The UC Board of Regents closed out a school year that contained an 8 percent fee increase, reductions in retirement benefits for future hires and administrative downsizing. Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a Democratic budget proposal that included a $150 million cut to the University of California.
In a phone interview, Russell Gould, the outgoing chair of the UC Regents, talked to the Daily Bruin about his time with the UC and the fiscal climate.
Daily Bruin: You’ve been with the Board of Regents for a long time, and chairman for the past two years. Can you talk about the changes you’ve seen within the UC since you arrived and within your term as chair?
Russell Gould: One of the things that alarms me most about the disinvestment from the state is just how rapid we’ve seen a decline in state funding. You look over the last 20 years and, adjusted for inflation, support for UC has dropped by 57 percent. There’s been a huge reduction in the state commitment to the University of California. And that alarms me greatly.
DB: To be fair, how much of the disinvestment is because of the budget crisis?
RG: There’s no question there’s a budget crisis. These are very tough times, and tough times for families. What’s reflected in terms of the state’s decline in revenues is being mirrored in what families are struggling with, homes going down, retirements ““ they’re feeling it, too. So no question, there is a clear budget crisis. There’s also, when you look at the last 20 years, periods of huge growth for the state that have seen in aggregate this decline. So this is not just what’s happened lately. There has been a steady erosion of state support for UC that we’re fighting very hard to stop.
DB: Have you identified reasons for reduced state support?
RG: I think it’s a combination of the emergence of major programs in (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation), and the corrections budget has grown dramatically during that period of time. Much of that budget is now controlled by the federal courts that control health care spending for correctional system.
You’re also seeing the emergence of new and expanded health care programs for families. These are expensive programs. All of these pressures, including (Proposition) 98, mandatory constitutional funding for K-12 schools, put pressure on limited resources. I think in that circumstance UC has not gotten its fair share in that funding. And we continue to push that issue.
DB: The UC has made a point of committing to access by offering fee waivers to those who need financial assistance. But a lot of questions are out there about middle-income students who can’t access financial aid. How is the board addressing those concerns?
RG: Absolutely, we are very concerned about middle-class students. That’s one of the very tangible impacts of these fee increases because for low-income students there is the Blue and Gold (Opportunity) Program that will waive the student fees so they do not get hit by tuition. But for middle-income students, it’s a bigger hit. So we’re looking at strategies to assist mid-income students as much as we can, because we recognize it’s a big burden on students.
DB: Despite the advocacy in recent months, the Democratic plan that came out a week and a half ago contained further cuts to the university.
RG: Regrettably I think that Sacramento is listening to lots of voices. We’re among them, and I think we’ve got a stronger effort than we’ve ever had to push legislature and governor to push UC, but we’re fighting a lot of other interest groups that say, “˜We’re more important.’
Yet when I talk to legislators and talk to people in the governor’s office, they seem to understand the link toward building businesses, building opportunity and having (a) kind of society and economy that’s sustainable. But when it comes to the short-term decision they seem to put their resources in other places. And that’s what we’re continuing to fight.
DB: You and UC President Mark Yudof predicted tuition raises in a letter in response to the Democratic budget plan.
RG: That’s what we want to be absolutely straight with the governor and legislature about, and that’s if that plan was adopted and we had another $150 million reduction on what was already a $500 million reduction, we didn’t see any other recourse other than to consider a double-digit fee increase on top of the 8 percent that the (UC) Regents approved just a few months ago.
DB: How will the University of California Retirement Plan continue to play a role in the UC’s financial picture?
RG: One of the things we adopted last fall was a revision to our retirement system for new employees, making it less generous and reducing our long-term cost. That didn’t impact any of the existing employees, and so we continued to have that obligation (…) Now the challenge we have is that while (California State University) system has its retirement costs paid for by the state, the state has not agreed to pay UC’s retirement cost. So at this point, we’re kind of being treated unfairly. Cal State gets their pension costs paid for, we don’t. That puts us in the position to have to effectively deal with another cut or reduced funding level for UC, and it makes it very difficult for us to balance our budget.
DB: And this indirectly stresses the entire UC budget.
DB: There have been calls this year for more student representation on the Board of Regents. How has the board addressed those requests?
RG: We’ll take a look at each request as it comes in. We really value student participation, we’ve had student regents six years that have been focused, that really understand the issues and represent the student’s point of view. And that’s very helpful to us. We’re not always going to agree, student regents are going to have a lens (to) look through, and they’re going to represent the students’ interests, but that’s important for the rest of the regents to hear. … I know I’ve added them to a number of new committees like Campus Life to look at issues that are emerging on the campuses that students are very concerned about.