Beware The Ides of March

Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed budget Ń revealed in early January – included deep cuts to funding for higher education, among others. The UC system’s share: $500 million. Each campus has until March to come back to the Regents and UC President Yudof with the full $500 million in cuts.

In the days since, UC Irvine administrators have been working diligently to come up with this campus’ share of the cuts.

“At this point, for planning purposes only, we’re assuming that we will get between 10 and 10.5 percent of the $500 million,” said Meredith Michaels, Vice Chancellor for Planning and Budget. “That translates into about $54 million. I’m hopeful that will be reduced because that number is based on the following assumptions: it does not yet include any cuts to the Office of The President [OP], and at the campus we fully expect that OP will share in the cuts. It does not include any cuts for the [Division of Agricultural and Natural Reserves], and we expect them to share in the cuts.”

Michaels and other administrators remain hopeful that the expected $54 million cuts to UCI will, in fact, be less. However, that depends on whether California voters approve extensions on existing taxes, and if those measures even make it to the ballot at all.

“The Governor is trying to take the $25.5 billion problem and he wants to do half of it with cuts and half of it with revenues,” Michaels said. “The big unknown is what if [the tax measures don’t] get to the ballot, and what if [they don’t] get approved É those cuts will go up. It’s pretty sobering.”

UCI administrators have been trying to keep the worst of the cuts as far away from the classrooms as possible. In 2008-2009 this campus made $14.6 million in cuts, and in 2009-2010 an additional $26 million in cuts were made; however, only 3.5 to 5 percent of that total was deducted from academic units. The administrative units bore the brunt. In addition, UCI did not experience cuts in 2010-2011 because the legislature funded the campus for its enrollment. Administrators took that money and tucked it away as savings – $25 million in total.

In spite of this newest influx of much needed cash, UCI faces a series of challenges in the months ahead. In addition to the $54 million in cuts, the campus faces about $40 million in mandatory cost increases from areas such as healthcare payments and contributions to retirement.

In the new political climate under the Brown administration in Sacramento, the California legislature and the UC Regents have sharply changed their rhetoric. “Hard solutions for hard times” seems to be the permeating sentiment.

“I remember last year the line was ‘Go to Sacramento,’” said Student Regent Jesse Cheng. “I don’t think we hear that line anymore, and I think that’s a significant difference. I think there’s a general recognition that the money’s not there. Even if we went out and advocated, the revenue just doesn’t exist. What you’re hearing instead – is we need to look at serious cuts.”

Although the previous year’s fee increases brought about a strong reaction from student and faculty activists from across the UC system, the burgeoning student movement lacked the cohesive sense of urgency and purpose that drove the student movement of the 1960’s.

“The significant difference between then and now is that, back then, you had a sense of urgency, but you also had a very clear-cut solution: pull out of Vietnam,” Cheng said. “What we need here is a very strongly viable solution – something that’s actionable.”

In the weeks leading up to the looming March budget deadline, there is little doubt that administrators, students and faculty leaders will be hard at work to ensure the continuation of the quality of education provided at the UC for so long. Without the support and effort of students, the long-term effects of their work to lessen the cuts may be made null.

“I know students are really tired of protesting, but I think that we haven’t had a real conversation yet about how this is going to hurt us,” Cheng said. “Student leaders – presidents of organizations, people who are involved in their department, people who are interns on campus, people who regard themselves as student leaders need to communicate and unify the student body. This is serious. We need to start having that conversation.”