State lawmakers approve audit of University of California president’s office following inconsistent numbers

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Update 8/15/16: This article has been updated to reflect new information from UC spokesperson Dianne Klein and State Assemblymember Phil Ting.

Amid concerns of conflicting staffing and spending figures, California lawmakers on Wednesday approved an audit of the University of California’s Office of the President.

The audit was requested by Assemblymembers Phil Ting, D-San Francisco and Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento. It will be conducted by the state’s independent auditor over the course of 8 months and is expected to cost $418,000.

“I am a proud Cal grad but my job demands that I ask tough questions,” Ting said in a press release. “The Office of the President’s duties, budget, and staffing remain a mystery.”

The audit was prompted by unclear information about the budget and staffing at UCOP.  The Assembly members’ request stated they could not determine if growth in the UCOP budget — $300 million since FY 2008 — has lead to lower administrative costs for UC campuses.

Over the past three years, the state has audited the UCOP six times. The UC is still responding to the most recent audit in March, according to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein, after the California State Auditor alleged that current admission policies disadvantage in-state students.

As an alternative to the official budget and staffing audit, Klein said in an email, the university has proposed providing the information through a less formal arrangement that would be a “more efficient and effective” way to address the state’s concerns.

“We will continue to work directly with any legislative requests for information, and will certainly work with the state auditor on the recently approved audit,” Klein said in an email.

Ting referred to UCOP’s budgeting and staffing discrepancies as “an ongoing issue.” The Assembly’s Budget Committee has raised concerns with UCOP for years, according to Ting, who added that the office often doesn’t respond in adequate fashion and that the state itself discovers relevant information to inquiries after the fact.

For instance, Ting said, the Budget Committee discovered last year that the university was giving out scholarships to out-of-state students — information that came on the heels of the university’s practice of admitting more out-of-state students to make up for a decline in state funding.

Ting called the decision to increase out-of-state scholarships odd given that the university had said it was admitting more nonresidents for financial reasons.

“Who knows how many of these issues are out there?” Ting said.

Wednesday’s audit request stated that a 234-page UC report for FY 2017, “Budget for Current Operations,” had only used one page to describe UCOP’s budget. According to Klein, however, UCOP’s budget was outlined in greater detail during the July UC Board of Regents meeting, where the presented documents were the main source of information about the UCOP budget.

Reports on the FY 2016 from the state finance department and the UC website differed in the total count of UCOP employees. The state report claimed there were 1,186 staff of the Office of the President and University-wide programs, while the UC website says there were 1,672 employees.

State auditor Elaine Howell told the San Francisco Chronicle that the audit will identify an accurate number of UCOP employees from the past five years and compile a more detailed account of the president’s budget.

Contact Brenna Smith at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @bsmith_1853.