Saturday, June 15

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass to address underfunded higher education and field questions at forum

As a follow-up to the UC Board of Regents meeting last November, the undergraduate student government invited Speaker of the California State Assembly and ex-officio Regent Karen Bass to a town hall forum at UCLA to speak about the state’s underfunded higher education system.

The forum, which takes place Saturday, marks one of the first student-initiated events to apply pressure on key players who determine funding for the UC system since the 32 percent student fee hike that took effect winter 2010.

One purpose of the event, said Undergraduate Students Association Council President Cinthia Flores, is to build a better working relationship with key players in the State capital so that students will become an important constituency the state adheres to. Another is to get representatives to publicly state their support for higher education, condemn fee increases and change their priorities in terms of the state and youth overall.

Bass was one of the regents who voted for the 32 percent student fee hike last November.

During the town hall meeting, one representative each from the undergraduate student body, the graduate student body, the staff and the faculty will directly address Bass with concerns and inquire about the first draft of the 2010 State Budget.

Flores, who will represent the undergraduate student body, said she will ask Bass whether she thinks the fee increase is a sustainable way of supporting higher education, and whether the state should assume responsibility for the divestment and the lowering of the quality of higher education.

Robert Samuels, the representative of the faculty at UCLA, said he will ask Bass from the legislator’s view if the UC leadership has been effective and if UC President Mark Yudof and the Regents have unfairly blamed the state for the reduced funding.

“(The members of the faculty) just want to see that the state funds are being spent on core admission (instruction and research), and not on construction and administration,” Samuels said. “There are more and more administrators making more and more money.”

Samuels said he supports state oversight of the UC budget. He said he will ask whether the state will make it a goal to reduce administrative costs for the UC.

Both Flores and Samuels said they will bring up Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed state constitution amendment that would mandate at least 10 percent of the annual state budget be allocated to higher education. Currently, universities only receive 7.5 percent. In the same proposal, funding for state prison would be capped to 7 percent, down from the 11 percent prisons receive now.

A representative from Bass’ office said Bass is willing to listen to the concerns of the students who were directly impacted by the fee increase and their strategies to keep the UC affordable and accountable. Bass has invited all the members on the Higher Education Committee and the Joint Committee on the California Master Plan for Higher Education for the State Assembly in the L.A. area to Saturday’s town hall, and expects to bring the concerns of the students back to the rest of the state assembly.

Representatives from Bass’ office said that, though the cuts to programs and services to the UC system are neither pleasant nor welcomed, it was a necessary decision. The protests last November brought Bass back to her days as a student activist herself, according to the representatives.

USAC plans to invite state legislator John Perez to speak soon as well, and is also working through the Community and Government Relations Office, which has institutional relationships with Regents and key individuals in the decision-makings of the UC system, to lobby and negotiate with them.

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