The Spotlight’s on You, Mr. President. Mr President?

Last Saturday, the Guardian editorial board joined other UC newspaper staffs at a face-to-face meeting with President Mark Yudof to discuss the university’s dire financial crisis.

Our hour-long meeting clarified a number of things that convoluted fact sheets and walkout hearsay could not.

Firstly, Yudof admitted he saw no end in sight for inflated student fees, just an eventual drop in their rate of increase. He also explained, however, why the cost of a UC education, though constantly rising, is a bargain. And it’s sadly (sort of) true.

Yudof has proposed a 32-percent student fee increase, but plans to direct 33 percent of the increase’s revenue to financial aid. Under his plan, students whose parents make below $60,000 per year will pay the least in student fees (nothing), and those whose parents make above $180,000 per year will pay the most (about $9,640) for the 2009-10 academic year. Currently, the University of Michigan charges $11, 848 in student fees per year — and they’re not nearly as broke as we are. Granted, cost of living is higher in California, but the cost of paradise isn’t up to university officials.

Depending on a student’s family income, he might be better off than — or, at worst, just as screwed as — most of the nation’s students.

That’s not to say a prohibitively expensive public education isn’t a travesty that should be addressed as swiftly as possible. But relatively speaking, we Californians have enjoyed low costs and top quality for so long that we’re a teeny bit spoiled.

The fact of the matter is: During economic hardships like these, barely any state in our nation can provide an entirely affordable education to its students. Though a national perspective on the UC’s financial situation may not be entirely helpful, it’s something we must consider when we mouth off about the good old days.

Yudof also emphasized that he must continue paying competitive market-level salaries because a large chunk of top-paid employees are physicians. Though we argued to drastically cut top executive pay in an Oct. 1 editorial entitled “We’re Broke, But the Kingdom’s Gates Are Golden,” we would not recommend doing so for the university’s doctors. If there is any position that should continue to offer competitive salaries in order to retain talented individuals, it is that in which we entrust thousands of patients’ lives.

However, the regents should still consider cutting the pay of administrative positions like Yudof’s — if not to compensate for the crappy hand California’s dealt us, then as a gesture to unite the university and make workers and students feel like everyone’s holding unlucky cards together.

Yudof, however, disagrees on this particular issue. After two salary cuts, he is “making do” with a below-market salary in the triple digits.

So instead, we ask that Yudof extend his lines of communication to the masses. YouTube videos and brief conference-room meetings will not inspire cooperation among the workers and students who are up in arms.

We need a man at the center of campus on a podium — not an online chart — to hash out the grim facts, answer questions and clarify misconceptions. Why not hold online chat forums and offer financial-aid offices as resource centers for budgetary information? If we learned so much in a single hour-long conversation, imagine what Yudof could do for those infuriated students who demanded his removal during the Sept. 24 walkout.

If we’re in this together, we cannot see our president as a man who refuses to personally address those affected by his choices up top. Covert meetings in buildings guarded by cops will not inspire us to jump on Yudof’s ship; an empathetic leader who stands before his audience and asks them to voice their concerns will gain the respect needed to cope with a colossal crisis like ours.

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