This Year in UCSF History: Peering Into the Future

Friday, December 11, 2020

Originally published in Synapse on December 11, 2009. Everybody wants to know the future and the UC Regents and UCOP (UC Office of the President) are no exceptions.

Hoping to get some clarity on what else might change with budget cuts, furloughs and student fee increases already a foregone conclusion, the Regents created a UC Commission on the Future over the summer to address five key areas and report back. Five working groups will focus on the “size and shape of UC,” “education and curriculum,” “access and affordability,” “funding” and “research strategies”.

As part of their charge, Commission and working group members spent late October to early December conducting a listening tour visiting each of the UC campuses.

On December 1, Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann hosted a meeting of a subset of five Commission and working group members.

In prepared remarks from the panel members, the goals of the Commission were explained to the audience and then audience representatives of UCSF stakeholders

were invited to offer comments.

A common theme among the commenters was finances — both the university's and personal financial situations.

One especially poignant comment came from a nursing assistant working in the hospital relating the pride she felt in successfully putting her son through UC Davis but lamenting that she could not envision being able to afford to do that now.

Vik Uskokovic representing post-doctoral students stressed their importance to the campus (more postdocs than grad students at UCSF), their low salaries, and a concern that continuing improvements in their lot would be sacrificed in the current budget crunch.

Gordon Fung representing the Alumni Association complimented the Commission on seeking a wide range of input.

Heather Alden and Aja Duncan representing UC staff offered concrete suggestions on a variety of topics including diversity and advocacy, but also a warning that staff must be actively engaged in the Commission's work so that any recommendations for change would be viable.

Ahnika Kline representing students emphasized the need for a predictable fee schedule, continued and increased quality especially in light of increased tuition, and opportunities for students to work in underserved areas upon graduation.

Also offering their input were Chrissy Kistler for the Residents Council and Peter Loomer for the UCSF faculty.

The Commission is also holding two meetings for public comment, one each in Northern and Southern California.

Regardless of the outcome of the Commission on the Future's work, student fees will be increasing for all students both midyear and next fall.

In addition it is unknown whether additional budget revisions will need to be made. One interesting note is that Chancellor Desmond-Hellmann in an earlier UCSF forum had made a fairly strong statement about eliminating furloughs for UCSF next year.

Also, all of this activity is not going on in a vacuum.

Next year UC has announced it is seeking almost a billion dollars from the Legislature. At the same time, the Legislature is holding hearings on higher education where one possibility on the table is revamping the California Master Plan for Education which, written almost half a century ago, ostensibly offers open and tuition-free education for all eligible Californians. (Ever wonder why you pay fees and not tuition?).

At the same time, the public is less than engaged in the decision-making process; a survey from the Public Policy Institute of California released in November shows that 68% of Californians do not want to raise student fees, but 56% would be unwilling to pay higher taxes to accomplish that goal.

Even when offered the opportunity to have no student fee increases, no tax hikes, but a reshuffling of funding priorities in the Legislature, only a plurality (49%), but not a majority indicated that this would be a preferred option.

Ultimately, the Commission on the Future cannot make money appear out of thin air nor look in a crystal ball; its real purpose is to present the alternatives available to the University under different scenarios.

President Yudof is undoubtedly hoping to use that information in working towards convincing the California Legislature to allocate the full $913 million request for next year and to stop the deterioration in the proportion of the UC budget provided by the state.