Wednesday, May 23

Editorial: UCOP audit uncovers well-run office, should not cut important programs


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The University of California has long been synonymous with ballooning administrations and rampant bureaucracy. That imagery might be changing, though.

A third-party review of the UC Office of the President found the office is run quite efficiently, but has the potential to cut up to half of its $883 million budget to reduce University expenditures.

The review found UCOP could save between $42 million and $50 million through streamlining the office and firing staffers. The group also recommended the University move some central UC programs, such as its health system, which generates one-third of the University’s budget, and UC Press, the University’s academic publisher, to its campuses to make larger cuts – up to $438 million, or almost half its budget.

Slimming the UC budget is important, particularly in the face of impending tuition hikes and diminishing state contributions to the University. But it is equally important to acknowledge the UC is a pioneer for public universities and its spending habits are both experimental – it has funded some socially conscious initiatives such as its carbon reduction efforts – and comparatively modest. UCOP’s budget is still 2 percent of the overall UC budget, which is on average smaller than more than half of the next 10 largest university systems in the country.

UCOP should not hastily cut initiatives from its office for the sake of looking good to California legislators. For what it’s worth, the review contains some understandable recommendations of removal of smaller programs such as UC-Mexico, an initiative promoting research partnerships between the UC and institutions in Mexico. Cutting these kinds of programs may be for the better: UC Riverside, for example, runs a similar program to the UC-Mexico Initiative.

There isn’t, however, a comprehensive list of what may be on the chopping block, and UCOP should make clear what is before setting foot on trimming its expenditures.

While UCOP’s budget has its excesses, part of its growth has been in the pursuit of better supporting students. Various initiatives have included funds for food security projects, legal services for undocumented students and cybersecurity. These responsibilities might not be as effective if delegated to different campuses, and it is still unclear how much the UC would even save by decentralizing these particular programs.

And it’s worth noting the history behind the review, which UC President Janet Napolitano admitted she requested due to pressure from the state. The University has been audited numerous times over the past decade. Last year’s audit, which found the office overpaid top staff and mishandled its budget, resulted in state legislators deciding to dictate funding of UCOP separately from the rest of the University – the first time in the UC’s history.

Of course, checking the University’s power is essential to maintaining its mission to advance and disseminate knowledge, and provide affordable higher education to California residents. But the UC shouldn’t be intimidated by the state’s overtures, which increasingly seem to assert control over the University’s operations in the name of protecting Californians – sometimes questionably.

A lot of money is on the line, and UCOP has a responsibility to ensure students are given their bang for their buck. But it should avoid cutting with a heavy hand: Political motivations are clearly at play, and UCOP should be privy to these factors, not succumb to them.

 

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