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. 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.
In any case, their gaping disagreements about the state’s commitment to California’s public university system need resolution. Even though the Legislature will have its own ideas and hearings, Napolitano is the one with the regents’ permission to raise tuition and Brown is the one with the line-item veto.
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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 know what the experts have to say about Brown’s and Napolitano’s 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 Brown 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%.
Both have their points.
The UC is a massive bureaucracy and it needs a new culture that reflects both our ever evolving high-tech world and financial realities. And Brown may be too tightfisted. Students don’t slave to get into a UC Merced and other campuses so that they can sit in front of a computer for four years as if quantum physics and Russian literature were driver’s ed.
There’s a deal to be made, at least for the short term of this budget season. As for the longer-term future of higher education in California, that’s a longer conversation. And a more far-reaching test.