SACRAMENTO — Alarmed that University of California regents have raised executive salaries while boosting student fees, a group of state lawmakers Wednesday proposed stripping the UC system of its historic autonomy and giving legislators additional control.
A constitutional amendment introduced by Sens. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) and three others would give legislators the ability to set policy for the university, including limits on pay raises. To take effect, the measure must be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature and then submitted to voters as a statewide ballot measure.
"For too long, the UC has operated as an independent fiefdom," said Romero, chair of the Senate Education Committee. "Audits of the UC during the last few years read more like AIG or Enron than what we expect from the University of California. This is a system that clearly has lost its sense of public accountability."
In a statement, UC's administration called the proposal a power grab. The university's biggest problem has been recent cutbacks in state funding, the statement said.
"It's absurd that Sen. Leland Yee and his co-sponsors want to rewrite the California Constitution to strip the University of its historic autonomy and place it under direct control of the state Legislature," the statement said.
But Yee and student leaders who support the legislation complained that the regents this month approved salaries of $450,000 and $400,000, as well as free housing, to new chancellors at UC San Francisco and UC Davis. At the same meeting, the governing board voted to increase undergraduate fees by 9.3% for next year.
UC President Mark G. Yudof has defended the fee hikes, saying they are necessary to cover revenue lost in state budget cuts. He noted the system had already frozen salaries for top executives.
The Legislature created the University of California in 1868, establishing the first campus at UC Berkeley. The system has grown to include 10 campuses, five hospitals, research facilities and a $19-billion budget.
The state general fund provides $3.2 billion annually to the system, which serves 227,000 students.
"Enough is enough," said Yee, an alumnus of UC Berkeley. "It is time for the UC administration to stop acting like a private institution."
Yee has put forth a separate bill that would prohibit the California State University system, which is subject to greater policy oversight by the Legislature, from approving executive pay raises in years when the state's funding for the system does not increase.
Groups backing the constitutional amendment Wednesday included the Associated Students of the University of California at Davis, University Professional and Technical Employees and the University Council of the American Federation of Teachers.