Governor, UC president to study university finances together

AP News
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Posted: Jan 18, 2015 6:45 PM

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown and University of California President Janet Napolitano have agreed to try to iron out their differences on tuition increases, the state's duty to fund higher education and the university's responsibility to control costs by tackling them together with help from their respective staffs and outside experts.

The two leaders are asking fellow members of UC's governing board on Wednesday to name them as the sole members of a committee that will look at making it easier for students to earn degrees more quickly, the role research plays in the university's mission and the state economy, and whether moving classes online and increasing the hours faculty devote to teaching would save money, according to a report detailing the request.

The governor first floated the idea of establishing such a committee in November, when, over Brown's objections, a majority of the Board of Regents approved Napolitano's proposal to raise tuition by up to 5 percent in each of the next five years unless the state gave the university more money. Brown said at the time he did not think tuition hikes were warranted because the university had not considered new ways of doing business that would allow it to do more with its state dollars, a frequent refrain of his since he began his second stint as California's governor in 2010.

He and Napolitano met after the November meeting and "agreed it would be best for the two of them to have a structure to explore UC issues together — from the role of a research university to cost structure and increased enrollment of California students," university spokesman Steve Montiel said Sunday. They settled on informal committee structure "that will facilitate a robust exchange of ideas between the two of them, informed by reports and testimony from external and internal experts and stakeholders, including UC faculty and students," Montiel said.

Napolitano and Brown plan to have their first three-hour meeting as the Select Advisory Committee on the Cost Structure of the University on Jan. 26 and to bring "recommendations that will help determine appropriate state funding levels for UC in the short- and long-term" back to the full board in March, he said.

"To ensure a frank discussion and meet a quick timeline," their meetings will not be open to the public, Montiel said.

Evan Westrup, the governor's spokesman, said Sunday that the two-member configuration of the committee was consistent with Brown's original vision because "public feedback and stakeholder input will be an integral part of the process."

Some of the specific topics the two plan to address are the university's pension and employee health costs, the teaching loads of professors and graduate students, increasing the number of students who transfer to UC campuses from community colleges, and creating undergraduate degree programs that can be completed in three years.

The need for speed is a factor in the discussions because the university's funding for the fiscal year that starts July 1 already has emerged as one of the most contentious issues facing Brown and the Legislature this year.

The governor released a state spending plan earlier this month that boosts the UC system's budget by a little under $120 million, an increase he said was contingent on the Board of Regents not raising tuition this fall. UC officials said the funding was about $100 million less than they needed to accommodate the number of qualified students seeking admission and to keep faculty salaries competitive without a 5 percent tuition hike.

As a member of the Board of Regents, Brown voted in 2013 to name Napolitano as UC's president following her 4 ½ years as President Barack Obama's homeland security secretary and six years as Arizona's governor. Their differing views on the university's finances and her five-year tuition plan have marked the two Democrats' first public disagreement.