Bite the surcharge bullet

UNIVERSITY ISSUES: The regents’ decision to extend a $60 tuition surcharge is painful, but necessary to pay for the outcome of old lawsuits.

UC students shouldn’t be surprised that they are shouldering the burden of administrators’ financial mismanagement. The university has a history of solving its fiscal problems by turning to the student body. But in the case of the recently extended tuition surcharge, there appears to be no viable alternative.

Students have been paying the $60 surcharge since 2007 in order to fund years-old lawsuits. About 10 years ago, the UC Board of Regents inappropriately raised existing fees, prompting two separate court challenges. Both cases were decided in favor of the students, and the university is financing the resulting multimillion-dollar costs associated with the suit through the surcharge.

As terrible as it is to have students fund the fallout of a tuition hike that never should have been instituted in the first place, critics of extending the fee have not presented the university with another course of action that could actually work. So it is understandable that the regents voted last week to extend the surcharge through the 2017-18 academic year.

Without the extended surcharge, students still would have paid for the lawsuit in another fashion. And imagining what that might mean paints a decidedly less agreeable picture: more cuts to services or curtailed academic programs or perhaps even more limited research. It would have been much worse for the regents to further degrade the quality of a UC education because of their administrative mistake.

However, that does not mean the regents are off the hook. They were clearly out of line when they raised fees at the last minute — students were right to hold them accountable for the egregious error. Even taking into account that the university was in a moment of crisis, the regents’ decision is inexcusable. The
surcharge should not exist because the tuition should have never been charged.

While the surcharge extension seems necessary in the university’s current economic climate, the regents should re-evaluate the situation in future years. In the unlikely circumstance that the university finds itself on more sound financial footing, it should explore every option possible for paying the costs associated with the lawsuits early and through other means aside from the surcharge. If the regents can terminate the surcharge early, then they should.

It is too easy to obsess over the narrative that the regents are unapologetically forcing fees onto the students. Students understandably want to believe that there is some other source of money that could be used, but no such option seems to exist.