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Special Election Results Impact Higher Education

By Rio Bauce Special to the Planet
Thursday May 28, 2009 - 06:57:00 PM

The defeat of five of the May 19 special election ballot initiatives means trouble for the economic future of California’s universities, colleges and community colleges.  

UC President Mark Yudof announced May 20 that Gov. Schwarzenegger’s revised budget would bring the UC system’s budget shortfall to $531 million, with $322 million in cuts for the 2009-10 academic year.  

“Such a severe budget reduction, following years of chronic underfunding, would force the university to weigh a number of stark choices,” said Yudof in a press release. “Salary reductions, employee furloughs, decreases in enrollment, increases in class sizes, cuts to programs and student services, and, unfortunately, even higher fees—at this point, all options must be placed on the table for consideration at some point in the future.”  

In light of the state’s fiscal crisis, the UC Board of Regents at its May 7 meeting approved a 9.3 percent increase in tuition for 2009-10. The tuition hike includes a 10 percent increase in educational fees and a 4.2 percent increase in registration fees, totaling $152 million.  

The board will reconvene July 14 to discuss budget cuts as a result of the failure of the state ballot initiatives.  

University of California Office of the President spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said administrative cuts and salary freezes are crucial to surviving the economic crisis.  

“Student fee increases were considered only as a last resort, and constitute just one element in a series of actions the university and the campuses have taken to confront continuing cuts in state funding, while working to protect the academic program and student services to the greatest extent possible,” said Vazquez in a press release earlier this month. “These include freezing senior managers’ salaries, restructuring and downsizing the UC Office of the President, curtailing faculty recruitment, and implementing hiring freezes at the campuses, among others.”  

Vazquez said the regents also discussed the possibility of implementing furloughs and salary reductions in the event that additional savings were required.  

UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof told the Daily Planet the university is waiting for direction from the office of the president on how to proceed with the economic situation.  

“Nobody knows what the effects will be like at the local level,” said Mogulof. “If the university system does not do anything about the situation, the hole is going to get a lot bigger.”  

The California State University system (CSU) is also feeling the effects of the budget crunch. Due to the results of the special election, $410 million must be cut from the 2009-10 budget.  

“We know that there will be very challenging and difficult times ahead,” said California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed. “In the coming weeks, the campus presidents and I will be meeting to address how to move forward to address these fiscal issues and to develop a plan of action in consultation with our Board of Trustees. These are all very hard decisions and there are no good options. We will all need to work together to explore what is feasible with the primary goals of serving our students and preserving as many jobs as possible.”  

Shawn Bibb, vice president of administration and finance for Cal State East Bay, said the effects of the failed state initiatives on the school’s budget is still unclear.  

“As Chancellor Reed indicated in his statement about the impact of the special election on the CSU, the accumulated cuts total $410 million for the 2009-10 budget,” said Bibb. “Cal State East Bay will not know the impact on us until Chancellor Reed meets with President Qayoumi and the other presidents to develop the plan of action for the CSU.”  

Before the election, the CSU system had already made cuts in salary and hiring freezes, as well as passing measures to curb enrollment.  

“CSU has already implemented a number of cost-cutting measures, including a salary freeze for vice president/chancellor level positions; a hiring freeze on non-essential positions; cancellation of all non-critical equipment and supplies purchases and travel restrictions for employees,” said Reed. “In addition, for the first time in its history, CSU declared systemwide impaction to limit the number of new students entering in fall 2009, due to the state’s inability to fully fund enrollment growth and operational needs. CSU currently has more than 450,000 students attending its 23 campuses.”  

Earlier this month, CSU’s board of trustees approved tuition hikes for fall 2009. Undergraduate fees were increased by $306; fees for students in the teaching credential program increased by $354; and fees for graduate students went up $378.  

“It is never an easy choice to raise fees, but we are faced with a dire state budget, and today’s increase is necessary to maintain and operate our university campuses,” said CSU Board Chair Jeffrey Bleich. “It is critical that students get their financial aid requests in. This year, benefits for programs such as the Pell Grant are more generous than ever. Through financial aid and grants, nearly half of our students will see no increase in their fees. In addition, due to financial aid, CSU students with family incomes of $75,000 or less will pay no fees at all.”  

The California Community College system has not been immune from budget cuts either. City College of San Francisco Chancellor Don Griffin was blunt about the effects of proposed cuts on the school’s budget.  

“[The] election results will make it impossible for City College of San Francisco to maintain its current levels of services and student access,” said Griffin. “Our district serves 105,000 students, and if the budget scenarios recently unveiled are enacted, our summer school enrollment will be reduced by up to 85 percent and our student services programs will be dramatically cut by as much as 50 percent. These services include admissions and enrollment and disabled student programs. Major reductions in course offerings will also result in a loss of access for 10,000 students in our district. We will be forced to reduce our hours of operation and there will also be a 15 percent loss of part-time faculty and administrative positions.”  

Calls to H.D. Palmer, the governor’s spokesman in the finance department, were not returned.