UC regents approve 2021-22 budget plan, student basic needs report

Photo of a regents meeting
Joshua Jordan/File
The UC Board of Regents meets in January 2018. During the board's meeting Thursday, the Special Committee on Basic Needs discussed its report, which entailed a five-year plan for the UC system to help its students meet their basic needs.

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On its second day of virtual meetings this week, the UC Board of Regents approved a report on student basic needs as well as the 2021-22 budget plan.

The board meeting began with public comment, during which the UC system was called to withdraw its funding from the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea, defund UCPD and stabilize working conditions for lecturers. The regents were also urged by UC employees to mitigate coronavirus-inflicted financial burdens by reducing curtailments and increasing vacation hours.

The board then discussed potentially dismissing tenured UC Santa Cruz, or UCSC, professor Ram Akella.

In 2017, UCSC’s Jack Baskin School of Engineering was reorganized and Akella’s department was dismissed, leading to Akella being made a divisional appointee rather than being moved to a different department, said UC Office of the President, or UCOP, Vice Provost for Academic Personnel and Programs Susan Carlson. Akella opposed this “involuntary transfer,” ultimately refusing to teach the courses assigned to him by the engineering school’s dean.

“Professor Akella’s conduct substantially impairs the university’s central mission: teaching,” said UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive during the meeting.

Akella said at the meeting that his actions exemplify his adherence to the UCSC campus policy, stating teaching assignments can only be authorized by one’s department chair, which he no longer had. He added that he made “repeated requests” to change this policy, which were unmet.

The regents were scheduled to decide on Akella’s dismissal during a closed session.

The board then held the final Special Committee on Basic Needs meeting to discuss its report, which was approved. According to Yvette Gullatt, UCOP vice president for graduate and undergraduate affairs and vice provost for equity, diversity and inclusion, its recommendations will begin to be implemented immediately.

The report laid out a five-year plan for the UC system to help its students meet their basic needs.

“Access, affordability and excellence are all tied together,” said UC President Michael Drake during the meeting in support of the report.

The report outlines goals to halve the proportion of students facing food insecurity — an issue currently reported by 44% of undergraduate students and 26% of graduate students — by June 2025. The goals also include halving the 16% of undergraduate students facing housing insecurity, as well as the 5% of graduate students who have experienced homelessness.

UCOP Executive Director of Student Financial Support Shawn Brick then discussed efforts to increase the accessibility of CalFresh to students. On Oct. 28, the California Department of Social Services finalized a uniform letter for universities to inform county offices if a student is eligible for work-study, a “key step” in qualifying for CalFresh. UC campuses have begun to provide this letter to students in their financial aid portals.

“To see these goals put into place is so monumental,” said Student Regent-designate Alexis Atsilvsgi Zaragoza. “Students are seeking to survive our schools, not just academically but physically as well.”

Regents Lark Park and Janet Reilly expressed support for checking in on individual campuses more than once a year to see how they are addressing basic needs.

According to UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, the pandemic has increased the number of students facing basic needs insecurity. Although campus outreach to address basic needs has expanded, with efforts such as grocery pickups and deliveries and a new website with resources for mental health, housing support and more, Christ said the “need has far exceeded our capacity.”

During the second board meeting of the day, the regents approved the UC 2021-22 Budget Plan for Current Operations. The budget anticipates a funding gap of $690 million, primarily resulting from reduced state funding and cost increases associated with employee retirement contributions, health benefits and wage increases.

To close this gap, the budget suggests that the state contribute $518 million to the UC system in the upcoming fiscal year, with the university undertaking $134 million in cost-saving measures to offset much of the remaining funding gap.

Many campus chancellors expressed their concerns over budgetary constraints.

UC Berkeley’s projected budget deficit is $341 million from March 2020 to June 2021, Christ said during the meeting.

A relatively young campus with a limited alumni base for philanthropy, UC Merced is still highly dependent on state funding, according to UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz at the meeting.

In hearing this testimony, Park said she worries that allowing these disparities to persist might impede goals of equity the regents have sought to address by supporting the now failed Proposition 16 and voting to eliminate the use of the SAT and ACT in UC admissions.

“If we don’t come to grips with this, we are not serving the system well,” Park said during the meeting. “We need to go beyond this veneer to really get at what equity means.”

Contact Olivia Moore, Lauren Good and Kaleo Mark at [email protected].