Onward California Rolls Through UCSF

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Promoting UC goodness before Tuesday's critical vote on Proposition 30

The Onward California bus arrived on Parnassus Avenue last week, trading gelato bars for email addresses.

“We’re giving out gelato bars, and each flavor represents a different campus,” said Christine Andrews, tour manager with Onward California onsite at UCSF, on Wednesday, October 24. “In exchange for the gelato bar, we ask that you sign up to be contacted to be informed on how to stay connected and how to continue to support the program, because there’s a lot to be done.”

The tour stop, featuring 10 flavors of gelato inspired by the ten UC campuses, was part of a statewide campaign aimed at highlighting the contributions of the UC system in nearly every aspect of California life. (UCSF’s designer flavor, by the way, was “Super Strawberry,” inspired by University researchers who found that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is associated with a 50 percent reduction in the risk of developing pancreatic cancer.)

 “The idea of the tour is just to get back in the face of Californians, UC alumni and UC students, and remind them that UC and higher education still needs support,” said Andrews.

The Onward California campaign, also featured in a variety of media ads, plays out against the backdrop of significant cuts to public education in California, with the UC system losing $750 million in state funding in the past year alone. The cuts have had a broad impact across the 10 UC campuses, affecting students, employees, programs and facilities alike, but perhaps the most visible consequence has been seen in student tuition increases. In response to the diminishing support from the state, the Regents of the University of California have steadily increased the expected contribution from students, with tuitions and fees increasing from $1,624 in 1990-91 to $12,192 this past year.

“I think the University of California system is in desperate need of some help,” said Michael Perez, a first-year medical student standing in line for a gelato bar. “Budget cuts all around are affecting everything, and I think schools are getting the most hard hit because the government believes that it can shift the expense to students by raising tuition. Essentially they can, but I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to us students.”

Staff from the Onward California campaign working the stop at UCSF stressed that their advocacy efforts did not constitute any political position, and indeed the UC legal guidelines stipulate that, “University funds … may not lawfully be used for campaign purposes in connection with ballot propositions.”

Funding for the Onward California campaign comes from the Edward F. Searles endowment, which pays for general UC system expenses such as fundraising that are not covered by the state. Nevertheless, the timing of the sleek Onward California campaign serendipitously coincides with two upcoming state ballot measures that will have an enormous impact on the UC system and public education as a whole in California.

1.    Proposition 30, championed by Governor Jerry Brown, proposes a 0.25 percent increase in the state income tax and a sliding income tax surcharge for the next seven years for California’s highest earners — individuals who make more than $250,000 annually and couples that make more than $500,000. In return, the state would take in an estimated $6 billion each year to fund local public safety programs, as well as establish an Education Protection Account, only to be used for funding K-12 schools and community colleges. The failure of Proposition 30 would result in “trigger cuts” from this year’s budget — $5.35 billion from K-12 schools and community colleges and $250 million from both the University of California and the California State University systems.

2.    Proposition 38 calls for increased taxation to pay for public education. Funded largely by civil rights attorney Molly Munger, this measure would raise income taxes for 12 years on a sliding scale for Californians making more than $7,316 a year, and is estimated to deliver an estimated $10 billion a year that will be divided between K-12 education, early childhood education and state debt payments. However, even if Proposition 38 passes in November, the automatic cuts built into this year’s budget would kick in, initially slashing $5.9 billion from public education and public safety programs. If both Proposition 30 and 38 pass, the measure with the greater number of votes would supersede the other.

Tour manager Christine Andrews summed up her favorite part of the Onward California bus tour this way: “Honestly for me, it’s been talking to people­ — just a lot of people are really engaged with what we’re doing — and hearing people get excited, saying things like ‘I can’t wait for my daughter to go to UC Davis.’ People are just so geared up about the fact that we’re out here reminding people that UC is awesome.”

While the Onward California campaign may simply be advocating the virtues of the UC system, it must certainly hope that Californians keep in mind its message come November 6.