BY BRANDON DIMAPASOC
The Regents of the University of California recently proposed raising tuition for state residents by 2.7 percent, or $342, for the next academic year. The proposal would also raise tuition for out-of-state and international students by 3.5 percent, or $978, for the next academic year. This proposed hike would result in increased fees for the second consecutive year. The Regents were expected to vote on the increase on Jan. 24 during their meeting at UC San Francisco. After vehement student protest across UC campuses – including a rally held by Students for a Democratic Society on Jan. 23 in front of the Memorial Union at UC Davis – and pressure from state officials and legislators, including both Gov. Jerry Brown and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the vote was delayed until May pending the passage of funding for the UC system for next year by the state legislature.
The Regent’s proposal to raise tuition will increase the financial burden on already struggling college students across all ten of the UC campuses. For example, according to a 2016 report on food security within the UC system, 42 percent of all UC students reported low or very low food security. It is shocking that the Regents would deem this hike necessary, considering the discovery last May of an undisclosed $175 million in reserves held by the office of UC President Janet Napolitano. The Regents claim this increase is necessary because the state refuses to adequately fund the UC system. However, Gov. Brown urged the Regents to reduce “the system’s cost structures rather than increase the financial burden on students.” However, rather than cutting costs and spending with more scrutiny, the Regents have thrown lavish parties for themselves, the most recent being a party costing $15,199 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Napolitano’s office has used more than $225,000 for dinner parties since 2012. Even more appalling is that the Regents approved 3 percent pay increases for eight of the ten campus chancellors last September. This repeated use of funds to enrich themselves and other top administrators leaves no question as to why not only students but also state officials do not trust the Regents when they claim a tuition increase is required, and why Gov. Brown urged the Regents to reduce costs rather than further burden students.
It is questionable that the Regents would implement a tuition increase when their budget for next year has not yet been set by the state legislature. Gov. Jerry Brown, who proposed a 2.7 percent increase in state funding for the UC system in his budget for the next fiscal year, described the proposed tuition hike as “premature.” Furthermore, Gov. Brown raised concerns of the impact the tuition hike would have on access to affordable quality education citing that, “economic expansions do not last forever and the future is uncertain.” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, an ex-officio Regent, also opposed the tuition hike. President pro Tempore of the California State Senate Kevin de Leon and State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon also issued similar statements opposing the tuition hike, at least until legislators vote on the budget for the next fiscal year.
The UC Student Association rightfully stands in opposition to the tuition increase and recently acquired 3,000 signatures through an online petition opposing the tuition increase. The bylaws of the Regents bylaws of the Regents state that each regent is “to serve as trustees for the people of the State of California and as stewards for the University of California.” It is time the Regents fill that role by ensuring affordable and accessible education by choosing to enrich students not themselves. No Regent assumes the role to harm students, yet their personal greed clouds their pursuit of helping students. It is time for the state legislature to make funding the UC system, and all forms of education a top priority and provide more oversight, especially in fiscal issues. The legal independence of the UC Regents is arguably what has allowed the UC system to become the premiere public higher education system in the world, as it is one of only three higher education systems in the United States that provide such a high level of independence from elected officials. Their legal independence, however, should not allow the UC Regents to ignore the democratically-elected state legislature and executives. Finally, and most importantly, it is up to the students and general public to hold both the Regents and the state government accountable for serving the interests of students.