By Kathryn Lybarger

With state budget hearings upon us, where does the hostage crisis that began with UC regents threatening to hike student tuition by as much as 28 percent absent piles of additional state money stand today?

It’s sort of a good news/bad news situation.

The good news is that UC has clearly gotten everyone’s attention. Students, administrators, faculty and staff have all taken (or will soon take) their respective cases to the Capitol. The newfound legislative scrutiny of UC is unlike anything those of us who work there have ever seen. The governor has been hands-on in forming a select committee to review UC expenditures, and the cause has garnered not just an abundance of proposals but even a bipartisan consensus in the Legislature that recognizes the road to a stronger middle class runs straight through our public colleges and universities.

So what’s the bad news?

The more we look, the more we see that the problems plaguing UC are even worse than advertised.

The Legislature used to tie “strings” to UC funding — essentially telling the regents what they expected for their investment. More recently, the state has largely removed such requirements, and what little spending disclosure it has required has been routinely ignored by UC administrators.

As a result, preliminary budget hearings have shown that UC can’t clearly explain how it spends its money, or even how much it spends to educate just one of our kids. We do know that overall UC spending is up 40 percent since 2007-2008, and what few specifics we’ve heard about where the money is going are as opaque as they are troubling.

For example, the amount UC spends on salaries greater than $500,000 per year has grown by more than $200 million (or 300 percent) since 2007, and the number of UC employees raking in these kinds of paychecks has nearly quadrupled during the same period. Worse, UC won’t disclose the “market surveys” it uses to justify such largesse, even though most comparable public universities don’t provide anything close to the generous benefits — beyond salary — that UC shells out to its growing ranks of managers and administrators (ranks that are growing at more than four times the rate of academic staff).

We are also learning about an even uglier trend — supported by UC’s own research — that directly conflicts with the institution’s storied legacy in lifting up historically disadvantaged communities.

Across the UC system, stable career jobs are increasingly being outsourced to private firms who take a huge cut off the top and pay their workers — primarily immigrants and people of color — rock-bottom wages with no benefits. An analysis of these outsourcing contracts reveals that not only are the private firms costing UC as much as 25 percent more than hiring these same workers as career UC employees, they are forcing subcontracted workers to rely on an average of more than $1,700 in public assistance every year. That’s a de facto tax increase on the rest of us.

But there is cause for hope. Meaningful proposals that would correct these abuses and end the UC hostage crisis have been introduced in the Legislature. There are some that provide more money. There are others that will save UC money by forcing meaningful reform and increased transparency.

Both approaches are needed, because you can’t rectify the structural problems that lead to these recurring crises at UC by simply throwing money at them. Nor can you upgrade facilities or expand enrollment with reform alone.

AB 837, by Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, would save $80 million per year by capping UC pay at $500,000 per year — substantially more than the president of the United States, every governor and state legislator, and just about any other public employee in the country makes. If UC’s mission includes public service, as its administrators routinely claim, this is a no-brainer.

SB 376, by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would end UC’s abuse of contracted-out workers of color by requiring them to be paid the same as other UC employees performing the same work. And while that will mean fewer higher education dollars going to the private firms who profit from such exploitation, it will also save both UC and taxpayers money because it will mean fewer of these costly outsourcing contracts and fewer workers reliant on public assistance.

This year, California has a real opportunity to prevent tuition hikes and restore its premier public university as a gateway to the middle class. But only if the Legislature demands real reform that enshrines these core principles into law. We can support them by demanding nothing less.

[Source]: UT-San Diego