Aerial view of UCSB
Paul Wellman

As a longtime California teacher and UC Santa Barbara alum, I reject the tax-haters’ current call to “save” the University of California by cutting enrollment (e.g. Los Angeles Times January 21 masthead editorial, “To save UC, cut enrollment.”)

After graduating from Sylmar High School in L.A. in 1965, and spending a year at wonderful Pierce Junior College paying virtually nothing, I moved here to Santa Barbara and began studying at UCSB. My parents could not afford to pay for my UC education so I worked 30 to 40 hours per week to pay my own Santa Barbara costs, including dorm, food, and books. Therefore, I very well remember rejoicing at what a great deal UCSB was in September 1966 when I paid $27 per quarter in fees. My total year fees paid to the University itself amounted to less than $85 per year.

Without such minimal university costs, I would never have earned my college degrees from UCSB or qualified for the good teaching position I found.

In September of 2010 my niece Caitlin began her third undergraduate year at UCSB with an Environmental Studies major. She has just paid $3895.38 for her winter quarter fees. This exorbitant number excludes additional class-specific fees (e.g., lab or material fees and the like) as well as her living costs in Isla Vista (apartment and food). Caitlin’s $3895 per quarter represents at least a 40 percent increase over UC fees three years ago.

I entreat the reader to really try to get their minds around the financial craziness in the way we fund our public university, a jewel in California’s crown: Caitlin now pays 105 times what I paid in 1966! Yes, yes, it’s been 44 years, but while one might have expected a 30-fold or 40-fold student fee increase, today’s young Americans face UC fees that are over 100 times the amount we lucky baby boomers paid in the “good old days.”

What is happening here in California, and to the Cal State University system as well, is reminiscent of recent European news that British students are looking at an 80 percent increase in fees at UK universities, and student fees at German universities and all over Europe have also risen steeply.

Tax haters generally and the LA Times editorial wrongly call for UC enrollment cuts in order to save money, the latter incorrectly stating, “There longer can be talk of shielding higher education.” Neither UC nor the Cal State U systems have been “shielded” from massive cuts in support from California in recent state budgets! UC President Yudof recently made it clear that the $500 million cut proposed in Gov. Brown’s new budget plan is actually a $700 million blow for UC. Yudof noted that of UC’s $20 billion dollars-a-year budget, only $3 billion comes from the state. He ominously added that the $700-million cut would slash into bone, saying, “That’s the English department, the Spanish department, economics…”

We stare at denying talented young Americans the chance to go to college, and also at suffocating the humanities.

In the late 1960s, UCSB was truly a “public university,” largely supported by state government through taxes levied on all Californians. Today, the government pays less than 14 percent of UC’s budget and continues to hack into that measly contribution. I believe we Americans have lost our true concept of a public university.

In the 60s, 70s, and 80s we saw genuine liberal democracy in action, and strong support for low-cost public education on the part of most California citizens. This support is essentially California’s revered Master Plan for Higher Education, which revealed a mid-20th Century society that cared deeply about the young, and the education necessary for them to find fulfilling careers. California as a state acknowledged its crucial role in forming responsible citizens as well as effective workers. Today, however, some California citizens — Tea Party tax-hater types — can’t face the idea of higher taxes to pay for public education or anything else. Paring enrollment to save UC cuts straight into UC’s basic mission, as articulated in the Master Plan: educating the top 12.5 percent of graduating high school seniors.

If you 30-somethings and middle-aged and baby boomers of today do not want to pay special taxes to support public education in California, then you are trashing our hope for the collective future: the young. In terms of evolution, this is counter-productive and illogical. In terms of morality, it shows no care for the young and is immoral.

Let’s think of Bruce Springsteen’s ballad “Highway Patrolman,” the mythic line that goes, “Man turns his back on his family, he ain’t no friend of mine.” California’s hallowed universities form a fundamental part of our civilized “family,” and we’re turning our backs on young family members when we make public universities so incredibly expensive.

Certainly cost-cutting needs to continue at UC, but not at the expense of students. “Cut at the top” would work by eliminating unnecessary bureaucratic layers, and top UC executives who have been suing for more in their huge pensions–they will already get an average of $275,000 per year—should be turned down and challenged in court.

Once Governor Brown corrals the state legislature into holding a special election this year, we should back the $9.4 billion tax extension. Cost-cutting needs to continue at UC, certainly, but not at the expense of students. “Cut at the top” would work by eliminating vice-chancellors and unnecessary bureaucratic layers—and top UC executives who have been suing for more in their huge pensions (they will already get an average of $275,000 per year) should be turned down and challenged in court. But enlightened voters still need to step up and vote for more state support for our universities, junior colleges, and elementary and secondary schools.


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