UC President Mark Yudof has turned away from his traditionally “politically agnostic” stance by taking a more active role in protecting the university from future cuts through the political process.
Last year, Yudof issued a statement expressing his support for Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax extension budget just two days before Brown conceded defeat on his proposal. But this year, the situation is more dire.
After the university sustained $750 million in state funding cuts this fiscal year, Yudof has opted for a more direct but atypical approach to the state’s budget-making process. He announced at the UC Board of Regents meeting in March that he will urge the regents to consider collectively endorsing Brown’s current tax initiative for the November ballot at a future board meeting.
“In my view, it represents the best opportunity I’ve seen in my four years in California for the state to clamber out of a sinkhole of fiscal uncertainty and move forward into a better, more prosperous future,” Yudof said at the meeting.
Brown’s initiative would raise the income tax on wealthy Californians and the state sales tax. If the initiative is not passed, the UC and the CSU each face a $200 million cut, according to Brown’s January budget plan.
“The possibility of additional cuts to UC is untenable,” said UC spokesperson Dianne Klein in an email. “We’re down to bone and gristle.”
Yudof is not the only member of the board reflecting concern about the desperation of the UC’s financial situation. In an op-ed published in The Daily Californian last Friday, Regent Richard Blum also voiced his personal support for Brown’s tax plan.
Still, several board members raised concerns about the tax plan at the board’s March meeting, noting that even with increased taxes the university is not guaranteed additional funding.
Student Regent-designate Jonathan Stein said in an email that such strong political stances are rare for the regents.
“(The UC Office of the President) is unusually engaged,” Stein said in the email. “They’re getting more aggressive in Sacramento than they’ve been previously.”
According to documents obtained by the Daily Cal, Yudof visited the state Capitol to meet with Brown, state Assembly Speaker John Perez, state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and others to discuss the need for a long-term budget agreement with state officials.
Klein said the regents decide on endorsing ballot measures on a case-by-case basis and typically do so when a measure is related to higher education in general or the university specifically in some significant way. She added that in the past, the regents have mostly endorsed bond measures for funding higher education facilities projects.
UC Student Association President Claudia Magana said that while the concerns of some regents are important, the board must take a stance on the tax plan.
“For the first time in a long time, there could be stabilization at the UC,” she said. “I think there’s a need for some kind of long-term model for getting us back to affordability.”
Californians might agree with Magana. A recent poll conducted by the University of Southern California’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Times shows that 64 percent of voters in the state back the tax plan.
In light of recent cuts, the CSU system has taken a different approach. Last year, CSU Chancellor Charles Reed urged the system’s Board of Trustees that state funding cuts could double if a budget without tax extensions was passed. This year, the CSU has taken no official stance on the tax plan nor recommended that the board endorse it, instead opting to focus on showing Sacramento and the public the consequences of additional cuts.
“Clearly the board and the leadership of the CSU recognizes the need for revenue,” said CSU spokesperson Erik Fallis. “What the CSU has been able to do is demonstrate the damage that the current cycle of cuts has inflicted on the system.”
The cuts have forced CSU officials to bar enrollment at most of its campuses for spring 2013 and place all fall 2013 applicants on a waitlist, pending the outcome of the state budget. In his editorial, Blum addressed his fear for similar cutbacks in accessibility if the tax plan is not passed.
“My hope is that passage of the governor’s initiative … will allow the political leadership in Sacramento to resume providing the level of funding needed to return fiscal stability to the UC,” he said. “We can only cut so much before we begin to erode the quality of our academic mission.”
Damian Ortellado is the lead higher education reporter.