Editorials

Small committee, big names, high stakes for UC

From left, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Gov. Jerry Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano listen to students speak last November during the public comments portion of the UC regents meeting in San Francisco. The University of California approved raising tuition by as much as 5 percent in each of the next five years unless the state devotes more money to the 10-campus system.
From left, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Gov. Jerry Brown and UC President Janet Napolitano listen to students speak last November during the public comments portion of the UC regents meeting in San Francisco. The University of California approved raising tuition by as much as 5 percent in each of the next five years unless the state devotes more money to the 10-campus system. The Associated Press

Think of it as an exclusive seminar with a big test at the conclusion. Barring some unforeseen objection from the Board of Regents, Gov. Jerry Brown and University of California President Janet Napolitano will soon launch a series of meetings to resolve their differences on the future of the UC.

The Regents’ Select Advisory Committee on the Cost Structure of the University will have exactly two members – Brown and Napolitano. And their hearings, which begin Monday, will be closed to the public.

That latter circumstance is a little unorthodox, as someone in a seminar might put it.

Advisory committees may be technically exempt from the state’s open-meeting laws. And time may be tight with the fiscal year starting in less than six months. And creating a special committee, and a committee report, may enhance the public record in ways that might not happen if the two just had a private tête-à-tête, as Brown often does with other officials.

But a committee of two? That just makes us wonder if martinis at Frank Fat’s were too tall an order, after the hardball that forced the debate over the state’s commitment to California’s public university system.

In any case, their differences do need resolution: The Legislature will have its own ideas and hearings, but Napolitano is the one with the regents’ permission to raise tuition, and Brown is the one with the line-item veto.

So if this is what it takes, fine, though we hope the results of the meetings will be made public before March, when the “committee” is scheduled to report back to the regents. Brown and Napolitano plan to hear from national experts on all sorts of important and provocative issues, from online education to university pensions to fast-tracked degree programs. We’d like to hear what they have to say.

And we’d like to know where they come down on the two members’ competing goals for the system. Brown wants UC to rethink its tweedy way of doing business. In particular, he wants the university to educate more California students, get them in and out faster, give them both more contact with professors and more online classes, and serve them at a lower cost.

Napolitano wants Gov. Edmund G. “Jerry” Scrooge to rethink the buzz saw he keeps waving at one of California’s most valuable public assets.

Though the governor has increased UC funding by $119 million for 2015-16 in his proposed budget, Napolitano says the UC needs at least $100 million more than that to maintain operations. If the state won’t ante up, she says, she’ll raise tuition by up to 5 percent.

Both have a point. The UC is a massive bureaucracy and Napolitano has already proven that if you look with both eyes, you can find ways for bureaucracies to save money.

And Brown may be too tightfisted. Students don’t slave to get into a UC so that they can sit in front of a computer for four years as if quantum physics and Russian literature were driver’s ed.

But there’s a deal here, at least for the short term of this budget season. Maybe the select committee will help make it happen. As for the longer-term future of higher education in California, that’s probably a longer conversation. And a more far-reaching test.

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