Summer in Review

School may have been out for the summer, but political developments took no break. Among the relevant — the UC Board of Regents announced further tuition increases, Marye Anne Fox announced her plan to step down as UCSD’s chancellor in the following year and Gov. Jerry Brown signed the first half of the California Dream Act into play while the second half awaits his signature.

Tuition Woes Increase

For anyone tracking the financial status of the University of California, one thing is clear: This year is the beginning of the end. For the first time, the UC system is receiving more income from student tuition than state funding, a development that points to the increasing privatization of our university. In 2011 alone, income from tuition has risen $360 million, and according to the Los Angeles Times and the UC Board of Regents, it’s only going to go up. On top of a 30-percent tuition increase since 2009, the Regents, as of Sept. 15, are considering a further 8 to 16-percent increase over the next four years.

UCSD is attempting to raise income through tried-and-true methods. This year, 18 percent of UCSD’s freshman class comes from outside California — an admittance rate up 36 percent from last year. While the higher tuitions of out-of-state students may increase funding, this solution shuts in-state students out of a UC education. The unprofitable (read: mostly humanities) university programs that face the deepest cuts will look to private funding to escape extinction, an attempt that mirrors the University of Michigan’s use of private help to keep their business school afloat.
Despite these grim reminders — there is still hope. Student action has yielded definitive budgetary changes in colleges such as San Diego State. When SDSU’s new president was offered a salary that was a $100,000 increase from his predecessor, protests over this issue led to a review of state educational salaries and a cap on CSU president salaries.

While student activism has proven successful for SDSU and could indeed galvanize action at UCSD, students and the UC Regents have options beyond marches and demonstrations. Three-year degrees and less stringent general education requirements are valid plans that have the potential to save the UC system. The options are out there. Now it’s just a matter of taking action.

Chancellor Steps Down

Over the summer, Chancellor Marye Anne Fox announced plans to renounce her administrative position and return to the chemistry classroom after seven years on the job — eight years after June 2012, when she is scheduled to set down. Given that the average tenure of a chancellor is 4.5 years, she’s been here longer than most university leaders.

Which isn’t to say her tenure wasn’t successful.

Since her appointment in 2004, UCSD has launched $3.5 billion in construction projects — among them, Fox achieved her goal of building transfer housing. Recognition followed suit: Awards have been bestowed upon the UCSD community — Nobel, Pulitzer and MacArthur prizes — and Fox received the National Medal of Science at the White House last fall.

But Fox’s tenure wasn’t all sunshine and awards. Budget cuts, rising student fees and racial conflict were the source of heated protests, and we lost three top professors to Rice University because they offered them more money — a clear step backward for us academically.

Most notably, the “Compton Cookout” and the string of racially charged incidents that followed in February 2010 left UCSD students with an indelible image of their university and those who run it. The Black Student Union roared outside the Chancellor’s Complex that winter, demanding that Fox address the lack of support and outreach for minority students.

That’s the kind of job that can wear a former professor out.

So as much as Fox has done for UCSD, it’s fair to expect her successor to be someone who understands the demands of the job. Preferably, the new chancellor can focus on internal conflicts like those that shaped Winter 2010, before they turn into national news, in addition to keeping the university competitive.

The big successes for UCSD —  acclaim, high-enrollment, big-budget projects — aren’t as bright in the face of student unrest. Now that we’re paying more for our education than ever, it’s time students demanded some input in the choice of our leader and figurehead — or at least choice in the issues we want prioritized — and the opportunity to offer feedback during this new appointment would be a great start.

Senate Passes Dream Act

In the midst of many political developments this summer (California redistricting, the debt ceiling crisis) came a big win for undocumented students. Assembly Bill 130 passed through Congress, giving said students access to privately funded scholarships.

It’s a great victory for undocumented students, but it’s not over yet. Assembly Bill 131, a sister bill that would grant undocumented students access to state scholarships and grants, is now waiting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. Brown’s initial support for the bill is waning due to the bill’s potential strain on the state budget, but that hasn’t stopped both sides from rehashing old — but perfectly legitimate — arguments. One side stands by the reasonable assertion that the state barely has enough money in its coffers to support its legal citizens — much less a wave of undocumented ones.
The other side, and the side we ultimately fall on, claims that the state investment in undocumented students would pay off in the long run. Many of these students did not come to this country of their own volition, and because they already have roots here, an education is the solid boost they need to become a productive member of society. This has already been proven with rulings in Plyer v. Doe and the passage of Assembly Bill 540, which allows undocumented students access to California public schools through the 12th grade and in-state tuition rates for state colleges, respectively. Not allowing these students to finish what they (and the state) have started will only damage the state economy and push these students into a permanent lower class.

Even if the bill is signed, the battle is far from over. These bills may give undocumented students a freshly minted college degree, but they still won’t be citizens — that’s still under Congressional jurisdiction. But until then, passing AB 131 will be a worthy step towards creating a more inclusive American dream.