The Tuition Game

UC President Napolitano put a temporary hold on the proposed systemwide tuition hikes, but the move brings mixed feelings from students.

Last week, University of California students received some rare good news from the Office of the President. Despite the UC Board of Regents’ vote to raise tuition by 5 percent over the next five years, President Janet Napolitano has temporarily delayed the increase, which was set to take effect starting during the 2015 summer session.

Taking this decision solely at face value, we approve wholeheartedly. The UC administrators should have better financial management skills than the average freshman who is texting mom and dad for more money. It’s high time they learn some fiscal responsibility instead of trying to justify gratuitous pay raises for top-tier staff while levying unconscionable tuition hikes on students. Not just delaying, but also doing away with the 5 percent plan entirely would be the right move on UCOP’s part.

Furthermore, we are proud of the student activism across all nine UC campuses and at November’s Board of Regents meeting, which caused enough ruckus to lead to this decision. The UC Student Association deserves special credit for learning about the tuition hike plan early and organizing protests and petitions throughout the schools. The Board may have acted against our wishes anyway, but the united and persistent response from students got the attention of key state legislators, including Gov. Brown and Lt. Gov. Newsom, who stood in solidarity with students.

Unfortunately, the relationship between the California lawmakers and the UC system brings us to our first gripe about Napolitano’s decision.

It’s clear from the wording of the decision that its fate rests on the so-called negotiations between the state and the university system. Since Gov. Brown announced his budget last year, the UC administration has known it would be several million dollars short of what it requested from the state. And with Brown vetoing a promised $50 million bonus to the UC system, it’s clear there is lingering antagonism on both sides.

Each party has dug its heels in the ground before, with Brown admonishing the UC system for being unwilling or unable to reign in its finances, and the University of California retorting, probably unintentionally in a supervillain-like manner, that students will see tuition hikes unless its multimillion-dollar demands are met.

The fact that Gov. Brown and the legislature are even willing to negotiate despite the animosity speaks to the strength of the backlash against tuition hikes from students and their families.

But what this wording and this process say is clear: According to UCOP, students are bargaining chips that can be used against the state government to extort more money. The people in charge of the university system refuse to take responsibility for students’ unhappiness and instead shrug their shoulders and pass it on to the legislature, which is surprisingly motivated to help, despite not properly obtaining student input.

When negotiations inevitably break down due to  UCOP demanding an unfair share, the next wave of student protests should show that we’re tired of being chess pieces.

Our second issue with Napolitano’s plan is that it’s temporary. No promises have been made about tuition beyond summer 2015. In fact, the administration has made it clear that if it doesn’t receive additional funding, the tuition increase is definitely happening.

Students who were planning to take summer classes can breathe a sigh of relief, but everyone else should remain on the edge of their seats, because the 5 percent plan isn’t dead. It could, very realistically, return by Fall Quarter 2015. If so, this temporary delay is simply an arbitrary exercise of power, further playing with the finances and emotions of the students it’s supposed to help.

Finally, it seems oddly dictatorial that Napolitano’s office can arbitrarily issue a stay of tuition increases after the regents voted to approve it. Although Napolitano herself did propose the tuition increase plan, it was required to go through a vote before it could become official. For her to be able to stop and start it at will brings a sense of uncertainty to all students, especially since a single person seems to be in charge of the price of their education.

The mishandling of the University of California’s finances ranges from irresponsible, like unjustified pay raises for chancellors, to borderline criminal, like the UC SHIP fiasco. Raising tuition by such an exorbitant amount is a burden on those who didn’t create the UC system’s financial troubles. A better, though unlikely, first step might be cutting down the six-figure salaries drawn from our tuition money.

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