Wilcox takes heat from students in public forum

Jaspery Goh/HIGHLANDER
Jaspery Goh/HIGHLANDER

A crowd of about 100 students expressed frustration with UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox over his support of a controversial tuition plan and a failure to include students in decision-making processes during a public forum Friday in HUB 302.

The forum was moderated by Graduate Student Association (GSA) President Preston Williams, and included comments by ASUCR President Nafi Karim, ASUCR Vice President of External Affairs Abraham Galvan, Williams and Wilcox, in addition to a public comment period. Wilcox agreed to participate after massive student protests against the tuition plan earlier in the week.

Williams, Karim and Galvan all made it clear that they opposed the tuition proposal, which could raise tuition by up to 5 percent per year for five years. However, they emphasized that the lack of student involvement in the creation of the proposal and the little advance notice given to students prior to its announcement were just as problematic. Wilcox responded by saying that he received as much advance notice as students, although he later specified that it and other proposals were discussed between chancellors in informal monthly meetings.

Wilcox was measured in his support for the tuition plan, explaining that it was necessary to avoid cutting financial aid and expand course offerings, enrollment and graduation rates. He noted that any one-year increase in tuition would still be less than the average 8 percent increase over the past 20 years, and emphasized the lack of funding from the state as the reason the plan is necessary. “This is your legislature and your governor deciding that higher education isn’t very important,” Wilcox said.

During the public comment period, students questioned why Wilcox accepted a raise last September. Wilcox responded by saying that he was surprised by the focus on his salary, before disclosing that his pay declined since his tenure as provost at Michigan State University. “Since I’ve come here, I’ve donated over one and a half times that salary increase,” he added.

To assuage concerns over lack of student involvement, Wilcox suggested inviting members of ASUCR to participate on budgetary committees before decisions regarding tuition are made. However, his proposal was rebuffed by Galvan, who said that for such a solution to be viable, students would have to be granted decision-making capacity on the committee, which Wilcox did not commit to.

Wilcox also hedged on whether to support a state-funded audit of the UC system when asked by an audience member. Saying that he “supports the notion” of an audit, Wilcox cautioned that “a lot of what you’re suggesting has been done in various ways” and said that it could potentially waste more money. The UC has so far resisted complying with AB 94, which would require the university to delineate certain areas of spending on students.

Tensions also flared over the treatment of, and resources provided to, undocumented students on campus. Mafalda Gueta, a third-year biology major, expressed worry over whether resources for undocumented students would be continued when a one-time funding source of $512,000 runs out.

Wilcox assured her that he intended to continue the programs, but Galvan questioned the chancellor’s commitment, asserting that Wilcox had told students that UCR was not “a hotel” in response to a question regarding whether the UC had responsibility over students’ well-being. Wilcox initially denied being able to recall the statement, but after Gueta revealed that the statement was addressed to herself during an earlier meeting and heckling from the audience, Wilcox apologized to Gueta.

“I’m going to hold him accountable to it,” Gueta said after the encounter. “I expect him to go out and find money for undocumented students.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misquoted Chancellor Wilcox as saying he had donated one and a half times his salary. He has actually donated one and a half times his salary increase. The Highlander regrets the error.

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