The funding increase for the University of California included in Governor Jerry Brown’s 2014-2015 California budget proposal, which leaked late last week, is an encouraging sign.
Less encouraging is the continued lack of fiscal understanding between the state and the UC.
Brown’s proposed budget would establish a $50 million Innovation Award for higher educational institutions that could tangibly improve their time to degree and community college transfer programs.
In a statement, the UC praised the governor, but pointed out that the University “already exceeds its national comparison institutions in time to degree.” It’s hard to be better than the best, especially if the UC needs more state support to do so in the first place.
Exchanges like these underscore a continued wariness between Sacramento and Oakland. In the general interest of the state, its citizens and University stakeholders, it’s time for these parties to stop talking past one another.
A promised tuition freeze and 5 percent increase in funding, as outlined by Brown’s proposal, are good starts toward repairing the University’s relationship with Sacramento.
But the effort can’t stop there. Brown and the legislature should think twice about attaching strings to funding that could be used to fund pressing University needs such as pension liabilities.
The trend in Brown’s policy to force the UC’s hand when awarding or cutting funding is troubling. While the Innovation Award does not have the same consequences tied to it,Brown posed a similar bargain when he decided to tie his ballot measure, Proposition 30, to higher education funding, promising massive cuts to the University of California if the initiative failed and increases if it passed.
In return for state investment in higher education, the UC must recognize that it is a part of the solution, not the solution in and of itself. Outside criticism is a good thing, and the impetus now falls on the administration to respond to Brown’s goodwill with equal effort to implement some of his desired reforms.
The state is responsible for contributing money to a large number of services and organizations, and the UC relies heavily on those funds. The friction is inherent. However, it’s not an excuse for political and verbal jockeying.
While the UC has to recognize it is only one of many line items that require state funding, the state must act in a manner that reflects the reality that the UC is a massive employer in the state and an integral part of California’s ability to compete economically in the future.
Historically, the UC and the governor have had a less-than-stellar rapport. The last two governors made budget compacts with the University that fell by the political wayside – not exactly a groundwork for mutual trust.
But as the UC begins to rebuild what it has lost in years of budget slashing, it should also move towards building a more harmonious relationship with the state – provided, of course, legislators are willing to recognize the value of such a bond.