SAN FRANCISCO — Most UC students will get a breather of at least four months without a tuition increase. But then, all bets are off.
That's the result of a UC regents vote Wednesday freezing all undergraduate and some graduate school tuition as part of a funding deal with the state Legislature. If Gov. Jerry Brown's tax hike measure on the November ballot fails, however, the regents warned that tuition might rise 20%, or more than $2,400, and that course offerings and library hours could be significantly reduced soon after the election.
So the governing board of the 10-campus system formally endorsed the governor's tax measure.
"It's a simple question: Will UC be better off if it passes than if it doesn't? That's not just an answer of 'yes,' that's an answer of 'hell yes,' " said Regent Bonnie Reiss, who urged the endorsement.
After the regents' actions, Brown made a brief surprise appearance at the meeting at a UC San Francisco facility to thank them and urge students, faculty and staffers to vote for Proposition 30.
"This is a matter of all hands on deck. Let's pull together for the university and for our country," said Brown, who holds a regent seat by virtue of his position but who has not attended a meeting, UC officials said, since he began his current term in January 2011.
Only one regent, Russell Gould, voted against the endorsement a few hours earlier, saying that the Brown measure would raise sales taxes for four years and some high-end income taxes for seven years while guaranteeing UC extra funds for only one year. "There is a major risk to the university," Gould said.
But Jonathan Stein, the student regent, said he was "thrilled" with the endorsement and tuition freeze action and predicted that public university students across the state will mobilize and vote for the tax measure in large numbers.
"They know that it is good for the state of California. They know it is good for the future of public higher education. And they know it will prevent massive fee increases this year and the next couple of years," Stein said.
The freeze was not for all 234,000 UC students. The regents Wednesday increased the supplemental fees that about 14,000 students pay in 50 graduate professional programs, including such disciplines as business, law, urban planning and medicine.
Most of those hikes were less than 10% although that meant more than $1,500 in some already costly programs. Annual tuition and fees, not including living costs, for a UCLA master's in business, for example, will rise to more than $48,000, and to $23,000 for a UC Berkeley master's in public policy.
The largest percentage increase was 35% at four graduate nursing programs; with that $2,000 hike, total tuition for those degrees will be close to $23,000 a year. Officials said the raises were needed since those fees had been not increased in several years and federal aid for them had been reduced.
Stein and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom were the sole votes against those increases. Stein, who studies law and public policy at UC Berkeley, said he was concerned that such costs and the resulting loan debt will discourage students from modestly paid public service careers.
Much of the discussion Wednesday centered on whether UC would automatically increase basic tuition by 20.3%, the figure officials said could be on the table if the tax measure fails.
Regents Chairwoman Sherry Lansing promised that nothing was certain, but she and UC system President Mark G. Yudof said many options, including fee increases and layoffs, would be looked at quickly if UC does not receive the $375 million the tax measure would help provide. It would be "a financial calamity," Yudof said.
Under the budget approved by the Legislature, the UC system would receive an extra $125 million if the tax measure passes and the system doesn't raise tuition. UC would lose that plus an additional $250 million if voters reject it.
The same holds true for the Cal State system. Trustees, however, already raised tuition 9% for the fall but are working on a deal to refund that money if the tax measure passes. If it doesn't, the system is considering a 5% midyear increase and reductions in employees' pay and benefits, among other things.
Earlier Wednesday at the regents' meeting, about 30 student protesters — some wearing zombielike makeup — staged a theatrical demonstration against rising levels of student debt and the threat of the tuition hike.
They carried signs proclaiming "Rise of the Living Debt." And at one point, disrupting the official agenda, they playedMichael Jackson's"Thriller" and briefly did some zombie dance steps from that song's famous video before UC police warned them of arrest if they did not clear the room. The protesters left peacefully, and no one was arrested.
Among them was Honest Chung, a UC Berkeley history major, who had patches of fake blood painted on his face and said he wanted to portray one of the "walking dead" that he said many students had become.
"To some extent," he said, "we are all infected by this disease called debt."