Brown, university president to give briefing on budget talks

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AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Gov. Jerry Brown
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Gov. Jerry Brown and University of California President Janet Napolitano said Wednesday they are pleased with the progress they have made since they agreed to form an unusual “committee of two” to work out their differences over the university's finances, but they provided no specifics about what their talks will mean for student admissions and tuition.

The two leaders briefly updated the rest of UC's governing board about their work as the sole members of the Select Advisory Committee on the Cost Structure of the University.

The governor requested the panel to recommend changes in how the university operates and spends its money after a majority of the Board of Regents gave Napolitano approval in November to increase tuition by up to 5 percent in each of the next five years, a plan Brown opposed.

“This is an important inquiry, and while the committee is a very small committee, it works very well. We haven't had any tie votes yet, and that's good,” he joked Wednesday.

Napolitano said she and Brown have met twice so far and are scheduled to get together again in April.

Their formal meetings have been closed to the public, but Napolitano said they have heard from university presidents from other states, experts on higher education costs and student access, and administrators and faculty members from within the 10-campus UC system.

“The conversations have been far-ranging, looking at opportunities, for example, for increasing degree production, how to think about costs within a higher education context … and the importance of enrollment,” she said.

Brown revealed one of the people they have consulted is Arizona State University President Michael Crow, who told them about his efforts to improve that school's four-year graduation rate through online advising tools.

The governor has repeatedly stressed that he thinks the university could cut costs and serve more students in less time through online courses, data analysis and other uses of technology.

Napolitano downplayed Crow's presentation, however, saying the university already has been developing a system that “basically does what ASU has been doing” but focuses on community college students who want to transfer to a UC campus. She also said Arizona State's four-year graduation rate was “pretty low” to begin with.

“Our challenge is, we already have a pretty high graduation rate and how do we sustain that?” she said.

Napolitano and Brown have been at odds since she proposed the tuition increases, saying the state has failed to adequately fund the university.

The governor, in turn, released a state spending plan in January that would boost the UC system's budget by a little under $120 million on the condition that tuition and the number of higher-paying students from outside California do not go up in the fall.

Napolitano announced earlier this month that she instead plans to stop enrolling more Californians.

Students at Wednesday's meeting said they were disturbed they have not been invited to share their opinions in Brown and Napolitano's attempt to reach a compromise.

“The committee of two lacks transparency for us students to know what is being done,” UCLA student government leader Morris Sarafian told the board earlier in the day. “If there are policies being discussed, we students should be able to sit at that table.”

As they have at every regents meeting since the tuition proposal was introduced in November, several dozen UC students filled the audience and tried to make their voices heard in the ongoing debate. They stripped off their shirts, tossed fake paper money in the air and stood on chairs while chanting “Damn it, Janet!” and “Egregious. Step off it. Put people over profits.”

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