|UC President Mark Yudof (left) strolls with UC Regent Rex Hime outside the state Capitol.
By Donna Hemmila
More than 200 university alumni and friends converged in Sacramento today (March 1) for UC Day, an effort to advocate for a long-term funding solution to maintain the quality of the University of California.
UC faces a proposed $500 million cut in the state's 2011-12 budget as California struggles to recover from a $25 billion deficit.
"We're willing to help share the pain," UC President Mark Yudof told the crowd gathered in a tent on the Capitol grounds. "But we need to have a conversation with legislators about a long-range funding plan for UC."
If the half-billion-dollar cut becomes a reality, for the first time in UC's 143-year history, student tuition and fees will contribute more to the system's operating budget than will the state. The cut will return UC state funding to the 1998-99 level when it served 73,000 fewer students.
The alumni, faculty, staff and students participating in UC Day focused on reminding Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature about the impact UC has had on the economic and cultural life of California, and voicing concerns about the effect the deep cuts will have on the university's ability to serve the state and its people.
"We'll compromise on a lot of things," Yudof told the UC Day crowd. "But one thing we will not compromise is the quality of the university."
President asks for budget flexibility
Yudof asked supporters to drive home the message that the university must be given flexibility to decide how to absorb the state cuts.
"The less money the Legislature gives you, the more control it wants," Yudof said. "We're down $500 million, and they want to tell us how to spend the rest."
More than 90 legislative visits had been scheduled throughout UC Day, which is part of a wider campaign to call attention to the state's dwindling investment in public higher education over the last decade.
Campaigning for higher education support
The proposed 2011-12 budget has a total of $1.4 billion in cuts to UC, the California State University and community colleges. Representatives of all three California education systems will meet in Sacramento on April 5 for Public Higher Education Day, an event similar to UC Day.
Since January, Yudof, Office of the President budget staff and several UC chancellors have traveled to Sacramento to meet with legislators and testify before budget hearings. In addition, an electronic advocacy campaign at UCforCA.org is in full swing. A Feb. 14 "Raise Your Voice for UC" message was delivered to nearly 140,000 people signed up on the UC for California website. During February, 1,150 new subscribers joined the e-campaign to write letters to their state legislators.
UC is engaged in a systemwide administrative efficiency initiative to save $500 million over the next five years, but cost efficiencies alone can't overcome the $1 billion budget gap UC faces once new mandatory increases for pension contributions, health care costs, utilities and other operating expenses are added to the $500 million proposed cut.
Each campus has been asked to create a plan for dealing with the state cut to present to UC Regents at their March meeting. All face the possibility of more cutbacks in student services, academic programs and staffing. UC supporters are determined not to let the university's excellence and accessibility be jeopardized
"UC has been a positive impact on our life, and I see the impact it has on the community," said UC Riverside alumna Andrea Jenkins, who traveled to Sacramento to advocate with her husband, Samuel Dey, an associate clinical professor of biomedical sciences at UC Riverside. Their two sons are UC Riverside students. Both participated in campus youth outreach programs when they were growing up and that motivated them to attend the university, Jenkins said.
"UC Day is all about our kids and their futures," said UC Regent Fred Ruiz as he hurried through the Capitol hallways to the first of his day's visits with a legislator. UC campuses make huge contributions to the communities that surround them, Ruiz said, and that's important for the largely agricultural Central Valley where he is from.
"You see all these industries and businesses that grow up around the universities," Ruiz said. "My hope is that UC Merced will start another economic engine in the valley besides agriculture."
When new businesses and jobs grow in a region, Ruiz said, that benefits local schools and motivates young people to want to get a higher education.