It is absurd that Senator Yee and his co-sponsors want to rewrite the California Constitution to strip the university of its historic autonomy and place it under direct control of the state Legislature.
Given the current $25 billion hole in the state budget and the political paralysis that chronically plagues Sacramento, tossing a 10-campus public research university that is the pride of California and the envy of the world into the Sacramento mix should be a non-starter.
Let's be clear: UC is working. At a time when it has become popular to mock California, the university survives as one of the state's great success stories. It has thrived under the system of autonomous governance, led by the Regents, that was so wisely written into the Constitution by our pioneers.
California might have trouble marketing its bonds in the current fiscal crisis, but UC has a AA1/AA rating. The state budget may have fallen over a cliff, but UC has managed its resources prudently in a tough environment. It has been able to preserve its world class status -- a thrumming engine of educational opportunity, scientific advance and economic stimulus -- even as it has absorbed a steady onslaught of cuts dictated from Sacramento.
Even with pinched budgets, UC still can attract top leaders to its 10 campuses and five medical centers, and can do so despite the easily verified fact that we compensate them well below the national average for comparable institutions.
By contrast, consider what state control has meant for California's once world class, but now declining, K-12 public education effort. As Arne Duncan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, observed during a recent visit: "Honestly, I think California has lost its way, and I think the long-term consequences of that are very troubling."
Indeed, the university's biggest problem rests with what the state has been doing to us already, even without this attempted power grab. State support for public higher education has eroded at an accelerating pace. Our appropriation from Sacramento, which covers the core costs of educating 225,000 students, has fallen from $3.3 billion in fiscal 2007-08 to $2.5 billion, as now proposed for fiscal 2009-10. To put it another way, in the last 20 years, state spending per student has dropped by 40 percent.
This has made it necessary to slash budgets, freeze salaries, reduce staffs and raise fees. Meanwhile, the cost of the education we provide has remained fairly constant: According to one recent study, it rose roughly 1 percent over the last five years combined. So, the cost of delivery of the product has not gone up, but the portion students must pay to attend has gone up as a direct result of constant cuts to higher education made by Sacramento.
UC is fully aware that California is in dire straits, and that the UC must do its part. But distractions of this kind do not help.
A copy of ACA 24 is available at www.assembly.ca.gov
For more news and information about the University of California: www.universityofcalifornia.edu