An empty gesture

UNIVERSITY ISSUES: A recently approved state bill, while it attempts to increase transparency, deflects from the real problems at the UC and CSU.

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A little advance notice of an impending calamity is better than none at all.

In that spirit, a bill approved last week by the state Senate marks a commendable step toward more transparency at California public universities. The bill, authored by Assemblymembers Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, and Marty Block, D-San Diego, seeks to require the governing bodies of the University of California and the California State University to begin consulting with student associations about half a year prior to implementing fee increases.

At its most basic level, the idea seems promising, but the bill could easily become an empty gesture in practice. It does not address the main issue — state disinvestment from higher education. Instead, the bill sets up a complex process that may appease some students by giving more opportunities for airing grievances but will likely do nothing to stave off eventual fee hikes. All it will do is allow more time to prepare for an inevitable outcome.

The bill is well-intentioned. Students and parents will have many months to brace for even higher education costs. Unless, of course, the university initiates a fee hike midyear due to more state cuts — as will very likely be the case this year if Proposition 30 fails. In that scenario, the bill only requires the universities to give about 30 days’ notice.

Additionally, the CSU Board of Trustees and the UC Board of Regents would work more with the stakeholders and may even address students’ concerns more adequately along the way. Given the drawn-out time frame for implementing a fee increase, the universities will hopefully be pressured to think even harder before imposing yet another financial burden on their constituents.

But when the UC and CSU decide to raise tuition, they do it out of necessity. It is not a decision that is ever made lightly or without consideration for student concerns, and the reason is because the state is providing less funding. This bill does nothing to address the underlying problem.

Furthermore, as ASUC External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi said, the bill gives the universities room to create more accountability, but it’s uncertain whether that will actually happen. At the end of the day, the UC and CSU boards will undoubtedly still make the decision to raise fees — they don’t need anyone else’s approval to do so.

Still, if the bill is put into practice at both university systems, students should attempt to make the most of it. If nothing else, the deferred increase provides a window of opportunity for more students to voice more thoughts to the regents and trustees. Whether they listen is another concern.