Debra J. Saunders

By Debra J. Saunders
Updated 4:04 pm, Friday, November 21, 2014

UC Regent Richard Blum confessed that he was “apoplectic” at the Board of Regents meeting Wednesday. The husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein supports tuition increases as high as 28 percent over five years, which the board approved Thursday. Blum warned that private universities such as Yale and Stanford threaten to poach academic superstars. “In my investment business, if I underpaid my staff as much as the university is underpaid,” said Blum, “I’d have nothing but empty desks.” And: “You’ve got to get real about this stuff.”

Gov. Jerry Brown was ready to take up the challenge. Brown voted against the tuition raises because they violated a budget deal crafted in Sacramento that promised, in exchange for a tuition freeze, two annual 5 percent increases followed by two annual 4 percent increases to UC and CSU funding. “Richard,” quoth Dao Guv, “I want to point out that you run an investment banking operation. This is a public university.”

Also: “Money doesn’t buy everything in the world. If it did, I wouldn’t have anybody working for me.”

And: “The university can also lead by the way it compensates people, by the cost structure it creates. It doesn’t have to follow the Ivy Leagues.”

Brown warned that another recession surely will occur, and when it does, Sacramento likely will cut UC funding again. It’s not hard to cut funds for a top-drawer institution of higher education when lawmakers also have to cut funding for public schools and health care. Brown’s solution? Appoint a select committee to reduce UC’s cost structure. Don’t raise tuition while state funding is rising because you’ll have to raise tuition when state funds decline.

CNN ran a documentary Thursday, “Ivory Tower,” about runaway tuition, which only reinforced my suspicion that tuition keeps rising because academics don’t care about containing costs to make school more affordable for students. The regents fit that profile. At its last meeting, the board granted 20 percent raises to three chancellors who each earn more than $300,000.

At the regents meeting, student activists chanted and protested. Some said the regents were “disingenuous.” Elected regents, for the most part, voted against the tuition hikes, while most of the appointed regents voted for them. (I have to assume they were appointed with that very expectation, because they maneuver in worlds where huge pay is the norm, even for executives who no longer rate it.) The fee increases were guaranteed to pass the minute President Janet Napolitano proposed giving UC a raise.

At the hearing, many students complained they were being held hostage, but it’s really taxpayers who have been bound and gagged. Napolitano argues that if Sacramento increases funding, then students won’t have to pay higher tuition.

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