Initiative in progress could limit public college tuition increases

A UC Berkeley professor is working with former presidential candidate Ralph Nader to create an initiative for the November state ballot that would limit tuition increases in California’s public colleges.

The idea to get an initiative on the ballot — whose specifics would be determined by UC Berkeley faculty and staff — was conceived in conversations between Nader and campus computer science professor Brian Barsky around tuition increases.

“The key idea is to use the tool of direct democracy — the initiatives that we can put on the California ballot,” Barsky said. “One potential driving force is the thousands and thousands of students in California, because mobilizing them could have significant impact.”

Nader and Barsky became acquainted when Barsky co-taught a freshman seminar with Nader’s sister, campus anthropology professor Laura Nader, and art history professor Margaretta Lovell. Barsky invited Nader to speak to the class, which examined the effect of athletics on the UC’s academics-focused core mission.

Barsky’s idea for the initiative was spurred by the fact that current UC tuition is more than 10 times the amount that it was when he first joined the faculty 30 years ago. UC tuition increased twice last academic year — an 8 percent increase in November 2010 and a 9.6 percent increase in July 2011.

Nader said in an interview with The Daily Californian that a group of students and faculty will need to come together to determine the specific goals of the initiative — like exact limits to the percentage tuition can increase annually, or a total freeze on tuition increases.

“With the students having such an interest in not having their tuition going through the roof, and with their parents having an even greater interest, with millions people combined, you can qualify an initiative in a month with tables all over the campus,” Nader said.

Once those terms are agreed upon, University of San Diego law professor Richard Fellmeth plans to draft the language for the initiative to be submitted to the California secretary of state’s office by March 2.

Nader’s suggestion for the initiative is a freeze on tuition, citing that UC tuition has tripled over the last decade.

However, according to  UC spokesperson Dianne Klein, a freeze on tuition increases could lead to a decrease in quality across the university given the cuts in funding at the state level.

She acknowledged that an endless series of tuition increases would be untenable but questioned whether the matter should be decided by the ballot initiative process.

“If, for example, the state continues to fund UC — or more accurately, de-fund UC at its current level — the system must come up with funds from someplace,” Klein said. “We will not allow our public university system to slide into mediocrity, and this at a time when the need for a highly skilled, college-educated population is greater than ever.”

Barsky said even though the state has cut funding for higher education, steep UC tuition increases could be avoided if the university prioritized its spending on its core educational mission and reduced spending on non-academic endeavors.

“An initiative win would put students in a significant position of power in the state and in the state legislature,” Nader said. “It would force a more rational focus on the allocation of the higher education budget. A freeze would basically say enough is enough.”

Christopher Yee covers Berkeley communities.

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  • Marxbros69

    Brilliant idea!  It’s time for students to take control of their destiny.  This tuition crisis is exactly the kind of problem that our inititive process was intended to address. UC and CSU administrations are unaccountable to the people they supposedly serve. Yudof tells students that if they want limits on tuition increases they should go to Sacramento and protest. This has been totaly ineffective. (Maybe this is why the regents always recommend this.)
    This initiative would put up a roadblock to further tuition increases and make UC and CSU find other ways of making ends meet. Like reducing the recent expensive bloat of administrators.
    UC spreads the myth that their backs are against the wall. In fact, UC has more income than ever before. They don’t advertise it because it undercuts their austerity narrative. The crisis of higher education in California is really about priorities.
    It’s time for a new strategy. I hope that this idea takes off because I think it could actually work.

    • Anonymous

      The SACTO LIb political cartel will laugh at Cal kiddies. They have their political donor sheep to feed.

      Lay some La Raza shit on them and see what happens.

    • My son, CHristopher Campbell, a recent UC grad has already entered an initiative similar to this.  It’s before the Attorney General for Title & Summary.  Please read the intiative at his campaign website:
      News release:

  • Anonymous

    1.  Access would increase since tuition would not be so high that students have to work multiple jobs and take out loans to be able to pay tuition as they do now.
    2.  The increase in tuition has not gone to education but to increases in pay for Administrators.
    3.  Private donors impacting direction of research and campus priorities has already been happening with privatization with companies like BP.

  • Guest

    If this happens there will be a massive faculty exodus to private schools.  UC’s academic reputation will be trashed.

  • Guest

    The Regents are completely unaccountable to anyone.  The current batch seem to be trying to transform UC into a corporation.  They are killing the humanities and social sciences while giving away resources, like the Water Resource Center Archives.

    I can’t imagine anything other than direct democracy that could change the destructive course that the Regents are currently pursuing for UC.

  • Chrisss555

    If we want to provide access to all Californians, not just wealthy ones, we have to stop the tuition increases.  As U.C.  is a public university, it makes sense that the public should have a chance to vote on this idea.  I notice the previous commenters enjoying making  anonymous negative statements, but offer no constructive alternatives!

    • Anonymous

      Let’s spend more scarce public resources on illegals. Dream act etc.

  • AngieO

    If Prof. Barsky is so intent on helping students, he could start by actually teaching some regular courses.  Except for his freshman seminar on athletics (is that an EE/CS topic these days?), he doesn’t teach undergrad classes at all.

    How much is he paid?  How do we get some of that back?–+Choose+a+Department+Name+–&p_classif=–+Choose+a+Course+Classification+–&p_presuf=–+Choose+a+Course+Prefix%2fSuffix+–&p_instr=barsky&x=0–+Choose+a+Department+Name+–&p_classif=–+Choose+a+Course+Classification+–&p_presuf=–+Choose+a+Course+Prefix%2fSuffix+–&p_instr=barsky&x=0

    • Guest

       I hope you realize that professors, particularly at UC Berkeley, do not have the primary objective of teaching. They are hired to do research for the university and bring in grant money, plain and simple. That is one reason why Berkeley has such a good reputation, and one reason why Berkeley does not necessarily have the best undergrad ed in the nation. So just because this guy isn’t teaching undergrad doesn’t mean he’s not doing anything.

  • no_ballot_box_budgeting

    As an EECS grad student, I think this is a terrible idea. Any of the following consequences could result. 
    1. Enrollment could go down and access decrease. 
    2. The UC will slip into second-rate status as funding decreases.
    3. The university will be forced to grovel to private donors in order to maintain funding, significantly impacting direction of research and campus priorities.

    • Anonymous

      It’s always fun to see Libs grovel for money when resources become scarce.

      • Guest

         What do you mean “scarce”? We still have the highest GDP in the world, and compare us to China per capita and it’s gets pretty crazy. If the state of California was a country, it would have one of the top 10 highest GDPs in the world. The money is here, absolutely and positively, it’s just that now the poor and middle class are being forced to pay for everything. Institute a new federal tax code that actually make people like Mitt Romney pay more taxes than me to help fund the education of the nation’s future. It’s not as though he can’t afford it. But people like me can’t if UC keeps raising tuition.

        • Anonymous

          LOL, so ignorant of reality. If resources aren’t scarce then your buddy Moonbeam Brown should shower UCB with cash.

          Next topic?

          Here’s some research for you to do. Find out what % of total income taxes the top 10 % income earners pay.

    • Guest13

      4. UC might stop its insane construction spree.