Napolitano meeting with student press looks at tuition, maintaining UC quality

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A year after taking the helm of the University of California, UC President Janet Napolitano discussed a number of issues from tuition increases to maintaining the quality of the university with student press on Tuesday.

Looking toward her sophomore year as the university’s top administrator, Napolitano said she would focus on implementing her initiatives and continuing conversations with the state to encourage reinvestment in the university.

When she entered office in September 2013, Napolitano faced a continuing disinvestment from the state and 10 ongoing union negotiations — all of which now have contracts with the university.

At the meeting, Napolitano said she thought she should be direct about possible upcoming tuition increases — after three years of tuition freezes — particularly because funding from the state has still not recovered from cuts made during the recession. The UC Board of Regents, the university’s governing body, is scheduled to discuss tuition at their meeting in November, and Napolitano said the “arithmetic” might point to further increases.

“The state is putting a little bit in, but it’s like by an eyedropper, realistically,” Napolitano said. “At a certain point, we may have to look at tuition again.”

Napolitano said that even if tuition increases, student financial aid is robust, pointing to the 55 percent of California resident UC students who pay no tuition.

Yet state funding in real dollars is still lower than it was in 1990, even though enrollment has grown more than 50 percent. Gov. Jerry Brown line-item vetoed an additional $50 million in funds toward items such as UC-deferred maintenance Saturday, removing them from a larger budget bill.

“You know the cartoon strip Peanuts, I felt like it was Lucy yanking away the football,” Napolitano said about Saturday’s line-item veto. “I thought that — rather than call him the day after the veto — I would keep my powder dry. I expect he will be re-elected in a couple of weeks and there will be plenty of time for a larger conversation.”

Still, UC Student Association board chair Kevin Sabo said Napolitano was appointed with the expectation that her experience in government, having been secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and governor of Arizona, would bring in investment.

“Instead, we’ve seen a difficult relationship between the system and the Governor’s Office that more closely resembles a teenager being scolded for poor spending choices of their allowance than an entity of the state,” Sabo said in an email.

Bruce Varner, chair of the Board of Regents, disagreed, saying that Napolitano had forged a good relationship with Sacramento, and that the passage of the $50 million in funds through the legislature, despite the bill’s ultimate veto by Brown, was evidence of this.

“She’s a very quick study,” Varner said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “Once she sees the issue, she quickly sorts out alternatives or solutions.”

Napolitano and Varner both emphasized the importance of reinvesting in the quality of the UC system. This broadly comes down to a focus on faculty quality, UC spokesperson Steve Montiel said.

Faculty at the university generally face uncompetitive salaries in comparison to comparable universities, according to James Vernon, co-chair of the Berkeley Faculty Association and campus professor.

Napolitano also addressed the chancellor pay increases that occurred at the September UC Board of Regents meeting. At the meeting, the Regents directed Napolitano to develop a salary plan for chancellors that would move their pay from the low to the middle range compared to similar U.S. universities in order to remain competitive in the “market” for chancellors.

“We have great chancellors,” Napolitano said. “They work all the time. I don’t know that I’ve ever worked with a harder working group of people than the chancellors we have at UC right now. But we’re not treating them in a way that is competitive with what other campuses pay around the country.”

Yet Sabo and Vernon said a policy of chancellor salary increases is a public relations problem, and it makes it less likely for the state to approve future funds.

Napolitano also brought up a number of the initiatives she announced this year, including the Global Food Initiative, the UC-Mexico Initiative and the effort to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. She said her second year would focus not on new initiatives but bringing these ones to fruition.

She spoke specifically toward the efforts to address sexual assault on campus, mentioning that these sorts of student-centered movements can be supported by the UC Office of the President, but do not begin there.

“We will do all we can from UCOP to support education efforts, to support training, to support awareness — and cultural sensitivity awareness in particular — but we cannot do this from Oakland,” Napolitano said. “This really has to be grassroots among the students themselves with the support of Oakland.”

Daniel Tutt is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @danielgtutt.