|Yudof video message to UC community|
Working to combat a steep slide in state support for higher education, advocates for the University of California are planning large rallies in Sacramento this spring to persuade lawmakers that public higher education should be a funding priority.
The UC Student Association on March 1 will hold a rally and press conference at the state Capitol. University of California President Mark G. Yudof, along with several UC regents and chancellors, will join student organizers later in the day for meetings with key legislative leaders.
"Our students are a critical voice in delivering our message to Sacramento, and it's great to see them engaging in this way," said Yudof. "We are honoring the wishes of the UCSA leaders and not taking a role in their public rally, but we will be visiting legislative leaders together that day to show our solidarity and to express how much we all care about UC's future."
A second rally, on April 27, is being hosted by a coalition that includes UC, the California State University and California Community Colleges. Leaders and key stakeholders from the three public higher education systems will be joined by a select group of community leaders from throughout the state for a joint advocacy day in Sacramento.
Organizers hope to draw a broad spectrum of participants, from parents and students, to community organizers, business leaders, faculty and staff.
Jesse Cheng, the UC Student Regent Designate, has been working to organize participation in both rallies. It is important that lawmakers see involvement by students, faculty and staff at all three systems of public higher education, he said.
"Sacramento is facing really tough budget decisions and they need direction from the public," Cheng said. "This is our chance to give them that direction, and to give them a clear mandate about priorities."
State support for UC has been eroding since the 1990s, but last year, amid a severe recession, lawmakers slashed UC funding by 20 percent. The resulting financial crisis brought layoffs, employee furloughs, reduced class offerings and higher student fees.
The UC Board of Regents in November proposed a proposed 2010-11 budget that asks the state for $913 million more in funding, an amount that would allow UC to restore core funding for university operations.
UC efforts to build support for the restored funding include the launch of an online, grassroots movement to educate lawmakers and the public about all the ways that UC serves California and its people. The group is now nearly 300,000 strong — with more than 130,000 people added to the list of UCforCA.org advocates since November.
Campuses have also been active, hosting teach-ins, visiting the district offices of local lawmakers and sponsoring "write-ins," like the one at UC Irvine that resulted in 150 hand-written letters being sent to Sacramento. In addition, the directors and presidents of UC's alumni associations met in January to begin mobilizing their members.
President Yudof, meanwhile, has been meeting with influential groups and people across the state, asking that they join the cause.
"I am committed to preserving UC as a place of academic excellence and opportunity, and I hope others will join me in this worthy fight," Yudof said. "The investment in higher education is critical to California's future."
The president and all 10 chancellors have made frequent trips to Sacramento and Washington D.C. in recent weeks, advocating on UC's behalf and highlighting the university's contributions to California and the nation in terms of research, economic growth and public service.
On Jan. 12, Yudof and UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann met with Assembly Speaker-elect John Perez (D- Los Angeles). They discussed the need to re-establish higher education funding as a priority in the state budget, and also talked about how UC and its campuses can help the state recover from the current recession.
The pair met later in the day with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on both fiscal and policy matters.
Yudof returned to the Capitol on Jan. 25, accompanied by UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, this time meeting with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senate Appropriations Chair Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), among others, to once again press the case for increased funding.
UC advocacy continues on the federal level as well. President Obama's 2011 budget request included increased funding for Pell Grants and key research agencies including the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy's Office of Science.
As the budget process moves forward, UC's Washington office will continue working with advocates, students, Regents and chancellors to persuade policymakers to provide strong and stable funding for higher education in the areas of education and research, as well as in infrastructure and other areas. UC is also working with national policymakers to reexamine the federal role in supporting higher education and to expand its support for other areas that are critical to the university's operations.
The concerted advocacy efforts seem to be working. Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed budget restores $371 million in funding for the university, one clear signal that the university's message is being heard.
It's a positive development, but lawmakers must fund the full $913 million if the university is to repair the damage brought by last year's steep cuts, Yudof said. Building support for UC's budget request remains his top priority.
"Adequate state funding is vital if UC is to avoid declining educational quality, access and research," Yudof said. "It's the best investment California can make for its future."
Find out more about UC's advocacy efforts at www.UC4CA.org.
Carolyn McMillan is a managing editor with the UC Office of the President Internal Communications.