Jerry Brown and Scott Walker would seem to have little in common other than both govern states with big dairy industries and Brown won his one and only 1980 presidential convention delegate in Walker’s Wisconsin.
Democrat Brown and Republican Walker, however, are similarly sparring with their state university systems over state financing, academic priorities and managerial control.
Brown is jousting with University of California President Janet Napolitano and many of his fellow UC regents by insisting that increases in the state’s $3 billion-per-year commitment to the system be contingent on freezing tuition and making the system more cost-effective.
His rivals contend that Brown is being too stingy and breaching UC’s traditional independence from political control. UC regents have voted to increase tuition if more state aid is not forthcoming, citing increasing costs of instruction – although the data cited by the university may be questionable.
Retired UC professor Charles Schwartz told a legislative committee last month that his examination of UC’s accounts indicates the system is vastly overstating costs of tuition- and state-supported instruction.
Walker, meanwhile, is suggesting the University of Wisconsin be granted more independence in return for getting a guaranteed block grant of state funds each year. He wants to limit the state’s financial exposure, force UW to live within its means and reorient its mission toward career preparation.
The outcomes of both imbroglios are uncertain.
The situation in Wisconsin appears to be more overtly confrontational because Walker is a Republican who has earned a reputation for taking on unions and is a potential presidential candidate next year.
Brown, meanwhile, is negotiating privately with Napolitano – herself a former governor of Arizona – to see whether compromise is reachable. A first increment of the threatened tuition increase has been postponed, but publicly Napolitano is threatening to cap admissions by California students.
The amount of state UC aid involved is relatively tiny and were it just about money, a compromise could be easily found. But the underlying issue is how much control governors and legislators should exert over university operations, given the system’s constitutional independence, and that point is less susceptible to compromise.
The faculties and administrators of both systems may dislike being told to descend from their ivory towers and join the real world of financial limits and competing priorities.
But the conflicts in both states are two sides of the same coin – whether there are limits on how hard state university systems can hit taxpayers and students for money and whether they are answerable to politicians, voters and students for how they spend that money.
Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.