A few days ago, I found myself watching a live video stream of the University of California Regents meeting. Assemblymembers gathered in solidarity with students and made commitments toward fighting for higher education. They agreed that tuition costs were excessive and promised to fight for students in the California Legislature.
Best part: all of them were Republicans.
In a state which has proclaimed to be leading America into the future, surely education is considered a fundamental human right? Students should not have to work excessively to pay their college costs, as that would be on taxpayers, correct?
Not quite. And the answer boils down to two factors:
1. Failure of the regents:
Part of this issue lies in the way the UC system is governed.The reason why the UC is considered “public” is because the system receives state money on an annual basis. The UC system is dictated by regents, not elected officials, who rule through oligarchy. Regents are appointed by the governor; the result is isolated members of the top 1% making decisions for thousands struggling to pay bills.
And it’s embarrassing. $700k spent on a chancellor’s security fence, $9000 spent on an escape hatch, chancellors receiving a raise in the middle of a tuition hike, the list of poor fiscal decisions is endless. Yet, despite all of this, the Regents refuse to be transparent with their expenses. During the proposed tuition hike in November 2014, the Regents had yet to release a proposed budget. They claimed to be $2.5 million in debt, but they continued to pursue initiatives such as UC Ventures and raise the salary of the Cal football coach.
I accept that summarizing the budget into a transaction list is overly simplistic, but my point still stands. With student poverty on the rise thanks to higher living expenses, now is not the time to be focusing on the UC’s status as a business. The UC should be serving its students first and foremost.
Which brings me to my next point….
2. Underfunding the UC
California’s Proposition 13 has had drastic effects for the state budget. Prop 13 essentially froze property taxes, and this has taken a toll on all state-funded services. To add fuel to the fire, Governor Jerry Brown continues to withhold state funding down to the pennies. He line-item vetoed $50 million in funding to the UC , despite assuring voters in 2012 that Proposition 30 money would prevent a tuition hike.
Last year, the UC was forced to admit 10,000 additional students in exchange for state funding. While additional money was allocated for this, it didn’t suffice, given the multiple services that now require expansion (housing, financial aid, classes, etc.)
Chancellors such as Nicholas Dirks have been playing off the tuition hike as a “Robin Hood” scheme, insisting that it would result in redistribution and that low-income students have their tuition fees waived. Yet not only does this not account for campus fees, academic costs (e.g.textbooks), and living expenses, but it also excludes middle class families.
So now what?
Students, you need to fight for this. Join protests, sign petitions, engage in any way that you can. Student governments are leading the fight against tuition hikes, and they need all the help they can get.
UC Faculty and Staff, stand in solidarity with students. Make it clear that this tuition hike is unacceptable. Write emails to your Deans. Even telling your students that you support them in this is incredibly validating.
Everyone, call your State Assemblymember and State Senator. Introduce yourself as a concerned constituent and say that you oppose the tuition hike. A high volume of calls garners attention in the California Legislature, and that is the first step in undoing years of economic mismanagement.
Bear this in mind: the short term solution is a tuition freeze. But the long term goal? Fund the UC through Prop 13 reform. This is a possibility as Democrats have a supermajority in the Senate and Assembly. Local engagement is powerful and necessary, so let’s not sit back while education costs rise.