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Sunday, February 17, 2008

UC Regents, Fee Increase, Pay Raises All Par For the Course

On Wednesday, at UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef's quaterly brown bag lunch he laid out a number of very bleak scenarios for steep cut backs ahead in the wake of Gov. Arnold Schawrzenegger who is calling for across the board cuts.

While Larry Vanderhoef stated that everything was on the table, he listed off several possible areas for cuts and/ or cost savings. Most of them either impacted students or low end employees. These suggestions included a student fee increase higher than the 7% increase already in consideration, freezing increases to enrollment that would turn away as many as 5,000 otherwise eligible students this coming fall, cutbacks to health benefits for low end employees, and cutbacks to services for students. In this post-Virginia Tech era that ominously includes counseling services.

One thing that was not mentioned that was "on the table" and I have been kicking myself for four days not having asked the question is whether his salary would be examined for possible cuts. Whether the salary of the top administrators at UC Davis would be examined for possible cuts. If they are talking about everything being "on the table," if they are talking about pain being spread around, then they have to include their own livelihood in it, even if those cuts are only symbollic and do not help them meet their budget priorities.

Indeed, it was in mid-January that the UC Board of Regents outraged many students in a meeting on the UCLA campus.

There they gave a 26 percent pay increase of $61,000 to Secretary/ Chief of Staff Diane Griffiths. That raised her annual salary to just under $300,000 less than a year after she was hired to her position.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time:
"Students in the regents meeting audience on the UCLA campus waved signs protesting the university's priorities. "Where is the money going? Not toward lowering student fees!" "Where is the money going? Not 2 Students!" "Where is the money going? Executive compensation!"
The only regent opposed to this salary increase Lt. Gov. John Garamendi.

However, this time students are not taking this lying down. Across the state students are now circulating petition for a ballot measure that would freeze tuition at University of California and California State University institutions for five years.

And this measure will be paid for by levying a 1-percent tax on those taxpayers who earn over $1 million. I found this greatly ironic for some reason. They have 150 days to amass 433,971 signatures.

For more information or to sign the petition online click here.

It is also important to understand that what is happening at UC could happen at Davis Joint Unified. The local school district is projecting at present around $4 million worth of cuts to programs and possibly teachers. They have already discussed at length the prognosis and the implications. And while it seems likely that Democrats in the legislature will never allow these cuts to go through from the state level, the cycle of budget for many of these institutions means that the state budget will be passed long after all of these institutions have had to make their own cuts.

And yet it seems ironic further still that DJUSD is while at the same time talking about huge cuts, also talking about increases in salary to administrators. The move for this appears to be coming from newly elected Board Member Susan Lovenberg.

We see it all across the state, agencies facing the same cuts, and we see it all across the nation, major corporations laying off thousands while giving huge salaries and salary increases to their CEO and Board of Directors. We see Exxon-Mobile making tremendous profits off the pay of gas consumers. And we see no end in sight to these examples of shear corporate greed coming at the expense of the average customer, the tax payer, the lower level employees.

As one of our public officials told me in a conversation about UC, it is remarkable that as poorly managed as UC is, as unresponsive and insulated from public accountability, as unresponsive and insulated from the accountability of elected officials, the UC system as a whole works as well as it does at the most basic level of giving California's students a good education at a still not bad fee.

However in the last 25 to 30 years we have gone from a system that allows students to attend school for a very modest fee to a system that forces students to pay an ever increasing burden on their educational costs. It is still a good system but it has lost some of its earlier advantages.

At the end of the day though it will be interesting to see how this first ever student-based initiative will fare in California's electoral system and whether the top administrators will still get away with taking hope their all-too-lucrative salary while the bottom level employees are still fighting for affordable health care and struggling to make their ends meet.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting