The Tuition Tide Has Arrived

Jason Davis | Staff Photographer

The difference in cost to attend a UC in 2011 compared to 1965 is over $10,000 – a cost that the late Clark Kerr, former UC president, never thought would be possible.

Kerr became president of the UC system in 1958 after serving as UC Berkeley’s first chancellor for six years. Kerr developed his Master Plan for Education with help from Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown as a response to the growing number of high school graduates in California. Over three million students filled American colleges in the fall of 1960 (California leading the nation with the highest number of college students) and that number was expected to double in 10 years.

As part of Kerr and Brown’s Master Plan in 1965, three new campuses were developed to help the situation: UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz.

UCI was built on 1,000 acres of an Irvine Ranch site sold to the state for one dollar by the Irvine Company, a private real estate company based in Newport Beach and founded in 1894 by James Irvine II. William Pereira, UCI’s master architect, developed a plan for the campus, as well as for the city of Irvine to be built around the campus. With construction underway and Daniel G. Aldrich chosen as chancellor, UCI’s future looked promising. The Regents requested extra land from the Irvine Company in order to expand housing for students but, when time came to negotiate the price of the land, the two groups argued for weeks. The Irvine Company finally agreed to sell 510 acres of land to the state for a sum total of $3,315,000 in April 1963.

The campus was dedicated on June 20, 1964. Robert N. Weed of the Daily Pilot wrote about the dedication in a special edition of the Pilot: “The greatness of UCI will lie in its heritage from a great university system, in its unique rural beginnings, in its imaginative design, in its fine people and – yes, you can already feel it – in its spirit.”

When UCI first opened its doors in 1965, there were 1,589 students enrolled and it cost approximately $220 per year in fees to attend. The following year, Reagan was elected as governor and made it no secret that he was unhappy with Kerr’s decisions regarding the UCs, citing Kerr’s refusal to expel protesters at UC Berkeley during the 1964 Free Speech Movement.

On Jan. 9, 1967, the UC Board of Regents held an emergency session at UCLA where they openly opposed Reagan’s proposals to cut the UC budget and impose tuition on students. Three days later, Kerr and the Regents met with Reagan in Sacramento.

“Governor Reagan explained his action by saying that the University of California was a public institution and, as such, had a ‘welfare’ responsibility; that the university admitted the top 12.5 percent of high school students, when these students should attend private institutions; that the university, instead, should be taking the bottom 12.5 percent; that it should be taking ‘the Mexicans,’” wrote Kerr in his memoir “The Gold and the Blue.”

After that conversation, Kerr was asked to leave so Reagan could discuss Kerr’s future with the Board of Regents; a week later, he was dismissed from his role as president. Whether Reagan was punishing the UCs for its support for student protests has been widely speculated, though he often stated that his cuts to education were due to the state’s messy financial situation left behind by Brown’s administration.

Kerr’s dismissal incited actions across at least five UC campuses. The Anthill, UCI’s campus newspaper from 1966 to 1968, published an editorial in a special edition of the paper the day of UCI’s first protest that accused the state of unnecessarily interfering in UC affairs.

In the editorial, the editors called for students to stand up for their right to affordable and accessible education despite the governor’s attempts to take that away: “Education most inherently questions the status quo if it is truly to be called education, and this must be disturbing to a man whose very platforms advocate the entrenchment and institutionalization of the status quo.”

One year after Kerr’s dismissal, Reagan appointed Charles Hitch, Kerr’s UC vice president of administration at the time, as Kerr’s successor after recommendations from a special Regents’ committee, a statewide faculty committee and the nine UC chancellors. “He [Phil Boyd, California Republican Party chairman] said the new governor wanted a new university president, and I had an obligation to oblige him,” Kerr wrote in his memoir. “He said Governor Brown had been given the president he wanted, and now Reagan deserved the same consideration.” Hitch assumed the position on January 1, 1968, three years into an era of student activism incited by the Free Speech Movement.

A month into Hitch’s tenure, he publicly criticized Reagan’s proposed budget, stating that Reagan’s cuts would result in “elimination of services, deferrals or reduced quality” throughout the UC system. He attacked Reagan’s previous comments that assured the Regents that any cuts to education and any new fee increases would only be temporary as the state worked to balance the budget.

“We recognized that the University could live without improvements and new programs for a year, but not for long and remain a great university,” Hitch said.

He also noted that the UC’s three newest campuses – Irvine, San Diego and Santa Cruz – would be hit the hardest by the cuts. The Regents would have to pour their energies into preserving programs and services rather than focus on building stronger campuses as they looked ahead toward the future.

Chancellor Aldrich agreed and speculated that the cuts would leave UCI with fewer programs, delayed construction and longer graduation tracks due to a lack of necessary professors and courses.

“The University of California has to ask for the money or they [the state financial department] will constantly keep reducing the UC budget with the attitude, ‘They can get along.’”

Reagan countered criticisms all the same, saying that the state “put the highest priority on higher education.” In an editorial sent to the Anthill on February 23, 1968, Regent William Coblentz expressed his concern for Reagan’s tuition and increased fees propositions.

“The danger is that once the Regents open the door to increase fees to help finance operating costs or capital improvements, they will be at the mercy of future legislatures and governors who, through manipulation of the university’s budget, could force the imposition of higher and higher fees,” Coblentz wrote.

On April 19, 1968, after postponing the discussion four times in the past year, Hitch and the Regents met at UC Davis to vote on raising student fees. Prior to the April meeting, the Regents had refused any tuition charges because tuition would imply a fee for academic services and strayed from Kerr’s original vision.

“I’ve always had an interest in keeping the university tuition-free – our historic policy,” Kerr said at the news conference after he was dismissed. “And it will be a mistake when we – if we do, as a university – raise higher the barriers to an education.”

In 1968, the recommendation to the Regents was a fee increase anywhere between $156 to $219 per year. After intense debates throughout the day, the Regents voted 7-6 to increase fees by only $81 per year, raising annual fees for UCI students from $240 to $321. Among the six who voted against the increase, Hunt Foods chairman and millionaire industrialist Norton Simon declared his opposition by stating, “It started out as a tuition charge and that’s what it has ended up. I’m a little concerned that it’s being called a University Registration Fee, because this just can’t be justified.”

William Forbes, prominent California businessman, also opposed the increase: “If we pass this measure, we will take a substantial step away from the basic stance of free higher education.”

In the end, their arguments weren’t enough and the vote passed. Reagan openly disapproved of the $81 increase. He shook his head and called the low amount a “kind of tokenism.” Though he acknowledged it was a step in the right direction toward funding education, he continued to state his support for higher increases – an action that foreshadowed future fee increases.

“Mr. Reagan has proved the Regents can be forced to concede to the governor’s demands, or face destruction of the university through loss of growth, loss of effectiveness and loss of morale,” an op-ed in the May 2, 1968 issue of the Anthill stated. “But what is worse, there’s always the realization that one governor can do, others will follow.”