State senator proposes constitutional amendment calling for sweeping changes to UC governance

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California State Senator Ed Hernandez proposed a state constitutional amendment Tuesday which would make sweeping changes to the way UC campuses are governed.

Hernandez introduced Senate Constitutional Amendment 14, SCA14, in light of April’s state audit of the University of California Office of the President, which disclosed budgetary practices within UCOP that drew extensive public criticism.

SCA14 would limit UCOP’s financial autonomy and change the UC Board of Regents to include more student, faculty and staff representation, according to a press release from Hernandez’s office.

“Student voices are still too quiet,” said UC Student Association University Affairs Committee Chair Amory Meltzer in an email. Student concerns are frequently found unanswered by the Board of Regents, according to Meltzer, and more student representation on the board would be a significant improvement. SCA14, however, is not supported by UCOP.

“We believe that amending our state Constitution based on this audit would be a mistake,” said UCOP spokesperson Claire Doan in an email.

The constitutional authority of the UC system was last amended in 1976, according to the press release. Senator Hernandez said California has grown since then and now needs the governance to adapt.

“Changes need to be made, especially in California,” Hernandez said. He reminisced about when tuition was just over $600 a semester, adding that California residents are now struggling to afford the $14,000 tuition.

These recent UC tuition increases together with the state audit “have triggered calls for more accountability in how the University of California system is governed,” according to the press release.

Hernandez said SCA14 is “real simple,” though he anticipates pushback from regents. The amendment to the Constitution will provide transparency and accountability in budgetary practice, as well as decrease regent terms from 12 to 4 years.

The audit by California State Auditor Elaine Howle alleged UCOP “failed to disclose tens of millions in surplus funds, and its budget practices are misleading.”

The audit alleged more than $175 million in undisclosed discretionary and restricted reserves were accumulated by the UCOP in the 2015-16 fiscal year. The report also alleged “the Office of the President continues to lack consistent definitions of and methods for tracking the University’s administrative expenses.”

These stated issues, as reported in the audit, require change to increase the public’s trust in the university. “To achieve this change,” Howle wrote, “we believe the Legislature should increase its oversight of the Office of the President.”

In the press release, Hernandez said it is owed to students and their hard working families “to fight for necessary changes within our publicly-funded higher education system.”

Hernandez conceded that the political process would be difficult, but with the help of student activists “filling up hearing rooms,” he believes SCA14 can appear before voters on the November 2018 ballot.

Contact Janesse Henke at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JanesseHenke.