Davis Urges Regents to Freeze UC Fees : Education: Lieutenant governor asks board to use its clout to win more state funding. He plans ballot initiative to curb tuition hikes.


Calling a proposed 7.1% student fee increase an unfair burden on middle class families, Lt. Gov. Gray Davis urged the University of California Board of Regents on Thursday to use its political clout to try to win enough state funding to freeze fees next year and into the future.

But in an acknowledgment that such an effort may fail, Davis said he is preparing a ballot initiative to be put before voters in 1996 that would prevent fee increases for three years and allow fees to rise only as fast as average family income for the five years following that.

Speaking at the regents' meeting in San Francisco, Davis noted that between 1990 and 1994, fees increased 134% at UC, 103% at California State University and 300% at community colleges.

The proposed fee increase for 1996-97--which UC President Richard C. Atkinson presented to the board Thursday as part of a larger budget package--is too much, said Davis, who is a probable candidate for governor in 1988.

Earlier this year, university officials negotiated a four-year compact with Gov. Pete Wilson in which they agreed to raise student fees 10% each year, beginning in 1995-96, in return for the promise of stable funding--a 2% increase for this school year and 4% increase for each of the next three years. But they were able to avoid this year's fee hike because the Legislature appropriated an extra $28.5 million for UC.

For 1996-97, UC budget analysts have hammered out a plan that assumes a 4.5% increase in state revenues. Then, in an attempt to limit the fee increase for local students, they propose raising non-resident student tuition 9%. That cuts the fee increase for resident students from 10% to 7.1%.

That hike would translate into about $270 per year per California student, bringing the total annual fees paid by an average undergraduate to $4,409. Graduate students' fees would rise to $4,905.

The budget plan also includes 2% raises for all UC employees and an additional 3% raise for faculty members, whose salaries have been frozen and even cut during the past several years.

Regents must send their 1996-97 budget proposal to the governor next month. But judging from previous years, no specifics will be settled upon until next summer, when the governor and Legislature agree on a budget.

In his appeal to the regents, Davis urged them to "use the collective prestige of this board to lobby the Legislature" for a funding increase that would make the fee hike unnecessary and "give this generation of students and parents a break."

Regent Judith Levin also opposed the fee hike, saying a cost-of-living increase seems more reasonable than the proposed 7.1%. And Atkinson said he found "nothing more disturbing [than] the debt many students carry. . . . Nothing would make us happier [than] if funding was such that we could eliminate the fee increase."

Students and other speakers told the regents that, particularly coming on the heels of their decision to roll back affirmative action programs, any fee increase would unduly erode public access to the nine-campus university.

"Every $4.50 you raise my tuition, that's one hour I cannot study," UC Berkeley student Brandon Rees told the board, displaying his empty wallet to dramatize his financial straits.

Ever since the board's July vote to prohibit the use of race and gender as criteria in admissions, hiring and contracting at UC, its meetings have attracted protesters. Thursday was no exception.

At one point--when about 20 students in the audience began chanting, "Open it up or shut it down!"--the meeting was adjourned and more than 30 police officers cleared the room.

A few hours later, students spontaneously erupted again with calls of "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Affirmative action will not go!" Regents again left the room and when the protesters refused to disperse, police arrested one 15-year-old girl and hustled the rest of the crowd out the back door.

The juvenile, whose name was withheld, was charged with disturbing a public meeting. Regents also heard from representatives of the UC Berkeley faculty, whose Academic Senate resoundingly approved a resolution this week that calls on the regents to rescind their affirmative action vote.

"This vote has already damaged the reputation of this university," said Louise Fortmann, a professor of environmental science. "It will cripple our ability to recruit and retain the very best students and faculty."

Stanley G. Prussin, a nuclear engineering professor, reminded the regents that more than 1,200 UC faculty have signed a petition denouncing their vote. "This issue most assuredly will not go away," he said.

In other business, the board unanimously rejected a proposal that would have eliminated one of what are now two scheduled public comment periods during their monthly meetings.

The proposal, offered by board Chairman Clair Burgener as a way to make meetings more efficient, was widely condemned by faculty and students as a plot to shield the regents from the public.

"This item turned out to be a lot more controversial and complicated than I thought," Burgener admitted before voting against his own proposal.

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