal to expand funding to the system’s Institutes
    for Science and Innovation, while Schwarzenegger vetoed $1.5 million for
    agricultural research and $1.5 million for oceanographic research.

    While it is heartbreaking to see such hallmark UC projects
    be downsized, it is necessary to preserve the core needs that should be
    addressed first: Enrollment growth must be sustained, ensuring accessibility
    for incoming students.

    At the same time, fees must remain at a reasonable level, or
    the university will see an exodus of students fleeing the system for an
    education that is worth its cost — the picture is sadly moving the other way.

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