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UC regents vote to keep $60 annual surcharge for students

The fee helps the university finance massive refunds for past illegal tuition practices. Regents say they had no alternatives other than possibly cutting spending on classes and other services.

March 14, 2013|By Larry Gordon, Los Angeles Times
  • UCLA students protest fee hikes outside the Covel Commons Building in November 2009.
UCLA students protest fee hikes outside the Covel Commons Building in November… (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles…)

For five years, all UC students have been paying a $60 annual fee to help the university finance massive refunds for past illegal tuition practices. As a result of a UC regents vote Thursday, that charge will continue for five more years.

The controversy began a decade ago when students in law, medical, nursing and other UC professional schools complained that they were being forced to pay fee increases despite promises in university brochures and websites that their education costs would not rise before graduation. Two groups of those students sued and in 2006 and 2010 won Superior Court cases, and later appeals, that led to 12,000 refunds — as much as $10,000 a person in some instances.

The $60 surcharge, imposed as a solution to UC's legal troubles, has nearly paid off the $42 million in refunds and other costs from one lawsuit and is aimed at covering $49 million more from the second, officials said at the regents' meeting in San Francisco.

Students object to the surcharge. "It has an unseemly quality to it," student regent Jonathan Stein said. It feels like "a thorn in the side" for students to finance UC's recovery from what courts found were illegal actions, he said.

Despite such opposition, the regents approved continuing the surcharge and said they had no alternatives other than possibly cutting spending on classes and other services. Regent Richard Blum on Thursday acknowledged that the university made mistakes that led to losing those lawsuits but supported the surcharge nonetheless. "I do not think that $60 a year, as unfair as you may think it is, is probably going to jeopardize anybody's law career," he told students. "I don't like it, but I don't know what else to do."

Other administrators defended the action by saying that at least the university made no attempt to hide the reasons for the fee by blending it with other charges, and they promised it would not continue past 2017-18. They also said that between a third and a half of it would go toward financial aid, depending on the students' programs.

During the finance committee debate, only Stein and regent Eddie Island voted against the surcharge. The full regents board also approved it afterward.

Raquel Morales, president of the UC Student Assn., described the surcharges as "unethical and immoral." She had told the regents the day before that the fee feels like a threat against any of UC's 234,000 students who might challenge the status quo.

The regents' action is "a warning to all UC students that if you go against the UC and win, the University of California will punish the students that follow," she said. "Students should have the right to advocate for themselves without having the outcomes turn into surcharges for future students in our system."

The two cases are generally referred to as the Kashmiri and Luquetta cases, named after their lead student litigants. UC had tried to defend itself by saying that all its literature carried disclaimers that fees were subject to change. However, judges ruled that UC had in effect broken a contract that promised to keep fees stable.

larry.gordon@latimes.com

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