Deep Budget Cuts Scar New UC Academic Year: By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday August 27, 2004

A spokesperson for the University of California at Berkeley said that the university has “hit bottom” with this year’s budget and will begin to turn itself around with the aid of the Higher Education Compact signed earlier this year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the heads of the UC and California State University systems. 

But the compact is not legally binding, and its terms could be changed in future state budgets either by the Legislature or by the governor. 

Student fees across the entire UC system have been rising dramatically in the past two years, according to UC Berkeley Director of Media Relations Marie Felde. The fees have jumped 60 percent from $2,100 a semester to $3,365 a semester for California residents in the past three years. In roughly the same period, state general fund monies to UC Berkeley plummeted, dropping from $514 million in 2003-03 to $437 million in 2004-05. 

As one result, Felde said, “non-faculty employees have not had any raises for three years. In this region, with the current economy, that’s hard. People have felt that.” 

The largest decline in UC Berkeley’s budget this year was in the area of research, which was dropped from the 2004-05 budget altogether, but was later restored, 10 percent lower last year. Nonacademic programs suffered a six percent cut, while academic programs lost 2.25 percent in funds. 

General fund support to the statewide UC system dropped from $3.1 billion in 2002-03 to $2.7 billion in 2004-05. 

Last May, UC President Robert Dynes and California State University Chancellor Charles Reed agreed not to oppose proposed severe cuts in the universities’ budgets in exchange for Gov. Schwarzenegger’s agreement to a Higher Education Compact to stabilize future state funding. 

In exchange, Schwarzenegger agreed to support a 3 percent state general fund increase to both UC and CSU in 2005-06 through 2006-07, jumping to a four percent general fund increase from 2007-08 through 2010-11. 

Under the compact, undergraduate student tuition at both university systems would be capped at raises of an average of 10 percent for the next three years. 

The agreement was called “inexcusable,” “despicable,” and “embarrassing” by John Vasconcellos, the outgoing chair of the Senate Education Committee. Vasconcellos was particularly concerned that the compact did not address the problem of thousands of UC-eligible California students who were scheduled to be turned away from the university system this year because of budget cuts. 

One portion of the university’s budget agreement has already hit a stumbling block: Earlier this month, a California Superior Court judge in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction against the raising of UC fees this fall for 3,000 professional school students who enrolled prior to 2003. Those fee increases would have averaged a 30 percent jump from last year. Judge James L. Warren said that student plaintiffs attempting to halt the fee hikes had “demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits” in a case which is scheduled to go to trial this fall. UC is appealing the judge’s ruling. 

The Higher Education Compact has been compared to a similar agreement between the governor and California city and county leaders, but it differs in one significant way: Enforcement. Earlier this year, California city and county leaders agreed to proposed cuts in state funding in return for Schwarzenegger’s support for a constitutional amendment to protect them from funding cuts in later years. That constitutional amendment is scheduled to go before California voters in November as Proposition 1A. The Higher Education Compact has no such funding protection mechanism for the state’s university system, relying instead, on both the governor’s word and his ability to get his budge through the Legislature in future years.