State senators propose amendment that would increase state legislative control over UC

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In response to the UC Board of Regents’ controversial vote to increase tuition over the next five years, senators Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, have introduced an amendment that would return control over the UC system to the state Legislature.

Senate Constitutional Amendment 1 would make the UC system subject to legislative control “for specific purposes,” but the university’s academic autonomy would be maintained, according to the bill. The regents currently operate independently of the state Legislature.

“It behooves us, and ultimately the voters, to revisit the concentrated power and autonomy of the UC Board of Regents, which appears to be out of touch with average working class families,” Lara said in a statement.

Historically, the university has maintained a high level of autonomy from the state Legislature, according to John Aubrey Douglass, a UC Berkeley senior research fellow in public policy and higher education at the campus Center for Studies in Higher Education.

“One reason for granting a high level of autonomy was a general distrust of the legislature’s ability to avoid micro-managing a young University of California,” he said in an email.

Recently, the University of California Student Association voted to support the amendment, and ASUC External Affairs Vice President Caitlin Quinn was among those who voted in favor of the motion to support the bill, according to UCSA board chair Kevin Sabo.

“I believe SCA 1 is necessary for reigning the UC back in,” Sabo said in an email, citing the regents’ alleged “mismanagement of university resources” and “disregard for public outrage” as reasons for his support of the amendment.

The university and state have been in disagreement about the state budget proposal, released by Gov. Jerry Brown on Jan. 9.  The budget incorporates a $119.5 million increase in UC funding — contingent on the university keeping tuition levels flat, despite its recent passage of a plan to raise tuition if state funding doesn’t increase.

In response to the budget proposal, UC President Janet Napolitano said in a press release that she was disappointed by what she saw as a lack of public support for the university.

“One can debate the current pluses and negatives of such an unusual level of autonomy,” Douglass said. “But a constitutional amendment to increase the authority of the legislature to shape and manage UC affairs seems like a distraction from the big issues facing California.”

For UC Berkeley junior Kelly Panagon, the effectiveness of the amendment is difficult to believe.

“The CSU system is already (overseen) by the Legislature, and they’re not doing much better,” Panagon said. “The overarching problem of the state’s commitment to funding our education will continue to be largely ignored.”

If the bill receives half a million voter signatures or a two-thirds majority from both chambers of the state Legislature, the proposal will be put before voters on the November 2016 ballot.

Contact Cassie Ippaso at [email protected].