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Local governance urged for UC campuses

The proposal would let each university set tuition and approve construction projects while allowing the regents to control policy matters such as admission standards, funding and top appointments.

April 23, 2012|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times
  • Ashton Pike studies on the UCLA campus. Smaller campuses with lower national profiles fear becoming overshadowed by the research powerhouses of UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego, which in turn sometimes resent money diverted to the central system.
Ashton Pike studies on the UCLA campus. Smaller campuses with lower national… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

The 10 campuses of the UC system should be given more power to govern themselves and be allowed to set their own tuition, decide how many out-of-state students to enroll, approve construction projects and control some investments under a proposal released Monday by UC Berkeley leaders.

The plan, which is already provoking debate, would maintain the central Board of Regents for such overarching policy matters as admissions standards, state funding and top appointments. But it contends that UC has gotten so complex and governance has become so balky that campus governing boards should be established and given autonomy over many issues, similar to states in a federal system.

"The present monolithic structure of governance inadvertently results in lost opportunities for the campuses. The situation calls for many elements of governance to be closer to the local level," said the report, which was published online at UC Berkeley's Center for Studies in Higher Education. Its authors include Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and center Director C. Judson King, who is the UC system's former provost.

In an interview Monday, Birgeneau insisted the report, "Modernizing Governance at the University of California," was not promoting secession and said he just wanted to start discussion. "It's like you have 10 children and each has different talents and challenges," he said. "We need a system in which each of them receives the kind of attention they need."

Some of the ideas already have been debated as cuts in state funding forced UC to rely more on tuition, donations and grants. Smaller campuses with lower national profiles fear becoming overshadowed by the research powerhouses of UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC San Diego, which in turn sometimes resent money diverted to the central system.

Birgeneau previously called for campuses to have more freedom to set tuition, but a UC commission did not endorse that, saying differing costs could hurt some campuses' reputations. And UC San Francisco, a graduate, medical-oriented school, got a chilly reception in January when it proposed more autonomy.

More local control would be good for large and smaller campuses, contended Birgeneau, who will retire as chancellor in December. "I think those campuses which are not as privileged as we are would profit more," he said.

Under the proposal, campus governing boards could set tuition for California undergraduates within ranges established by the regents and charge non-Californians and graduate students whatever the market will bear.

Campuses would have power to enroll more nonresidents as long as UC meets the state Master Plan for Higher Education's requirement of serving the academic top 12.5% of California's high school graduates. The campuses also would have more say over pay for faculty and non-unionized staff.

UC regents and the system president still would negotiate union contracts, submit state funding requests, set basic admissions standards, hire chancellors and oversee pension funds.

UC President Mark G. Yudof said in a statement that he did not support the proposal "in its current form." However, Yudof said he is willing to discuss governance issues and shared the authors' sense that "transparency, accountability and flexibility are very important."

Robert Anderson, a UC Berkeley professor who is chairman of the systemwide faculty Senate, expressed strong opposition and predicted chances for regents' approval as "slim to none." He said the proposal would "split apart the University of California system in a way which is not in the interests of any of the campuses and not in the interests of the system itself." He said it would encourage campuses to fight for money in separate appeals to state government.

Although it is controversial, the plan may receive more support than it would have a few years ago because of the cuts in state funding and other challenges, said Steve Boilard, a higher education expert in the state legislative analyst's office. "There are a lot more possibilities for change just because the status quo has been so disrupted," he said.

The regents, who have constitutional authority, can give power to campuses without approval from the state Legislature, the study says. The plan reserves campus board seats for students, faculty, staff and off-campus supporters; each panel would have two regents, who would rotate among campuses every three years.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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