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California’s crippling crisis

By Jordan Manalastas

July 25, 2010 10:15 p.m.

The UC Board of Regents has once more confirmed the incompetence of the UC system apropos the Great Californian Fiscal Fiasco. Amid the tourniquets thrown around in this month’s Regents meetings, there are yet no signs of change for the university’s precarious position as it teeters on the brink of financial capsize.

Ours is a conundrum as existential as it is financial (sometimes there is no difference). For if there is one chief function the university serves, it is quality education, for cheap. Sadly, the compatibility of this feeble formula’s two components is being sorely tested as of late.

The state of the University of California is still that of a balancing act ““ noble aims against ignoble odds ““ and though the crutches that sustain us may treat symptoms, they are but salt to deeper wounds. Dwindling courses and dilated fees, whilst arguably necessary in these latter days, must give us pause: In a train wreck of priorities, both quality and accessibility sag.

The Regents meeting showed little progress away from those crutches. Regarding the exacerbated financial struggles of middle and low-income students, UC Provost Lawrence Pitts is “sad” and “concerned,” according to the Daily Bruin coverage of this month’s Regents meeting.

It is nice that we the students are in the thoughts of those who control our education. But thoughts don’t pay the bills.

In a time when even I, scion of all things bourgeois, must curb my customary hedonism for budgetary concerns, accessibility seems a priority none too viable. Yet the upcoming autumn sees a UC-wide increase of low-income freshmen and a 14 percent increase in transfer enrollment.

Meanwhile: Classes are cut, fees are hiked and student services suffer significant strain. And while the doors of California’s public universities open to more and more, the options are few and neither quality nor affordability dot the horizon. What passes for accessibility is but expensive, myopic mediocrity.

And reports of this campus’s mounting number of nonresident students, touted as a surefire source of extra cash, offer little calm. From those not born with the good fortune of sharing Katy Perry’s home state, the extra $22,000 per-student is an alluring crutch ““ but at what cost? Institutional integrity, it would seem.

To rely on out-of-state and international students’ wallets would summon serious questions in the mind of your scowling skeptic. Questions like: To what extent is this a public school? To what extent is this truly a university of California?

As reported in this very publication just last week, the ratio of residents-to-non may not change all that much from last year. But the willingness, the eagerness to plumb the purses of nonresidents casts doubt on this whole venture.

UCLA spokeswoman Claudia Luther’s mention to the Daily Bruin of the cultural and intellectual diversity they bring seems almost secondary to the revenue they provide; profiting from others’ cultures never felt so obvious.

There is something intuitively, implacably dubious about a public state university’s reliance on foreign elements to fund itself ““ as opposed to, call me crazy, the state itself. Of course, we all know how helpful the state has been in this regard.

If the failure of our dear Regents might be chalked up to Sacramento’s negligence, then the seeds of change appear contingent upon the change of regime. And serendipity has a way of putting gubernatorial elections right in the midst of this madness.

But the Elephant and the Ass won’t make it easy for us. To the right we have Meg Whitman, the neophyte whose fiscal frugality has wedded itself to a most belligerent nativism. (Anyone remotely sympathetic to the plight of the undocumented will find her plan to ban the admission ““ let alone aid ““ of illegal immigrants to public institutions rather unsavory.)

And to the left we have ex-Governor Jerry Brown, the veteran whose budgetary blunders planted, watered and nurtured the seed of democracy’s worst victory, the passage of Proposition 13 (the likes of which froze funding despite unbridled spending ““ sound familiar?).

I’ve never been in the business of political proselytizing, but I feel safe in predicting that whatever the electoral outcome, the university and her goals will continue to suffer for some time. There is no magic wand to wave. There can be no blind hope in government to solve all problems; hope is the sickly cousin of complacency.

And the university must not grow complacent with her crutches. The coming months (nay, years) will see the crippled university hobbling through an identity crisis, one in which quick solutions must not distract from deep diseases.

It will take more than good intentions to fix this pickle, lest we forfeit all rights to be called a public University of California at all.

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Jordan Manalastas
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