California State Assembly reviews university expenditures at 1st budget hearing of year

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The California State Assembly met in Sacramento on Wednesday to review university expenditures at the first budget hearing of the year.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins called on the Assembly to examine the UC budget after the UC Board of Regents’ decision in November to increase student tuition and fees by 5 percent each year over five years, if the state does not provide more funding. The hearing focused on reviewing trends in UC spending from the 2007-08 fiscal year to the present.

UC Berkeley physics professor emeritus Charles Schwartz, who has spent several years dissecting the university’s funding model, spoke during the hearing, as did UC Student Association President Jefferson Kuoch-Seng, who attended with a number of other UCSA members.

In his study, Schwartz disaggregated the costs of the university’s separate missions, such as teaching, research and service. The study explains that when calculating average per-student costs of undergraduate education, the university includes other costs not related to student instruction, such as unsponsored research and graduate programs, which he wrote in his study “distorts rational debate about student tuition and fees.”

Schwartz said at the committee hearing that the university has not addressed this question and has “assiduously” avoided it.

John Douglass, a senior researcher at the UC Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education, said that since the 1950s, efforts to disentangle sources of UC funding and put a dollar figure on undergraduate education have been a source of debate.

“Great universities … are built on the concept that faculty research and public service activities supports and is integrated into their teaching and mentoring responsibilities,” Douglass said in an email. “How (do we) create a cost model that accurately accounts for that?”

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Caitlin Quinn said UCSA will be present at every committee hearing on the UC budget to make it known that students want to be involved in the conversation. She said that while students may not be inherently opposed to tuition funding research to an extent, some of Schwartz’s points could be incorporated into rhetoric in future hearings.

“Students want to ensure this money is being spent responsibly and in ways that will help students succeed,” Kuoch-Seng said at the hearing.

Quinn said UCSA wants UC funding to benefit more students, faculty and staff, as students suffer from increased class sizes and deserving professors are not put on tenure track. She said that as of right now, though, it seems as if the money is “going into a black hole.”

Nathan Brostrom, chief financial officer for the university, said at the hearing that Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget plan does not allocate sufficient funding, adding that the university would have to further augment nonresident enrollment or somehow acquire other funding sources.

The next committee hearing on education finance will take place Tuesday at 9 a.m.

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