UC says state audit advice was already in the works

Though a group of student leaders from throughout the UC is calling for the implementation of several recommendations made by a recently released state audit, university officials maintain that such transformations were in the works prior to the audit and are already being implemented.

The audit of the university, which was released July 28, began last year following a request from state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, who had alleged that the university was plagued with “waste, fraud and abuse.” Though the report did not find cases of wasteful spending, it did suggest that the university should increase the transparency of its financial information — a recommendation that the UC Students Association is urging the university to more strongly consider.

“Students have long called for greater transparency in UC budgeting policies,” said UCSA president Claudia Magana in a statement. “It has been incredibly difficult for students and their families to understand exactly where their money is going.”

The recommendation to increase financial transparency stemmed in part from a key finding of the report that showed a discrepancy in the distribution of funds to each campus per student.

But the university rebutted the claim, stating that the difference in funding comes from several factors, such as specific research and public service programs that are budgeted separately from instruction, the size of a campus’s health sciences program, historical variations in the amount of support provided for graduate students and historical variations in the level of state support.

“The initial premise held by (the Bureau of State Audits) that funding should be equal across the system on a per student basis is deeply flawed,” said UC spokesperson Dianne Klein in an email. “Campuses vary on many factors and there are good reasons why funding varies.”

UC officials have also taken issue with a claim made in the report that suggests fund distribution may be linked to the racial or ethnic makeup of different student populations.

The report found that the four campuses with an above average percentage of students from “underrepresented” groups — UC Merced, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz — received less funding than they would have if each campus received the same amount per student.

“The BSA’s attempt to link the strategic decisions of past Presidents and Regents to the distribution of students by race/ethnicity across the system is inflammatory and headline-grabbing,” Klein said in the email.

University officials have also said that a more transparent funding streams initiative had been developed prior to the audit and is now being implemented.

“In order to simplify University financial activity, improve transparency, and incentivize campuses to maximize revenue, beginning in 2011-12, all campus-generated funds — tuition and fees, research indirect cost recovery, patent and investment income — will be retained by or returned to the source campus,” Klein said in an email.

Historically, certain revenues have been collected centrally by the UC Office of the President and redistributed across campuses to promote “systemwide priorities,” Klein said in the email.

However, Klein added that the redistribution of some funds across campuses will continue as a means to support the systemwide goals of the Education Financing Model for undergraduate financial aid, a key goal of which is to use fee funds to equalize student contribution levels regardless of which campus the student attends.

As an additional effort to increase transparency, the university  launched a systemwide task force — which first met in April — to examine the relationships among campus instruction, research and public service programs, student populations, campus costs and the distribution of funds to campuses.

The task force will develop recommendations regarding the equity of the budget allocations to each campus by December, Klein said, though it will not attempt to “quantify” the existing variation, as the audit had recommended.

“Such an effort would require a costly review of hundreds and hundreds of incremental allocation decisions made over decades,” Klein said in the email.

If the recommendations are approved, they could be implemented for the 2012-13 or 2013-14 academic year.

Allie Bidwell is the news editor.