UC Regents: Dumb and Dumber

For a group of very smart people, the regents and senior leadership of the University of California can be unbelievably dumb.

That's the obvious reaction to the news that UC's leaders are putting together a funding plan that, they think, will provide predictable funding and keep the state government bear out of their house.

The idea is to tie tuition increases to cuts in state funding. The bigger the cut, the higher the increase in tuition.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Under UC's proposal to the Board of Regents, tuition would rise no more than 8 percent in a year if the state also gave an 8 percent increase. But if the state gave, say, 4 percent, tuition would grow 12 percent. If the state gave nothing, tuition would increase by the full 16 percent.

If that sounds familiar, it should. The UC has faced steady cuts -- and has responded with tuition increases -- for years.
If that feels like surrender, it should. Because it is.
What surpasses understanding is why UC's leadership would put its surrender in an agreement.
For one thing, any agreement with the state government is worthless; UC itself has had compacts and funding agreements for years, and the state has repeatedly failed to live up to them.
For another, UC has options. Like offense.
The university should be pushing the state to reinstate funding -- for its own selfish reasons and for good public policy.
Investments in higher education are relatively cheap, and they pay off.
One obvious way to pressure the state would be to pursue ballot initiatives that give special constitutional protection to the university systems -- the same kind enjoyed by K-14 education, prisons, and a host of other spending programs.
When I suggested as much to UC President Mark Yudof during a press call earlier this year, he said that such guarantees are the kind of bad public policy that hurt California. He's right, of course.
But that's not his problem. His problem is that UC's reputation, quality and budget are at perpetual risk. And the ballot box is where budgeting is done in California.
Until the state redesigns its governing and budget systems, any institution without special initiative or constitutional protection is a sitting duck -- and an easy target for state budget cuts, no matter what sort of agreement said institution has in writing.
It's well past time for the folks at UC to realize this, and act accordingly. 

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