The University of California is arguably the finest public higher education institution in the world and one of this state’s premier assets. The last thing we need is to politicize the governance of UC, but that is exactly what would happen under an ill-conceived legislative proposal to impose term limits on the UC Board of Regents.
SCA1 would ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment to reduce the terms of Regents from 12 years to four years and to effectively purge the Board of its most senior members. Lawmakers should know better considering the track record of legislative term limits in California. Maybe it is because so many legislators are relative newcomers to the process that they sometimes fail to grasp importance of the University’s relative independence from the rough and tumble of the political arena.
The current system of staggered terms provides both continuity and change on the Board. The political sector is already well represented as the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the Assembly serve on the Board of Regents. Moreover student and alumni Regents add important perspectives. The last thing we need is to have the majority of the Board of Regents turn over every time there is a new Governor.
There is a great temptation for elected officials to tinker with changes around the edges that, however well-intended, will do more harm than good to the State’s system of public higher education. Another example is AB1711 that would limit non-resident enrollment at UC. The net result of this measure would be to reduce available funding to accommodate California students, since out of state students pay a considerable tuition premium that goes to support UC’s educational enterprise.
Legislative attention to higher education would be far more productively focused on assuring adequate State support for both UC and the California State University system. State support per UC student is less than half of what it was in 2000 and tuition has been ratcheted upward as a result. Similarly, CSU State funding per student is little more than half of what it was in 2000 and fees have had to be raised and qualified students turned away. Just in the five year period starting with the 2007-08 Budget, State appropriations were reduced by more than 30%, while enrollment at both institutions increased. To their credit, the Governor and the Legislature have begun increasing higher education funding during the last few years, but the State contribution is still far lower than what it needs to be.
There are tens of thousands of qualified California students who shouldn’t be denied access to UC and CSU because the State isn’t paying its fair share. California’s economy needs more than a million more college graduates in the next decade. These are the priorities that deserve the attention of decision-makers in Sacramento.
Dick Ackerman and Mel Levine co-chair the California Coalition for Public Higher Education. Ackerman is a former California State Senator and Assemblyman, and Levine is a former U.S. Congressman and State Assemblyman. Please visit yestohighered.org