Budget Questions Continue

In response to the UC’s proposed $500 million budget cut from the state, UC Irvine held a UC Budget Student Forum on Thursday. Patrick Lenz, vice president for budget and capital resources at the University of California office of the president, and Student Regent Jesse Cheng, gave a breakdown of where the UC is headed.

Budget forum panelists included Associated Graduate Students President Chris Dunckle, ASUCI Executive Vice President Andres Gonzalez, UCI Vice Chancellor for Planning and Budget Meredith Michaels and 70th District Assembly member Don Wagner. Seventy-five total attendees engaged in heated rhetoric but were left without full closure due to the little concrete information available on where the UC is headed.

Moderator of the forum and Vice President of Public Affairs at COX Communications, Jim Leach opened the panel stating, “I don’t think we are doomed. What we need is perspective.”

According to Michaels, UCI is facing an approximate $92 million budget challenge, which includes state budget cuts and mandatory school costs.

“$90 million is more than all of the financial aid we provide you guys on this campus,” Michaels said.

While Michaels confirmed that UCI will take $54 million in state budget cuts, no final decisions have been made as to what schools may be most impacted.

“No final decisions have been made … we are going to look at everything and try to understand the impacts of the cuts,” Michaels said.

Michaels did relay that the diversity of students could very well be affected, especially with Pell Grants currently under attack as well as larger class sizes with fewer courses.

In response to a student concern over how California’s workforce demands will be met with probable enrollment cutbacks, Michaels said it was impossible to determine but the university’s quality of education would not be compromised.

Assembly member Wagner contributed his own perspective on the state budget problem according to the Republican agenda, denouncing the governor’s budget plan for his own which would reduce the size of the state workforce by 5 percent and welfare by 33 percent even though, when prompted by student questions, Wagner admitted this method will not solve the entirety of the California budget crisis.

Gonzalez stressed  that teaching assistants already carry a big workload, Dunckle related the importance of research for graduate students, citing how an increased teaching workload on TAs will reduce the quality of education at the UC, where research is especially crucial.

Lenz confirmed that as of now, no campus has expressed willingness to reduce graduate student support or student services.

Lenz also shared advice given to all campuses to protect student access, instruction in the classroom and financial aid. The university would secure private funding, streamline administrative costs and processes, and cut low-demand courses and programs.

Implementing administrative efficiencies such as database changes of information technology in human resources and student services is a three- to five-year plan that will include employee layoffs.  Some campuses will also have to lay off employees due to certain course cuts.

“The regents didn’t look at a student fee increase in the near future, but did look at what they would be in the next five to 10 years,” Cheng said.

According to Cheng, the possibility of the UC facing even more drastic cuts before June 15, when a balanced budget for California must be passed, is very real if tax revenue from the state is not received.

“Historically, it has been quite the roller coaster ride with the state … unfortunately with increase in student fees,” Lenz said.

Recognizing that the state has not been a reliable partner for the university, the UC Commission on the Future recommended strategies for the future budget of the UC at the Regents’ March meeting outlining a $2.4 billion budget gap in the next five years if the state’s tax initiative does not pass, according to Lenz.

“We’ve got to come up with something other than relying solely on student fees to offset state cuts,” Lenz said.

Lenz also explained that the commission will present scenarios to the Regents in closing the budget gap and expect to have feedback from the Regents for a long-term funding plan in the next six months.