As November election approaches, student advocacy increases

Kira Walker/Staff

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As state funding continues to be an unreliable source for the university, increasing tuition has often become the go-to solution for a board struggling to maintain the university’s academic potential while balancing its checkbooks — despite opposition by individual members of the board, some UC administrators and many students.

With a UC tuition that has grown 84 percent since 2008, students have become some of the university’s strongest lobbyists in Sacramento, pushing lawmakers for additional funding in state budget negotiations and voicing support for public higher education and opposition at its disinvestment with members of the campus community.

After Gov. Jerry Brown released a state budget in May that would cut an additional $250 million from the university provided voters don’t pass his tax measure — Proposition 30 — in November, students began pushing members of the UC Board of Regents to endorse the measure. The board endorsed it in July, warning that its failure at the polls could lead to a 20 percent midyear tuition increase and reaffirming the unpredictability of affording a UC education.

With the university legally prohibited from campaigning for ballot measures or raising money to lobby lawmakers, UC student government groups and the UC Office of State Government Relations rely heavily on research and number-crunched data to explain the impact of a state-imposed budget cuts to lawmakers and the general public, said Larry Salinas, associate director of institutional relations at the office.

Recently, the UC Student Association and ASUC have begun large-scale campaigns to register new voters and educate students on the financial impact the failure of Prop. 30 would have on the UC, according to ASUC External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi.

“Students make the best advocates on capitol hill,” said Julia Gettle, a UC Berkeley senior who has been involved with both student-run and UC Office of the President-run advocacy efforts in Sacramento. “Students’ stories make the best stories and make a big difference when talking with legislators.”

However, a group of UC alumni created a political action committee and issues committee in March 2011 — called the California Coalition for Public Higher Education — to finance lawmakers and political campaigns in support of increasing state funding to California’s three public higher education systems. The issues committee leadership endorsed Prop. 30 in early August and will begin soliciting donations from supporters to continue advocating for the effort.

A lobbying group independent of the university is a way to get “stronger leadership inside the legislature who are willing to make public education a higher priority,” said coalition co-chair Mel Levine, a UC Berkeley alum, former state Assembly member and former member of U.S. House of Representatives.

Since its founding, the coalition has raised $41,500 to support ballot measures advocating for renewed investment in the state’s three public higher education systems. Of the nine donors to the coalition’s issues committee, at least two are UC employees, including Peter Taylor, the UC executive vice president and chief financial officer, who donated $1,000 in July 2011.

Although public employees cannot support political interests using state resources, they can use private resources on private time. UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said the university does not encourage its employees to make political contributions and keeps no record of their political contributions.

However, Taylor said having an independent organization lobbying for public higher education can keep the university high on state lawmakers’ priority lists.

“The case for UC is being made in Sacramento and the coalition is a way of furthering that,” he said. “There is strength in the number of advocates and combining different types of advocacy.”

Amruta Trivedi is the assistant university news editor.