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The Shrinking UC System: What The Budget Cuts Mean

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The University of California's Board of Regents capped its three-day meeting in San Diego this week with a dire message: The UC system that put California on the map could unravel. Regents are now rethinking the size and nature of the UC system.

— Charts and graphs were projected on big screens in a dark auditorium at UC, San Diego.

The information showed how Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget cuts will affect the 10 campuses of the UC system.

Officials had somber faces once the lights were turned on.

“I feel like a passenger on the Titanic being told by the captain how long it will take before the boat sinks,” said Rex Hime, an ex-officio UC regent.

UC is facing $500 million in proposed cuts. That’s the largest hit to UC's budget in recent history.

But the regents say the problem is compounded by an additional $500 million deficit to cover pensions and rising utility bills. Combined, UC is staring down a $1 billion budget gap.

A few regents think lobbying the governor and the state legislature might help lessen the financial blow.

But Regent Frederick Ruiz said it is time to face the music.

“We, as regents, need to assume that we are not going to get the $500 million. The stakeholders need to know - whether it is the faculty, the students or employees - they need to know their livelihoods are at risk,” Ruiz said.

Higher education is bearing the brunt of the governor’s proposed budget cuts.

The California State University system is also facing a $500 million cut. Community colleges would lose $400 million.

UC regents fear the three main tenants of a UC education – affordability, access and quality – will be severely affected.

Regent Richard Blum said UC will have to redefine its purpose and mission.

“We have to decide what the university is going to be tomorrow," Blum said. "We have to decide who (the UC system) is going to be. How we are going to deal with the problem? We don’t have time to screw around with it.”

Regents are already hinting at the possibility of laying off thousands of people.

Enrolling more out-of-state and out-of-country students would also provide UC with more money because these students pay higher fees.

Analysts say the result might be a smaller UC system with fewer students who are actually from California.

Meanwhile, in-state students are urging the regents not raise their tuition and fees. Students are now paying more money into the UC system than the state of California.

UC President Mark Yudof said the regents do not want to raise fees again, but all options have to be on the table.

“We can’t give up on quality,” Yudof said. “Reducing UC to an average university system in America, I'm not for it. It is not good for California. Who’s going to do the next breakthroughs? It’s not going to be done by corporations in this state.”

Even so, regents say cutting classes and eliminating some majors at UC campuses are other possibilities. Regents are also warning of cuts to student services, caps on enrollment and a decrease in financial aid.

UC, San Diego student Alison Lekander said once again, it seems like the financial crisis is on the backs of students.

“It’s all a business,” she said. “Everything seems like business to try to get more money out of the student when we should be paying less.

Yudof is giving the 10 UC chancellors six weeks to determine cost cutting plans for their campuses.

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