UC Board of Regents considers establishing advisory committee to review university finances

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The UC Board of Regents will vote Wednesday on whether to establish an advisory committee that would examine ways to reduce the university’s cost structure.

The Select Advisory Committee on the Cost Structure of the University is an intended space for Gov. Jerry Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano to exchange their ideas on university finances. Such a collaboration between Brown and Napolitano would occur in the aftermath of the regents’ November decision to approve a possible tuition increase, contrary to the governor’s plan to keep tuition flat.

The committee would address topics including enrollment levels, teaching loads, administrative costs, curriculum design, online education, research funding and undergraduates’ time to degree.

During the regents’ November meeting, Brown informally proposed creating a committee to review the university’s cost structure. According to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein, Napolitano and Brown agreed to meet in a formal capacity to determine recommendations for appropriate state funding levels in the short and long terms.

Klein said in an email that the partnership “is not really intended to be a formal committee or working group, but rather a framework that will facilitate a serious, good faith exchange of ideas” between Napolitano and Brown.

The discussions will be informed by reports from outside experts and stakeholders, including UC faculty and students. Meetings will be private to ensure a frank discussion, although the committee will release reports and recommendations, according to Klein.

If the regents approve the proposal, Brown and Napolitano will hold a series of meetings over the next few months, beginning next Monday, and will be scheduled to present a preliminary report to the regents in March.

On Thursday, the regents will hear an update on Brown’s proposal to increase funding to the university by $119.5 million, provided that the university keeps tuition levels flat. Brown’s proposal differs from the university’s decision to raise tuition by 5 percent each year over five years unless the state allocates more funding.

In addition, the UC Commission on the Future, formed in July 2009, will update the regents Wednesday on its process of implementing recommendations to reshape academic and administrative operations of the university in light of state disinvestment.

The commission’s report to the regents discusses new questions concerning the university’s efficiency, such as “how to ensure the ‘right’ proportion of nonresidents across the nine undergraduate campuses,” the agenda states.

John Ellwood, a professor at the campus Goldman School of Public Policy, explained that the advisory board hopes to yield “greater output” by funneling more students through the system with limited resources. Ellwood, however, raised concerns over whether these decisions for “greater output” could adversely affect the quality of education.

“We have just gone through five or six years of cost-cutting, and we have not increased tuition as much as the money that was taken away,” said Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy. “We are more efficient than we were five or six years ago — but at what point do you say enough is enough, if you’re going to have a high-quality institution?”

At their meeting, the regents are also set to discuss implementing recommendations for the university’s sexual assault task force and hear updates on the proposed federal college-rating system.
The regents will meet Wednesday and Thursday at the UCSF Mission Bay campus.

Suhauna Hussain covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @suhaunah.