UC Regents vs State of California: Students Suffer in a Funding Battle

In September, the UC Regents voted and approved to hand down chancellor pay raises to four of the UCs, including our own beloved Howard Gilman. The UC Regents stated the pay-raises were instated to keep the UC system salaries competitive across the spectrum of public education.

As students, we questioned the median UC Chancellor salary of $420,000 and the decision of the Regents to hand out the pay increases. We were told the 20 percent salary increase was in the best interest for the future of the UC system because it kept our Chancellors’ salaries competitive.

Yet, only two months after the Chancellors received their raises, the UC Regents handed down another formidable decision: to raise tuition five percent over the next five years — the decision was supported by all Chancellors.

In an email addressed to the student body, Chancellor Gillman explains the tuition increase supports a “Long-Term Sustainability Plan” that allows “funding to enroll an additional 5,000 California residents, enhance academic quality and student support services, and maintain a robust financial aid program.”

Again, like chancellor pay raises, our heads were stroked and we were told to trust the system. Within the same email, Gillman pointed fingers at the State of California, stating the tuition increases could be frozen or rescinded if the state opts to increase the funding to the UCs. UC President Janet Napolitano and the Regents have echoed the same sentiments, noting that the 1.4 percent increase in California state funding for the UC’s remains less than the total funding received from the state in 2008.

Governor Jerry Brown voted down a September proposal in the California State Assembly to give $100 million in total to the Cal-State and UC system. Governor Brown also voted against tuition raises, claiming the UC can be more cost effective. His proposals: three-year degrees instead of four, more online courses and making the transition easier for community college students.

What started as legitimate claims seeking alternatives to tuition raises has now become a parental argument with the State pointing fingers at the UC Office of the President (UCOP) and UCOP blaming the state. All the while, students are stranded in the middle of the finger-pointing match, occupying buildings, engaging in protests and sit-ins wondering where the fuck we are supposed to come up with $600.

The ‘alternatives’ proposed by Governor Brown are political cop-outs that not only compromise the quality and effectiveness of our education, but take the responsibility from the State of California to substantially support one of the best education systems in the world, the very same education system whose benefits are reaped by California when highly developed, well-rounded and successful people graduate and become part of the California workforce.

The recession has diminished job growth and the millennial response has been to seek higher education: we’ve been told by our friends and family that the only way to compete in a scarce job market is with a bachelor’s degree.

The UC system knows the situation of recent post-grads: that so many students are graduating, moving back home and spending six months or longer searching for job only to end up overqualified and under-paid. We are held hostage by a sluggish job market and increasing UC fees, while UC infrastructure can’t sustain incoming admittance rates and the professor-to-student ratio is steadily decreasing every year.

Essentially, we are paying more for less of an education and graduating with no jobs and a crushing student debt. All the while, the Regents want to talk about competitive chancellor wages and chancellor retention, but is there a concern to retain UC students and keep California’s public university system at competitive tuition rates?

Another tuition raise isn’t just that — ‘another tuition raise.’ Like Student-Regent Sadia Saifuddin said, another tuition raise  “…is rent. This is another job they need to get. This is food they cannot buy.” Another tuition raise is a hindrance to many communities who don’t understand FAFSA, grants, scholarships and payment plans. Hell, most students still don’t understand their own ZotBill.

Another tuition raise is the perception that the UC system is inaccessible. Another tuition raise does not discriminate and hits all students where it hurts: their class sizes, their wallets, their time management spent juggling another job. Another tuition raise puts the UC students in a compromising position.

We want to represent our schools, speak with pride about the institution that isupports our needs, listens to our concerns, acts on our requests and does not take advantage of our impressionable state. We want to select blue and gold and genuinely encourage others to do the same, but another tuition raise has us screaming into empty rooms.

How can we continue to justify the debt? The privatization? The cop-outs? Many students feel apathetically about our sphere of influence: No matter how much we picket, how many signs we carry, how many buildings we occupy, we are still not listened to.

Students should not be faulted for their apathy — we are tired of carrying the weight of our indebted education and the financial mismanagement of the state and Regents. We all selected UCs for the privilege, the prestige and the opportunity — because our parents promised to send us to the best educational system in the United States and worked their asses off to get us here. Many of us have younger siblings, nieces and nephews, friends and relatives who deserve to attend a UC if they should choose, and for them we carry the burden of dissent.

We carry the burden for the future generations of UC students who deserve accessible, affordable and comprehensive higher education. If you hear us protesting or see us angry,  don’t think we’re misguided or that we don’t understand bureaucratic systems; instead, we refuse to be swallowed by another tuition raise and crushed by numbers. We mobilize and remain until UC tuition returns to affordable rates. You could call it our “Long-Term Sustainability Plan.”

 

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