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Bracing for Budget Crunch, UC Prez Worries and Plans

New America Media, News Report, Annette Fuentes Posted: Oct 10, 2008

Editor's Note: UC President Mark Yudof worries that the state legislature could make a mid-year cut in appropriations for the university system because of the current financial crisis. Cuts have already begun at the central office, but he said he was going to leave it to each UC campus to decide what it wants to cut.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- University of California President Mark Yudof is like most people: holding his breath about the consequences of the current economic turbulence and aiming to cushion the financial blows to the system's campuses and the students whose futures are tied up with them.

"We have the capacity to fund ourselves through the end of November," Yudof said at a press gathering Oct. 7. But if the state stopped issuing checks due to budget slashing, "starting December 1, we would have severe problems."

Yudof, an expert in constitutional law and freedom of expression, said he wanted to have regular meetings with journalists, whom he described as playing "an important constitutional role." But while he welcomed questions on any topic, the session was dominated by questions and answers about the national economic crisis. He acknowledged that UC's assets have been declining with the plummeting financial markets, and he expressed concern that the state legislature could make a mid-year cut in appropriations for the university system. "I've never seen an economy like this," he said.

"People ask, 'What are you going to cut?'" Yudof said. "We will continue the process of cutting in the central office." He noted that total employees were down to 1,350 from 2,000. What he would not cut back on, at least in the near future, is enrollment, which is scheduled to grow by 5,000. "We're in the opportunity business," he said.

Asked if he would consider raising student fees, Yudof said it would not be his choice because students are already under great financial pressure with loans. "We're worried about a credit crunch for our students. Most borrow from private lenders and that could have a very negative impact, especially on low-income students." The average student loan debt for UC graduates is $14,000, Yudof noted, so "how hard can you push the fees?"

Yudof says he won't give individual UC campuses blueprints for budget cutting, but will leave it up to each to devise cost-saving strategies. The most likely cuts will translate into higher student-to-faculty ratios, and a greater reliance on instructors and lecturers as full-time tenured positions go unfilled. And as private universities, like Harvard, dangle higher salaries to UC's best faculty, the system will have to be creative in finding money to match them. "What we're doing is Band Aids," Yudof said. "We piece together an offer, get a funder to endow a chair."

What Yudof still considers a priority in the face of the budget woes are programs that focus on improving California's public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, the natural constituency for the UC system. "I am hell-bent to make the University of California more of a player in education reform," he said. "Money is not the only thing that promotes school reform.

I'm a 'poor-kids-can-learn-standing-on-one-foot kind of guy. I'm going to try to move that along and stimulate it."

Related Articles:

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