Cal is my university, too

I chose to attend UC Berkeley primarily for its public mission. I respect its purpose above all others; It made for an easy decision to leave my Vermont home to study in California.

But I have often felt, throughout my five semesters on campus, that this respect is not reciprocated. Since the first big protests in September 2009, non-resident students have become a popular piñata, strung up as a symbol of what is wrong with the university.

This crystallized for me when, at a December forum on the future of public universities, professor Catherine Cole said to the audience, “I ask you, citizens of California, whose university?”

That left me wondering, “Am I so unwelcome here that no one wants my help to solve the university’s problems?” Her implicit exclusion of me and other nonresident students reduces us to passers-by. And while her diagnosis of us seems to be as a benign tumor, many decry our presence as malignant.

Those voices preach that out-of-state students steal places in university classrooms from deserving Californian students. However, this is not true.

According to the UC Office of the President, the university has not turned away any California applicant that has earned a spot at a UC campus pursuant to the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education.

Read UC spokesperson Dianne Klein’s explanation: “The top nine percent of students statewide and the top nine percent of students in each high school are guaranteed a spot at UC. There is considerable overlap in these two groups, so the total is closer to 11 percent. Additional students are selected by UC campuses using a comprehensive review of their application to reach the 12.5 percent under the Master Plan.”

What really irks many is that instate students might not be accepted at the campus of their choice — which was never promised under the Master Plan. And now that the university is exploiting that loophole, dutiful California taxpayers cannot stand the thought of their elite campuses harboring a growing number of invading students.

But the blame for this shift in student population composition does not lie with university policy. The responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of state politicians and the electorate which put them there.

It is these two groups which have turned the Master Plan — the beautiful and unique social contract which created the greatest university system in the world — into the emaciated compact it now is. Non-resident students do not deserve to be hung out to dry the way we have been, when in effect we subsidize the education the state now refuses to provide for its citizen students. There are currently 11,600 students enrolled in the university for whom the state does not provide funding, according to UCOP. Ever thought about where the money to keep those students enrolled comes from?

The sad truth is that California as a whole — meaning both its politicians and its populace — have abandoned their university. This year, student tuition funded more of the university than the state.

So don’t try to exclude us or make us feel like outsiders. Until you, the voting members of Californian society, decide to pick up your side of the deal again, you have relinquished the right to claim the UC as your own. Now, it belongs to the students — all of them. Whether from Berkeley, Boston or Bangkok, we are now larger stakeholders in this institution than the state whose name it bears.

On the day when you can fund your university again, you can deny us out-of-staters access — as, in fact, you should. Once you honor the Master Plan again, the university will no longer have the dire need for our nonresident tuition tax dollars, and our numbers will naturally decline as a percentage of the student population.

But until then, it is not your right to disparage our presence.

This is not to say that we out-of-staters can sit passively by. We must engage with the university’s problems as actively as our California counterparts. Therefore, I urge nonresidents to register to vote in California, as I recently did. (To be clear, this does NOT mean becoming a resident of the state for the purposes of tuition.) Let’s join the electorate and collaborate to increase revenues for the state.

Let’s use that vote to get something like an oil and gas tax initiative — which, as proposed by Peter Matthews and Paul Garver, could generate up to $3 billion for state education services — on the ballot and passed. Or reform Proposition 13, which leaves California’s revenue stream vulnerable to the whims of the economy’s booms and busts. Or eliminate the 2/3 legislative requirement for revenue-raising measures.

We can be part of the solution, and earn the respect and acceptance of our in-state peers in the process.