On Wednesday, July 18, the UC Board of Regents endorsed Gov. Jerry Brown’s Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012 tax initiative after securing a $125.4 million tuition increase buyout. If the initiative, Proposition 30, is successful, the 2012-13 academic year will mark the first time since the 2006-07 academic year that undergraduate student fees do not increase. However, if the initiative does not pass, the university will lose the tuition buyout and face an additional $250 million cut. Thus, if the initiative fails, the University of California will experience a $375.4 million shortfall in the upcoming academic year. This type of shortfall would be absolutely devastating.
What does this mean for the university? The initiative presents an opportunity to pursue financial stability. While the initiative is far from perfect, it provides students with immediate relief. Students have carried the burden of inadequate state funding for far too long. The initiative would provide funding to ensure that students do not experience another fee increase in the 2012-13 academic year. Additionally, the governor’s administration has stated an intention to enter a multiyear funding agreement with the UC and CSU systems to provide steady increases to each university’s budget over a four-year period. Alternatively, if the initiative fails, the UC system will face an enormous budget deficit, which could lead to cuts and fee increases. In short, passage of the initiative could redirect the trajectory of the university for the better, while its failure could lead to business as usual.
Finally, the initiative serves as an opportunity for Californians to reclaim the university. In recent years, the state Legislature has significantly cut funding for higher education, yet there has not been a unified statewide response. The initiative provides Californians with the opportunity to demonstrate their support for the university. The initiative’s passage depends on the collaborative efforts of UC students, staff, faculty, employees and Californians. Students must mobilize on each campus and lead effective voter registration drives to build student vote power. UC faculty and staff must emerge from behind their office desks to voice their support for the initiative. UC workers must continue to support higher education and garner support from their constituency. Californians from every city across the state must reclaim their stake in the state by casting a vote in favor of its future. The initiative’s passage would mark an electoral victory, but, most importantly, it could foster a greater sense of ownership from California’s public.
The university has reached a critical point. If we do not act now, it will face incredibly difficult times. Californians must act for university to continue to fulfill its mission to educate the state’s best and brightest, to produce cutting-edge research, to employ hundreds of thousands of workers and to produce national leaders. The university’s success depends on Californians as much as California’s success depends on the university.
Cinthia Flores is the UC student regent-designate.
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