by Rei Terada
Having previously agreed with Governor Brown not to raise tuition for three years ending in spring 2016, the UC Regents have now unilaterally broken the agreement. Give UC more funds, the Regents say, or we'll raise tuition 5% in 2015--and another 5% a year for at least four years after that. While the Regents claim to negotiate on behalf of those who use the university--students, staff and faculty--their new gambit instead shows the difference between the Regents and higher Administration, on one hand, and "those who use" the university on the other. For organizations like the unions and faculty associations would of course like more funds from the legislature, too. But those groups aren't demanding that students pay up if the legislature doesn't. To them, it's obvious that another tuition increase wouldn't help California students, and that it's counterproductive to threaten to do something counterproductive. Contrary to UCOP's PR campaigns in favor of a "return to aid funding model" (high tuition, high aid), student debt has been rising during this period of "high aid." It's been shown that when working class students have to use up their Pell grants on high tuition, they wind up working longer hours and going into tens of thousands of dollars of debt for housing and living expenses. Yet this is what the Regents are willing to bring about. And Mary Gilly, the chair of the Faculty Senate, lines the Senate up behind the administration more plainly than ever by calling the tuition increase an "unfortunate" but "good option."
In many ways the tuition increase proposal looks more like an intent than a coercion tactic. More state funding "is probably not likely," Gilly notes (ibid.). UCOP has already developed a strategy for justifying the increases regardless of their pressure-value: (1) they could be worse, being "not . . . more than 5%" a year; (2) they would feed the "return to aid funding model" (according to an email sent to staff on Friday by Michelle Whittingham, Associate Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management at UCSC); and (3) they would offer "predictability." UCOP's press release euphemizes the raise by calling it a "stability plan." But stability, predictability and not-being-more than 27% (at the end of the period, tuition would be 27% over its current base) are all empty qualities that drain the increase of its positive content, which is, obviously, revenue on the backs of students. A 5% increase will pay more than 4% a year from the legislature, even after return-to-aid. If that wasn't so the increase could not be proposed at all. At the same time, as Michael Meranze observes, "UCOP's proposal actually leaves open the possibility of up to a 9% tuition increase" if Governor Brown is uncooperative--and that would have the most point of all. Technically, no ceiling for this scenario is mentioned in UCOP's announcement. Its language is: "tuition would not increase by more than 5 percent annually for five years, provided the state maintains its current investment commitment" (my italics). And so finally, even "predictability" is erased, since UCOP's statement merely says that it will be there unless it's not.
In other words, the Regents' proposal is indeed predictable. It repeats the logic of their moves against the most vulnerable segments of the University in 2009--the 32% increase and layoff of 2000 workers--only now that logic is actually cast as a form of support. Their threat reveals that the Administration does not represent the University to the legislature. It's rather a third force, willing to sell out parties on either side of it so long as it gets paid. Maybe it will be useful for people in the University to point out to the state that the Administration is now treating the legislature in the way it has treated its own community up to this point. In the past five years the Administration has been an antagonist, not a bargaining partner--willing to break and disavow agreements, we see now, obscure data, and target the vulnerable while making no sacrifices of its own. For in the same period that legislative funding has declined, Administration has expanded, roughly doubling since 2000. The Regents just saw fit to raise the Chancellors' salaries by 20%. As Meranze notes, in 2013-14 UCOP's budget in 2013-14 was about $587,000,000, while the budget for the whole Santa Cruz campus was $633M. The tenor of the Regents' address to the state government sounds familiar to those who've had to "negotiate" with it during this time: it is of a piece with its unilateral form of governance. You don't have to be a fan of the state government to think toward it something like "See? They're willing to pepper-spray you, too."
The legislature would be justified in demanding a correction of these conditions. This is something it could do rather than never talk to the Regents again, tempting as that must be. Instruction is 21% of the budget. It's always unclear whether funds will be used for education rather than administrator salaries, pet projects like MOOCs, donor-invented capitalist-in-training programs, real estate ventures, and other forms of development enriching an elite class only. The legislature would be within its rights to require that UCOP cut itself back to former levels and that any new funds--from the state or from tuition--go to instruction and student services. More to the point, regardless of what the Academic Council or the legislature will do, people inside the university will keep doing what they can, both to demand such economic justice as is available and to create forms of thought and relation that might support, finally, the unpredictable.