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UC Riverside leaders consider sweeping cuts in face of budget crisis

The governor's recent call for $500 million in reductions from the UC system is forcing administrators to consider cutting library hours, reducing power usage and charging for computer use.

March 08, 2011|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times
  • UC campuses are being given more leeway to come up with their own budget solutions as the system braces for $500 million in cuts. UC Riverside expects to lose $38 million.
UC campuses are being given more leeway to come up with their own budget solutions… (Irfan Khan, Los Angeles…)

Should library hours be cut? Could some academic programs be closed or merged? Will turning down air conditioners and fixing leaky sprinklers save much money?

UC Riverside administrators are mulling such questions as they face an expected reduction in the campus' core budget next year of at least 8%, or $38 million, even as they cope with higher pension costs and energy bills. The decisions could affect the livelihoods of employees and quality of education for more than 20,000 students at the Inland Empire campus.

Chancellor Timothy White recently told worried faculty and others to prepare for "the most difficult decisions you and I will ever make in our professional careers."

Among the stakes, White said, are the Riverside campus' ambitions to open a medical school in 2012 and remain a launching pad for minority students and those who are first in their families to attend college.

The 10 UC campuses have been through similar drills over the last three years of state budget crises, and alarms rang again recently with Gov. Jerry Brown's call to cut $500 million from the UC system for the 2011-12 school year. What's different this time is that campuses are being given more leeway to come up with solutions.

Chancellors have been assigned budget reduction targets, based on enrollments and other factors, that range from $96 million at UCLA and $81 million at UC Berkeley to $31 million at UC Santa Cruz and $27 million at UC San Francisco. (Only the five-year-old Merced campus, still considered a start-up, is being excused from the cuts.)

The campus approaches "will vary considerably," said Nathan E. Brostrom, UC's executive vice president for business operations, although many are likely to leave empty positions unfilled and hire fewer lecturers. Students may find it harder to enroll in courses, but the goal is to avoid "any overall diminution of the quality of their education," he said.

UCLA, for example, is considering cutting what officials say are unnecessary course requirements for certain undergraduate majors and boosting enrollment in such profit-makers as summer school and professional master's degrees. UC Davis says it may lay off up to 500 staff and introduce student fees for computer usage. UC Irvine and UC Berkeley may keep undergraduate enrollment flat but increase the number of out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition. UC Santa Cruz is discussing reductions as deep as 16% for nonacademic programs and 6% for academic units, including library book purchases on the main campus and extension classes in Silicon Valley.

And all campuses say it may become harder to come up with counteroffers for UC scholars who are recruited with lucrative pay and benefit packages by private universities or other public schools.

UC leaders are also looking for systemwide efficiencies in such areas as energy usage and computer purchases and are hunting for additional revenue from federal research grants and elsewhere. UC administrators have said they hope to avoid raising tuition beyond the 8% already approved for next year but have not ruled out an additional hike if the Legislature and voters refuse to extend several tax increases that are also part of Brown's plan. The university's Board of Regents is expected to weigh in with its own ideas at a meeting in San Francisco next week.

Whatever UC leaders do faces close scrutiny from faculty, unions and students at Riverside and elsewhere.

Already, UC students are organizing against the possible cuts and several hundred from across the system rallied last week in Sacramento and lobbied legislators. The atmosphere will get more tense and more extensive campus protests may erupt, student leaders predict, if the regents move to raise tuition again.

White's mention of possibly shortening library hours upset Adriana Cruz, a second-year Chicano studies and sociology major from Anaheim who is active in student government. "That sends the wrong message to everybody who wants to come to UCR," she said. "If we can't prioritize our library hours, what does that say about our education?"

Cruz said she was worried that reduced course offerings already are making it harder for students to graduate in four years and that any further cuts will make things worse. "In honesty, we are scared," she said. The school should reduce administrators' salaries before taking such steps, she added.

Some critics contend that UC is starting its annual budget conversation early this year to scare students and parents into lobbying the Legislature for more funds. They also say that UC wants to protect a top-heavy and highly paid university bureaucracy and shield research professors from having to teach additional classes.

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