UC Regents defer discussion of fee hikes to Thursday’s meeting

Barbara Sullinger/Staff
The UC Board of Regents deferred most discussion of a proposed 9.6 percent fee hike to Thursday.

Despite repeated expressions of concern regarding a proposed 9.6 percent fee hike throughout the Wednesday meeting of the UC Board of Regents,  the board deferred most discussion regarding the increase to Thursday, instead choosing to address upcoming challenges to maintaining the university’s excellence in the face of deep budget cuts.

Facing $650 million in state funding cuts, the board met to discuss a wide range of topics, including issues of student enrollment, long-term planning and administrative efficiencies.

The board expressed surprise regarding the outcome of the state budget, emphasizing a need to collaborate with the entire UC community — students, faculty and staff — to generate  solutions to avoid a fee increase.

“We didn’t know there was going to be a budget passed. It was sprung on us as well, and only then did we know we had to take action,” said Sherry Lansing, chair of the board, at the meeting. “Tomorrow we are going to look at every idea we can … We are trying to find a way to have a consistent plan so that this doesn’t always happen.”

At the start of the meeting, assembled students and workers voiced their concerns about the expedited nature of the increase in tuition. However, despite the fact that the board focused on the effect of cuts to the UC in its opening remarks, most of the meeting was focused on administrative affairs.

Among the issues discussed at the meeting were admissions outcome data, with the board addressing the diversity of the incoming university student body and the growing number of transfer and out-of-state students.

In addition, the board voted to approve a recommendation that Jonathan Stein — a UC Berkeley School of Law student and graduate student at the Goldman School of Public Policy — be appointed the Student Regent-Designate, effective immediately, and the Student Regent for the period July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2013.

At the meeting, the issue of faculty retention was also raised. Chair of the systemwide Academic Senate Daniel Simmons said the UC risks losing increasing numbers of faculty because the faculty are deeply concerned about the long-term stability of the university.

Turning its focus to long-range planning, the board emphasized the value of documenting long-term plans for the university and the importance of accurate accountability reports.

At the meeting, the third Annual University of California Accountability Report — which measures individual campuses’ and the university’s ability to meet a wide variety of goals — was briefly presented.

Additionally, as a result of increased budget cuts, talk turned to meeting recommendations from the UC Commission on the Future. Specifically, the importance of cutting costs by encouraging students to graduate in four or even three years was presented.

Despite a focus on administrative issues, talk of the budget was dispersed throughout the meeting.

At the meeting, Lansing said the effects of the state’s cuts are exacerbated by about $350 million in mandatory costs — such as the university’s retirement contributions, energy costs and health costs — the UC will have to shoulder in the upcoming budget.

As in previous meetings, board members reiterated their dismay at the state’s unreliable and decreasing funding for higher education.

“The state and its political leadership from both parties are not an unreliable partner,” Simmons said. “Indeed they can be relied upon — to pull the rug out from under higher education over the foreseeable future.”

At the meeting, students present were also critical of the state’s decision to continue cuts to higher education.

UC Student Association President Claudia Magana said there was widespread concern and stress among students about the proposed fee increase. She also addressed the need for communication and transparency in the board’s budget-making decisions.

“I have a one-year tenure and have dealt with two fee increases — (the board members) ask for solutions, and I don’t know what to offer them because the state is not standing up for us,” Magana said.

Though serious budgetary discussions were shelved for discussion until Thursday, UC Provost Lawrence Pitts said he remained optimistic about the UC’s ability to survive an increasingly daunting financial situation.

“The University of California remains the greatest public university system in the world — we ask you to remember that this university is resilient and strong and a powerful agent of transformation in the state,” he said.