UC delays publishing full expenditure report, state officials question transparency

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State officials are saying the university failed to produce an extensive financial report detailing its expenditures required by a new state law, raising questions of financial transparency in the face of possible tuition hikes.

AB 94, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in July 2013, gave the university until October to break down expenditures for undergraduate- and graduate-student instruction and research — what state officials say is crucial information as the UC Board of Regents begins to discuss possible tuition increases this week. On Oct. 31, after a one-month extension, UC President Janet Napolitano released a preliminary report detailing the difficulties of distinguishing between research and student-instruction expenses.

Napolitano said the university will release the full expenditure report by mid-December.

The university currently calculates the “average cost of instruction” at $17,000, $24,000 or $33,000, depending on three different interpretations of what qualifies as “instruction.”

“The spirit behind the law is that before we can reasonably go to the public and ask for more money, we very much need to do a better job of explaining how the money is being used,” said Kevin Sabo, board chair of the University of California Student Association.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Caitlin Quinn said most students have no idea how their tuition money is being used, adding that it was “embarrassing” that the university “couldn’t comply with state law like our sister system, the CSU, has been able to.”

Sabo and Quinn point to the undergraduate tuition money being used to fund campus research and university initiatives that seem “tangential,” according to Sabo, to the undergraduate educational experience.

But UC spokesperson Steve Montiel says that when it comes to undergraduate instruction and campus research, “one doesn’t exist without the other,” echoing the preliminary report’s claim that “funds are neither budgeted nor spent according to these categories.”

Campus physics professor emeritus Charles Schwartz has devoted two decades to uncovering what he considers “bad accounting” at the university level.

“There’s an attitude that the general public doesn’t really understand what our research is about, and they might not want to pay for it if they saw how much it actually costs,” he said. “But everyone wants this great college to send their kids to, so the university bundles that research cost into the undergrad tuition.”

Schwartz claims this practice is common at all major research universities.

In order to comply with the new law, the university will have to break down these costs for all 10 of its campuses every two years, starting in 2017.

“I can understand and appreciate that there is dissatisfaction with the level of transparency,” Montiel said. “It’s taken a lot of energy putting this together. My understanding is that it’s difficult but not impossible.”

View the UC preliminary expenditure report below:

Contact Arielle Swedback at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @aswedback.