Here at the University of California, students are living in interesting times.
After nearly a billion dollars in state funding cuts and a doubling of tuition in just five years, 2013 looks to deliver at least a moment of relief for students and their families. The
Governor has proposed a moderate funding increase to the UC, and as a result, for the first
time in years, tuition will be frozen in 2013-14.
We didn’t get here overnight. The Occupy Movement, the huge student response to
police brutality at UC Davis and UC Berkeley, a 10,000 student march in March 2012, and
hundreds of lobby visits and rallies all brought us to this moment. And most recently, with
the assistance of online voter registration, students turned out to vote in higher numbers in
2012 than ever before, helping provide the margin of victory for Proposition 30.
Yet it is clear that our work has only just begun. This brief moment of relief has not brought with it a long-term solution to the crisis in higher education. The reality on our campuses is still unacceptable: skyrocketing student debt, unaffordable tuition especially for middle class
families, inadequate student support services, overcrowded classes and cuts to courses,
departments, faculty and staff.
While Gov. Brown has pledged regular 5 percent funding increases over the next four years, this isn’t nearly enough to keep up with rising costs or backfill years of deep cuts. The
UC system receives roughly a billion dollars less than we did in 2006, and costs continue
to shoot up rapidly every year. If nothing changes, it is only a matter of time before the
crushing reality of annual tuition increases returns.
For this reason, students welcome the Governor’s newfound interest in the UC system with great hope and excitement. We also know that funding cuts are only part of the problem.
Similar to the Governor’s recent call for greater “modesty” and “elegance” at the UC,
students have long raised questions and concerns about internal UC operations.
At a time when students are being asked to give more and more, Californians expect the UC to take a hard look at executive compensation, sharing profits across the system, and more
cost effective ways to accomplish our core goals of instruction and research. UC executives
should be paid less, and in some cases, faculty may need to teach more.
Unfortunately, the Governor’s actions on the UC have not yet matched his rhetoric. The
two areas of “reform” that he has touted as solutions are a “unit cap,” which is based on
the misguided view that many UC students are staying too long by choice, and a $10
million earmark for “online education.” While experimenting with online education may be
worthwhile, it is dubious that it will bring either significant cost savings or a new instructional
model that meets long held quality standards.
We would expect more from a Governor who is clearly interested in making waves. Unit
caps and online education seem like mostly hype, and disconnected from the challenges
and barriers we face on a daily basis.
If the Governor wants true transformation of the UC, he will find willing partners in UC
students, as long as this transformation enhances quality, access and affordability rather
than further degrades it.
And if the Governor truly wants to protect the greatness of our public university system, he must talk not just about reform, but also about the need for enhanced long-term funding.
There is no other way to ensure access and affordability for every qualified California
student in the coming decades.
The UC remains drastically underfunded, and we need the Governor to advocate for new
revenue devoted to public higher education, including exploring an oil severance tax,
Prop. 13 reform and shifting funds from our still overcrowded prison system. Without new
revenue, we can be sure that students will continue to be asked to foot the bill.
With President Yudof stepping down and five openings for new appointees to the Board of Regents, the time is now. After years of playing defense, students hope to join the Governor
in going on the offensive, including ensuring that students have a major role in selecting a
new UC President and new Regental appointments that bring the experience needed to lead
the UC in the 21st century.
Students may have received a moment of relief in 2013, but we know from experience that without real action, it will be short. Our future, quite literally, depends on it.
RAQUEL MORALES is the UC Student Association president and a senior at UC San Diego. She can be reached at UCSA.org.