State senator proposes to amend constitution, increase legislative control over UC

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State Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, proposed Wednesday a constitutional amendment that would give the state Legislature some control over the University of California, removing its historical autonomy.

The proposed amendment, SCA X, would need a two-thirds vote by the Legislature to be placed on the 2016 ballot and put before voters. If approved by voters, it would allow the Legislature to exercise power in adopting new laws, such as vetoing tuition increases and other actions approved by the UC Board of Regents.

Although the university receives a significant amount of state funding, it is independently governed by the UC regents. According to a document from Lara’s office, the university differs from the California State University, which receives state funding and is subject to state oversight.

Lara said in a statement he is introducing such legislation to make the university accountable to California taxpayers.

“At a time when access, affordability and diversity are in question, we should allow the public to have a direct say in how its public university system operates,” said Lara in a statement on his Facebook page.

According to Lara’s office, some of the problems within the university include the increased admittance of out-of-state and international students, the proposal to increase tuition and the increase in the compensation of top administrators. The proposed amendment follows the regents’ approval at their Nov. 20 meeting to pass a policy that proposes to increase tuition by up to 5 percent per year for the next five years based on levels of state funding. The decision sparked both criticism from lawmakers and systemwide student protests.

UC spokesperson Steve Montiel said in a statement that the goal of SCA X is unclear.

“If it’s about accountability, the University of California already is accountable in multiple ways, including regular reports to the legislature and administration, the presentation and approval of a budget every year and an annual accountability report, all of which are publicly accessible,“ Montiel said in the statement.

Montiel also noted how the university has been able to grow California student enrollment, despite nearly $1 billion in funding cuts during the recession.

Kevin Sabo, board chair of the University of California Student Association, said the organization currently does not have a position on the university’s autonomy but hopes to form a special meeting soon to discuss a response to Lara’s proposal.

“Understanding the history of the UC, this whole independence was created at the time when the Legislature was really corrupt — that we wanted to shield the UC from,” Sabo said. “A century and a half later, we’re certainly at a different time.”

Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, introduced a similar proposal in 2009 titled SCA 21, which would make the university subject to “legislative control for specified purposes.” It did not, however, pass through the Legislature.


Jean Lee covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @missjeanlee.