Why students and taxpayers should protest UC fee hike

Los Angeles Daily News, December 1, 2009
Roadrunner.com, December 1, 2009
CSU Northridge (CA): December 2, 2009

THE University of California Regents have approved a plan to raise student fees 32 percent over the next year and admit fewer students, the latest in a series of fee increases and service cuts. Embattled UC students have more cause for protest than they showed at UCLA Wednesday. While UC bosses were making it hard on students, they were giving themselves lavish bonuses. They were also handing out $4 million to a propaganda mill that has no rightful place on a UC campus.

In 2000, then-Gov. Gray Davis and the state legislature established the UC Institute for Labor and Employment as a gift to the California Labor Federation from the state Legislature.

“This is an institute created by the Legislature for the purposes of labor advocacy and training programs,” wrote Patrick Lenz, UC vice president for Budget, in an e-mail, part of 140 pages of documents obtained through a Public Records Act request. Mr. Lenz is correct.

The institute uses taxpayer money to crank out biased studies, for release shortly before votes on union issues at the state legislature and at local governments. It also conducts training in organizing and political activism.

From 2000-2008, the legislature gave the institute $37.4 million in taxpayer funds. California is now in the throes of its worst budget crisis since the 1930s, but in 2008 the legislature gave the labor institute another $5.4 million. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the funding, but politicians pressured the University of California Office of the President to pony up the money.

Those applying the leverage included Attorney General and former Gov. Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President Pro Tem-elect Darrell Steinberg. Debora Obley, associate vice president in the UC Budget Office, found this demand challenging. “I think if we give them more than $1 million or so in cash, we’d be doing a disservice to the rest of the University,” Obley said an e-mail. “We have $150 million worth of cuts to deal with. That is huge and we don’t have money just lying around. Can you imagine the firestorm inside the University if we cut everyone more in order to fund this one?”

In addition to tuition hikes, the University of California has laid off hundreds of employees and eliminated 2,000 jobs in the past year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Yet UC President Mark Yudof managed to find $4 million for a labor institute the university has no obligation to fund, and which applies leverage to the university itself, as Patrick Lenz noted.

“The unions benefit by these programs and use them against the UC in their collective bargaining negotiations and advocacy efforts with the Legislature,” Lenz wrote. “I’d find it ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ if we get stuck funding these Institutes in the future out of the UC budget at a time when the state is cutting our funding but pressuring us to give more at the collective bargaining table.”

The $4 million giveaway is not the first time UC bosses have reduced students to second-class status. As the San Francisco Chronicle noted in a 2005 investigation, over several years the UC system raised student fees 79 percent while doling out $871 million in bonuses and stipends to faculty and administrators. That was more than enough, as the Chronicle noted, to cover the 79 percent increase in student fees.

Now UC bosses want 32 percent more, while lining their own pockets and handing out money to groups that have no place on campus. Students should keep those realities in mind next time they gather to protest. California taxpayers should join them.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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