Capitol Alert

Assembly speaker calls on UC to reverse planned tuition increase after scathing audit

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon observes the activity on the Assembly floor on the first day back from holiday break on Jan. 4, 2017.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon observes the activity on the Assembly floor on the first day back from holiday break on Jan. 4, 2017.

A day after the state auditor blasted the University of California for raising tuition while its administration sat on a secret $175 million reserve, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon became the second member of UC’s governing Board of Regents to call for a reversal of the fee hike.

In an interview, Rendon, who as speaker serves as an ex officio regent, said he would seek to undo a nearly 3 percent increase in UC tuition and fees approved for next fall, the university’s first in six years.

Rendon, D-Paramount, said he was most disturbed by the assertion that UC had interfered in the auditing process. Surveys sent independently to its 10 campuses to solicit feedback on the central administration were reviewed by the Office of the President and then submitted to the auditor with substantial revisions that reflected more positively on the university.

“It really does a terrific job of undermining public confidence in state institutions,” Rendon said, adding that it reminded him of a series of political scandals in his district, where local officials have been convicted on corruption charges, including seven in the city of Bell. “Where everything that I’ve heard about (the audit) thus far bothers me, that is the most unnerving on a number of levels.”

Rendon said he spoke with UC President Janet Napolitano on Wednesday morning and expressed his alarm over the audit’s conclusions: “I told her that I expect a full explanation, both as a Legislature, but also personally as a member of the UC Board of Regents.”

The university has rejected the audit as a mischaracterization of its budget practices, releasing a 35-page addendum disputing many of the report’s findings.

Napolitano said that most of the money identified was already committed to presidential initiatives and UC’s reserve was only a “prudent and reasonable” $38 million. In its official audit response, the university said it reviewed the auditor’s surveys to “ensure that the information they received was from the individual best-positioned to respond to a particular issue on behalf of the given campus.”

But the searing conclusions shocked and angered many state officials, particularly after another audit last year that suggested UC had enrolled more out-of-state students at the expense of Californians. The Legislature is planning a hearing on the report next week, and two Assembly budget leaders promised that all options are on the table.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, also an ex officio regent, said in a statement Tuesday that the board must reverse its “outrageous and unjust” tuition hike: “The audit must serve as a wake-up call for the Board of Regents, as a catalyst for serious soul-searching within the UC’s administration.”

Monique Graham, a fourth-year communication and dance major at Sacramento State, is $40,000 in debt from student loans. She explains how one proposal by Assembly Democrats' would help her.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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