The budget deal between Gov. Jerry Brown and state Democrats exemplifies the danger of political paralysis. Sacramento is tied down by petty partisanship that prevented Brown from pursuing tax extensions which could have shaped the budget differently. The result is tragic for all Californians: the University of California now faces a bare-minimum cut of $650 million, $150 million more than originally expected.
Unfortunately, Brown signed the deal last Wednesday, making the increased cuts a reality. Students’ efforts must now be directed toward minimizing the negative consequences of the budget, which relies heavily on spending reductions and $4 billion in revenue projections that may or may not materialize. Patrick Lenz, the vice president for budget and capital resources for the UC Office of the President, told The Daily Californian Friday that the university could face an additional $100 million in cuts should the projections fall short.
Let this be clear: as students and as a state, we cannot afford nor can we tolerate more cuts of this magnitude. Unfortunately, Brown’s effort to avoid drastic cuts failed when he was unable to get a proposed tax extension on a June ballot that would have extended the increases in income taxes, sales taxes and vehicle license fees enacted in February 2009. We are out of time — these extensions must be revisited and ultimately approved if the university is to maintain its level of excellence. Should the funds not come through, the state will face an even heavier economic burden in terms of lost entrepreneurial pursuits and the gradual evaporation of research because the university will be financially out-of-reach for many Californians.
Despite having made the case time and time again, advocates for public higher education have been ignored by state leaders, and advocates on campus have not had the kind of public leader they need. Now more than ever, we call on ASUC External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman to inject himself more thoroughly into the debate and to provide necessary student leadership. The letter he and other student leaders across the UC system signed was a start, but that action should be only the first step that he takes during this time of crisis.
Freeman’s role necessitates his acting as the public face for our campus to all external bodies, and he must consider the students of the campus as his top priority. We call on him to mobilize student efforts and synthesize their ideas into a coherent and purposeful message ahead of the July UC Board of Regents meeting but are discouraged by his track record thus far.
Freeman’s absence from the state hinders his ability to serve as EAVP, but regardless, he must find a way to overcome the distance between California and Washington, D.C., and work for the student population he serves. But the job is not Freeman’s alone. The entire ASUC must begin working with other student governments and the regents to mitigate the effects of both the tuition increase and possible future cuts.
At the regents’ meeting in July, UC President Mark Yudof will propose a 9.6 percent tuition increase as a result of the budget cut. It is crucial that students have a voice in how the increase is implemented, particularly since it is such a rushed proposal. This is where our campus leaders — the ASUC — must step up.
Though we are calling on ASUC officials to become more involved, we also hope average students realize their needed input. While recent efforts at protest have proved ineffective and disappointing, we hope that any efforts to express public anger is channeled at our state officials, not the regents. Tuition increases are a result of state disinvestment, and students must remember that.
As the university looks to out-of-state and international students as a growing source of funding, state support continues to decline because legislators fail to prioritize higher education. The students of this university must speak out. Our student officials must provide the leadership their roles dictate. Students must have a seat at the table when implementing the cuts to our university. And state legislators must prioritize maintaining public access through affordability to the university or else risk compromising the UC’s status as the premier public university.
In a statement of disappointment regarding the budget, the UC Office of the President wrote “we cannot stand silent.” It is time students unite and make it known: we will not stand silent.