The University of California (UC) regents will be voting between two proposed tuition models soon, but it’s hard to say when. Though the vote was originally scheduled for Jan. 22, 2020, the regents were forced to push it back due to their failure to post details regarding the proposed increases 10-days before the meeting, as is standard procedure.
Of course, it is unlikely that this failure to provide public notice was simply an oversight on the regents’ part, rather, it is in all likelihood an attempt to dodge the upcoming student protests incited by the tuition increase. This highlights not only a lack of transparency but a total lack of concern for the opinions of UC students. The UC regents must begin listening to their students, or they will continue to exacerbate student-regent tensions.
While tuition increases can occasionally be justified, the decision should never be taken lightly. Raising tuition without properly consulting the student population is incredibly shortsighted. Freshman application rates have fallen by 5.4% on multiple UC campuses, including Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz, and such a decline may very well be a direct result of past tuition increases. If so many students cannot afford to pay tuition as is, they won’t be any more capable of paying if it is increased further. If another economic downturn strikes the United States, the UC system’s admission staff will find themselves with far fewer applications in their inboxes.
Advocates for the tuition hikes will be quick to remind naysayers that a portion of the funding derived from the proposed increases will supplement student financial aid. Unfortunately, this sentiment does little to assuage the concerns of middle-class students, whose families often find themselves above the cutoff for a low-income household, meaning they are ineligible for federal aid but still not wealthy enough to afford tuition on their own.
This concern is something students would likely be willing to discuss if a proper dialogue was established. Otherwise, a greater number of students will be turning toward the more affordable community college pathways.
To further justify the tuition increase, the regents explain in their Supplemental Information for Tuition and Fee Proposals packet that the UC system is facing mandatory costs, like their growing backlog of maintenance requests, that they cannot meet at the moment, and that the tuition increases are meant to address said costs. To be sure, students understand that these costs are important, but the issue stems from the fact that rather than propose any reallocations of funds, perhaps by cutting the already munificent salaries of the chancellors and regents, the regents immediately turned to their long-time proverbial cash cow: the UC students they are meant to nurture and help develop.
With some digging, concerned students can find the regents’ budget priorities on the UCOP website in their 2020-21 Budget for Current Operations. To give credit where credit is due, many of the priorities are indeed important. The expansion of mental health services, for instance, is briefly mentioned in the document, as is the importance of addressing previously deferred maintenance issues across the UC campuses. More specifically, the budget priorities acknowledge a need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower energy costs.
On the other hand, some priorities should give students pause. The faculty and staff pay increase priority is alarmingly vague. While one would like to see appropriate salaries for UC’s underpaid workers, chancellors like UC Riverside’s Kim Wilcox, whose current salary is $406,495, should not see a pay increase. The cold truth is that many campus administrators in the UC system are already overpaid relative to the amount of work they do, and students would prefer not to see their tuition dollars go to further lining said administrator’s pockets any more than they already do.
Tuition money should be reserved for projects that will help UC students succeed and thrive on campus. This means improving infrastructure in the form of student housing, fighting food insecurity by better developing on-campus food pantries and allocating funds toward student programs.
Unfortunately, because the regents have a long history of ignoring student voices, one cannot be sure that the money will go where the students want. Very few of the regents were involved in the field of education before being appointed to their positions. Norman Pattiz, who resigned from the board following accusations of sexual misconduct in December of 2017, was not involved in education until he was appointed in 2001. Rather, Pattiz is most well known for being the founder of radio network Westwood One, a position far and away from student life.
This disconnect explains the board’s general apathy toward the voice of the student body. Every time a tuition hike is proposed, students turn out in droves during the meeting to protest them, but tuition is increased regardless.
Frankly, the regents don’t seem interested in listening to anyone but themselves. In spite of his upcoming budget proposal, which would increase UC funding by 5.8% while also providing a one-time gift of $56 million, California Governor Gavin Newsom’s vocal opposition to the tuition increase seems to be falling on deaf ears. The regents feel they need more funding than the budget proposal would provide.
The regents’ unwillingness to listen to Governor Newsom is particularly ironic, as the California governor appoints most of the regents to their positions. They simply have too much power and too little oversight. If the governor has the power to appoint them, the governor should also have the power to control them. While a certain degree of autonomy is necessary for any board to operate properly, the regents shouldn’t be allowed to raise tuition at a whim. State law must be amended to allow some sort of governing body, possibly the governor themself, to veto decisions that the people oppose.
A series of checks and balances should also be put in place that would allow for the removal of UC regent members when appropriate. Furthermore, when appointing the future UC regents, the student body should have some say in the process. This would enable students to hold the regents accountable, at least to a degree.
The regents have long decided where UC funding should be allocated, and they cannot be allowed to continue doing so on their own. The blatant aversion to transparency demonstrated by their recent failure to provide notice for the proposed changes to systemwide tuition is evidence enough that students cannot simply trust the regents to have their best intentions in mind. To put it simply: the regents must be made to listen, or they must be made to leave.