Open Letter from ASUCI President: State Must Reinvest Ideologically & Economically in UC

The University of California has not been a free public university since the gubernatorial era of Reagan. This historic change in the cost of the UC, its signature difference between its institutional counterparts across the country, marked an age in California when the state gave up on us. The era also marked a venture from the state of changed values and priorities and a realization that we weren’t one of them.

It is absolutely heartbreaking to see a well versed system in academic variety like the UC be treated as though it were a burden to the state of California and not a compelling institution of economic and intellectual value that it has always been. But priorities and values have changed since the days of the “Master Plan” and we see our state leaders and elected officials cower away from the offerings of UC, as opposed to embracing them as a conduit to help solve some of the most pressing public policy concerns for the state.

Fast forward years later of consistent divestment from the state in public education, numerous tuition increases and major financial strains on students and their families. All the while the UC embracing their academic mission of continued accommodation for the admittance of more Californian residents, even with the continual lack of support from what should be our biggest partner. You can’t help but ask yourself, “How in the world have we even been able to make it this far and remain a force to be reckoned with in education?” Simply put, this has been accomplished by the hard struggle of Californians and students working to support this enormous financial burden .

Myself, my colleagues in ASUCI, student body presidents across the UC system, student regents and just about every student in the system unequivocally oppose any tuition increase. Students pay more than their fair share to support the UC and jointly lobby policy makers to keep education a right through affordability. The new stability plan proposed by the UC President and approved by the Board of Regents is one that I do not believe anyone wants to see put into place or be justified at the expense of students. It is unaccommodating to the needs of UC students and fundamentally ignores the crippling crisis of the already mounting debt on students to simply be in a position to attend a public institution.

However, the sooner we realize that this indeed is a calculated cycle and manipulated decision the state has been making since the 70s, the better off we will all be in finding our true allies who support public education.

The state of California has consistently put the UC between a rock and a hard place in the last few decades as tuition has steadily, and some years dramatically, increased as it continued to shake off the financial responsibility the state owes us. The state is essentially giving the UC less and consistently expecting more. They appear to be champions of education policy, but have a Governor who consistently gutted any proposal made to help keep the UC solvent and tuition increases at bay. Pretending to be allies of students, yet proclaiming that the faster the UC can move students out of the system like cattle, the better the state and system will be — ignoring the crucial semantics of what a four year degree means and the experience associated with it.

We need to demand that the state starts being our partner again in this relationship. Ultimately, the budget they pass and the approval it receives from the Governor either to fund or not fund the UC will be, without any doubt, the fundamental factor for if the UC will push for an increase from students. We must not confuse the words of Governor Brown and Lt. Governor Newsom for their true actions towards us and our public university system.

The governor is running a state with a surplus and economic vitality, but has still not decided to commit a significant portion of state funds to the UC. The governor’s vision for the UC includes an enormous load of online classes, a push to have students leave the university faster and out of a four year track, and ultimately aiming to bill the UC as no longer a strong public research university that is aiming to build innovative leaders in their field of work, but a quasi-vocational or trade institution that would provide the bare basics for students to be compelling in the workforce.

That is not why we chose UC. That is not why the UC was created. That is not our mission.

Our state leadership has lost sight as to why the UC is here. It has lost track of the core value and priority of public education. The state has moved to see us as an economic burden as opposed to being the preeminent partner for the success of the state and the people. The fact that we have to work so hard to merely remind them and lobby them to see the enormous benefits of the UC as opposed to other institutions in the state exemplifies how far the state has gone in not only financially divesting from the UC, but ideologically divesting from us as well.

The frustration we share as students regarding this proposed stability plan is completely valid and one we need to continue to work to drive the prioritization of public higher education. It is essential that we help channel these energies towards the main culprits who lead us to what will ultimately be the death of what this university stands for — an affordable education with the same value of its private counterparts while providing for the public good. The system can only work for so long to attempt to uphold its academic mission while placing the weight on students to fund that dream.

It is only for so much longer that this university will continue to be an institution of higher education serving first generation students. Manifesting itself in a manner that would either make it too difficult for those families to afford the UC, due to consistent tuition hikes, or simply turning those students and families away once it has abandoned its academic mission — a reality all too frightening for us to allow to happen. I am confident that time is no longer on our side and I want to urge us all to work to bring pressure to the state of California and Governor Brown to commit to the university and hold them accountable for the gradual destruction of the UC system.

This work will need to go past just one lobby day, a handful of protests, attention to this issue during a period of a tuition increase and lack of attention during a tuition freeze. We need to be vigilant and actively working, organizing and voting to ensure that the state knows our presence year round. We need to partner with our allies in the UC system to help push for a comprehensive budget that will not only hold the UC financially solvent past one year but consistently.

The only reason the state can chose to ignore us is due to a lack of clear, unified effort among UC students and our partners to put pressure on the state and not students to solve the problem they created. If we fail to hold them accountable, to direct our efforts towards them and make it known that their political posturing is just that — political — this same struggle will constantly repeat itself and hamper other students and our efforts as a body to make the change we need.

Though I do not believe any of us will see a free UC again in the near future, we must still work to get the basic fundamentals back from our estranged state partners. We need a financial re-investment to support the UC from the state. However, more desperately we need the ideological reinvestment from the state in public higher education in order to build our bridge to a consistent partner that keeps in tack what a four-year public education system looks like. Any temporary financial rescue from the state will only hold us over. We need the state to reprioritize their values and make it a given that we are the key to this state’s economic and civic success.

 

Reza Zomorrodian is the ASUCI President, he can be reached at president@asuci.uci.edu.