After UC regents OK tuition plan, eyes turn to Gov. Jerry Brown, state funding

By a 14-7 vote, the UC regents approve plan to hike tuition by as much as 28% over five years

The votes were cast and the protesters' chanting died down. Now months of political wrangling and budget negotiations are ahead before UC students know for sure how much next year's tuition will be.

Under the plan for a tuition increase, approved by the UC regents on Thursday by a 14-7 vote, students could pay as much as 28% more over five years, depending on state funding. Gov. Jerry Brown and Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, both regents, voted against the measure and their next steps on state funding for the 10-campus university will be key.

"In many respects, this meeting is the end of the beginning of a process," UC President Janet Napolitano said in an interview after the much-anticipated vote. The plan allows her to lower or eliminate the hikes annually if state funding for UC rises enough.

The former governor of Arizona and U.S. secretary of Homeland Security who took the helm at UC a year ago, Napolitano is no stranger to tough politics. However, she never before faced such strong public criticism from the top California leadership — fellow Democrats literally sitting next to her Thursday. Now the 238,400-student university waits to see whether her strategy wins extra money or backfires by antagonizing Brown and others.

Events in January will be important in deciding whether tuition will go up to as much as $12,804 next year and to a high of $15,564 in five years. At the regents meeting that month, the governor intends to seek a special committee to examine UC's spending and long-term reforms that he advocates such as offering more online courses, moving more students toward graduation in three years and giving some academic credit for work and military experience.

Asked Thursday about the governor's UC funding plans, his office said only that "next steps will be outlined" in his January proposal for the 2015-16 state budget. A May revision and legislative action will follow.

A critic of high executive salaries at UC, Brown initially said the school would receive 4% more state revenues in the next two years — only if the tuition freeze that began in 2012 continues. According to Napolitano, UC needs that 4% plus up to 5% more tuition each year for five years, or its equivalent from the state, to afford higher payroll and retirement costs, hire more faculty and enroll 5,000 more California undergraduates over five years. A third of the tuition money will go toward financial aid.

UC received $2.64 billion in state general revenue funds this year, $460 million less than seven years ago.

Napolitano said she looks forward to working with Brown on the study group while lobbying diplomatically for more money. "I'm the president of the university and my job is to make the case for the university. So I'm very respectful of the governor. I disagree with him but I'm very respectful," she said.

None of the regents, not even Brown, spoke about the tuition controversy during the public portion of Thursday's meeting. That contrasted with the lengthy, and at times impassioned, debate Wednesday as a key committee authorized the hike.

Besides Brown and Atkins, the opposing votes Thursday were from Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, student regent Sadia Saifuddin and two regents appointed by Brown this week, former Assembly Speaker John Pérez and Long Beach City College President Eloy Ortiz Oakley.

Describing herself as "extremely disappointed" by the vote, Atkins said in a statement that she will work for a compromise that could boost UC's state funding by $50 million plus extra money for financial aid. She also proposed sharply steeper charges for students from outside California, who now pay $23,000 on top of regular tuition, but whose rising enrollment upsets many California families.

Students denounced the tuition increase. Some came across the bay from UC Berkeley where they had joined about 200 others in an overnight occupation of the Wheeler Hall classroom building in protest against the hikes. Among them, UC Davis student Amelia Itnyre, of Fullerton, broke into tears as she said that the regents worsened students' economic hardships.

"It's not acceptable to me and not acceptable to thousands and thousands of other students," she said.

Later, as the regents voted, about 25 students in the room yelled, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, tuition hikes have got to go" so loudly that the voice vote could not be heard by the public. The meeting was briefly adjourned until demonstrators left.

That gathering was calmer than on Wednesday when several hundred student demonstrators tried to block entrances to the UC San Francisco building where regents meet and got into pushing matches with police, leading to the arrest of one UC Berkeley student. A large glass door shattered the day before was boarded up with wood Thursday.

The regents took other steps that officials said will boost revenue and save millions of dollars, but which may upset critics of high pay.

Patrice Knight, an IBM executive, was hired as chief procurement officer for UC hospitals and health divisions with a $410,000 annual salary plus a $102,500 relocation bonus to be paid over four years. Regis Kelly, a bioscience institute administrator at UC San Francisco, will be paid $403,000 for working three-quarters-time as a special advisor to Napolitano on getting UC inventions into the marketplace faster while keeping his current job one-quarter-time.

larry.gordon@latimes.com
Twitter: @larrygordonlat

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