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Back to School Blues

News1ucscHow fresh budget cuts will impact the UCSC experience for students and workers
When students left UC Santa Cruz last spring, most were still reeling from the 9.3 percent tuition increase passed by the UC Board of Regents in May. Now, as they return for a new school year, UC President Mark Yudof is pushing for an additional 30 percent hike. If the Regents approve this increase, tuition for Californian undergraduates will reach $10,302 by fall 2010 and will have more than tripled since the year 2000.

News of this proposed tuition increase comes at the tail end of a controversial summer for the University of California. In mid-July, the UC Regents granted President Yudof “emergency powers” to address the University’s $813 million cut in state funding. He quickly unveiled an employee furlough program and system-wide budget restructuring measures. Campus administrators, charged with bridging the remaining budget gap, spent the summer making drastic campus-level personnel, curriculum, and service cuts.

With school officially in session, how will the face of UCSC look different this year than in years past?

UCSC Cuts

“When the students return they are going to see a campus that provides fewer services and less teaching … and they’re going to pay more for it,” says Mike Rotkin, UCSC lecturer and staff member.

Controversial cuts within the division of social sciences began last spring when two senior Latin American and Latino studies lecturers, Susan Jonas and Guillermo Delgado, were unexpectedly laid off. Around the same time, the field study staff of the community studies department, Rotkin and Florencia Marchetti, were also given pink slips, effectively gutting the service-oriented major.

In the months that followed, pressure from faculty, unions, and groups such as the Student of Color Collective and the Coalition to Save Community Studies succeeded in getting Jonas, Delgado, and Rotkin rehired until July of next year. Marchetti’s position was only extended until March, says Rotkin.

While these particular layoffs were temporarily postponed, many others took place behind the scenes this summer. “We have eliminated 160 administrative positions from the front-line to the top,” UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal told the regents in mid-July. “We’ve eliminated 55 faculty positions—8 percent of budgeted faculty—and dramatically reduced the number of lecturers and teaching assistants.”

New faculty recruitments are at a virtual standstill, and vacant faculty positions are not being refilled. While these “faceless cuts” may be more politically palatable than laying off existing employees, they are equally difficult for departments to absorb. The politics department, for example, has not been given funds to replace three recently retired professors, thereby cutting politics faculty by 20 percent.

The reduced number of faculty, lecturers, and teaching assistants means that fewer classes will be offered in nearly every department. The community studies department has had to eliminate two of its seven introductory courses, a move that will reduce the number of possible new majors by nearly one-third.

Student services have also been slashed. At the campus libraries, for example, hours have been reduced, book acquisitions have dropped off, and subscriptions to scholarly journals have been suspended.  Students will likely find it more difficult to get time in art studios and laboratories, says Rotkin. There will also be fewer academic advisors.

And yet, UCSC officials are encouraging students to focus on the positives. “Our tracking indicates that entering students were able to successfully enroll in a full schedule of classes this fall,” says Bill Ladusaw, UCSC’s vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, in a UCSC press release.

Ladusaw reports that the strain on class numbers will be mitigated somewhat by the size of this year’s incoming freshman class, which has 700 fewer members than the previous year.

Equal Impact?

“Marginalized communities are not going to be able to get into the UC,” says Kenji Tomari, a senior plant sciences major and member of UCSC’s Student of Color Collective. Tomari’s comments echo a common concern that the fee hikes, enrollment decline, and service cuts will disproportionately impact students of color and low-income students.

Despite these predictions, the UCSC Office of Admissions reports that the number of freshmen coming from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds is up 2.6 percent from last year.

Yet there are reasons to doubt the durability of this trend, says Dana Burd, a senior film major and co-founder of a new student advocacy group, Save the Student Voice.

“They’re trying to say that retention and services to minority students won’t be affected, but they laid off people who are directly responsible for massive amounts of outreach,” says Burd, noting the mid-summer dismissals of the directors of the Educational Opportunities Program and the Academic Resources Center.  “Any program that loses its director is going to have to struggle,” she says.

Furlough Days and Pay Cuts

While UCSC students cope with these changes, the remaining campus employees will experience a greater workload, furlough days, and substantial pay cuts.

UCOP’s one-year furlough plan divides the University’s 180,000 employees into seven salary bands so that, for example, workers whose annual base pay is $40,000 or less will take 11 furlough days (a four percent pay cut), while those whose annual base pay is $240,000 or more will take 26 furlough days (a ten percent pay cut).

Although Yudof touts the plan for exemplifying the principle of “shared sacrifice,” it has been criticized for disproportionately affecting the university’s lowest paid workers. For example, part-time employees’ furlough days will be calculated according to the salary band of their full-time equivalents.

Union representatives explain that their proposals to deal with the furlough plan on a campus-by-campus basis have been rejected by the University Office of the President (UCOP) and punitive layoffs have taken the place of collective bargaining. Yudof, in turn, accuses the unions of refusing to engage in realistic compromise.

As it is, UCSC workers are bracing for a difficult year. “There’s still going to be the same amount of work, and we’re short staffed as it is … the quality of service will probably decrease,” says Ernesto Antonio Encinas, a cook at the Colleges Nine/Ten Dining Hall.

Whose Crisis?

The state of California funds approximately 17 percent of the UC’s budget. Their support was reduced by 20 percent, which represents only a 3.4 percent cut to the University’s overall budget. Yet individual campuses have been directed to cut their budgets by nearly 20 percent.

“We maintain that UC has resources that they’re not tapping into that could mitigate the process,” says Phil Johnston, a UCSC computer resource specialist and president of University Professional and Technical Employees, Local Three.

UCOP remains adamant that rearranging the money is not possible. “We don’t actually have reserves,” Yudof told the press at a Sept. 16 regents meeting. “We have funds that the accountants require us to call … unrestricted or unallocated, but each of them is tied up.”

Given the severity of the cuts, workers, students, and faculty are demanding better answers. “I can’t imagine that freeing up this discretionary spending would be any more complicated than implementing this furlough plan has been,” says Johnston.

Tomari agrees. “They’ve been making cuts for so long,” he says. “What’s left? They’re already cutting into the bone.”

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