The night before the UC Board of Regents voted on Jan. 26 to raise tuition by $282 for the 2017–18 academic year, the university officials hosted a $17,600 dinner party for themselves in San Francisco attended by 65 people, placing the cost at $270 per attendee, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on May 28. According to the Chronicle, the UC Office of the President has reimbursed the regents for $225,000 in dinner parties, which have occurred four to six times annually, since 2012.
More recently, the regents spent $15,199 on a dinner party at the San Francisco Palace Hotel at the university’s expense on May 17. At $258 a head, the event came just hours after students from around the UC system protested for free tuition and liveable wages outside the regents’ meeting held that day at UC San Francisco.
A.S. President Lesly Figueroa, who attended the May 17 demonstration, told the UCSD Guardian that the regents’ spending is unfortunate, especially in light of the tuition hike.
“I think the regents spending thousands of dollars of university funding on extravagant parties that obviously do not benefit students is a shame,” Figueroa said. “Raising an already unaffordable tuition, making higher education more inaccesible is outrageous but, of course, not shocking because we’ve known the regents do not always have the best interest of students or workers in mind. We have students that are food and housing insecure, not being retained at their institutions or being supported to get their basic needs met and yet are still paying outrageous amounts of money to a system that does not support them. [That] is not only unjust but unacceptable.”
UC spokesperson Dianne Klein defended the dinner parties to the Chronicle, stating that they are a longstanding tradition financed by private funding given to the university.
However, several regents spoke out against the dinners, with some saying that the attendees should be responsible for the cost of the events themselves as opposed to placing the burden on the university.
Regent John Perez, who believes that the guests should finance the parties, told the Chronicle that spending should prioritize students over dinners.
“We shouldn’t use money (for dinners) that could be used for students,” Perez said. “Lavish meals are not the ‘highest, best’ use.”
Regents Dick Blum, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and community college Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley also expressed their dissatisfaction with the price of the dinners, using words like “inappropriate” and “high” to describe it.
Eleanor Roosevelt College sophomore Yasmine Saraf explained her discontentment that the regents are spending students’ money on themselves.
“I feel that as a student for the greater part of my life, we’re taught the appropriate values of justice and authenticity,” Saraf told the Guardian. “However, knowing that the UC regents are using our tuition money for their own purposes instead of bettering the school, leaves me confused and outraged. I propose that the dining halls should be enhanced to accommodate for our own dinner parties as well.”
Figueroa added that in light of the Chronicle’s findings, students should mobilize against the regents and UC President Janet Napolitano.
“Moving forward, this creates a pivotal moment for students at their institutions and here at UCSD to push against these reckless decisions of university spending and urge the regents and Napolitano to commit to supporting student and workers needs because without students and workers then the institution does not function,” Figueroa said. “These are times when we have to push collectively in order to shift the current system into a student and worker serving institution.”
According to the Chronicle’s report, the parties cast doubt on the the integrity of the regents’ spending policy because UC rules restrict dinners to $81 and prevent “lavish or extravagant” entertainment expenses. The events also create the impression that “Napolitano’s office reimburses the regents’ expenses, and the regents approve the budget for Napolitano’s office.”
The Chronicle learned of the regents’ dinner parties from documents produced by the California State Auditor’s Office after State Auditor Elaine Howle released a report criticizing UCOP for overpaying its executives and hiding $175 million in discretionary reserves.
Other parties thrown by the regents include a $15,600 party in March 2013 while the university was “working to weather the financial crisis,” an $8,800 dinner party in November 2014 when the regents were deciding whether to raise tuition by 28 percent over the next five years and a retirement party for two regents in January 2016 that cost $227 a head and $13,600 overall.
UC BOARD OF REGENTS DELAY VOTE ON TUITION OVERHAUL
The UC Board of Regents postponed a vote on Tuesday for two proposals that would overhaul tuition; both proposals would increase tuition annually for the next five years. Instead of voting, the Regents discussed them during their meeting on Wednesday.
The UC Regents delayed the vote after the UC Student Association (UCSA) voiced concerns that the vote could be in violation of a state law requiring that UCSA be given at least 30 days’ notice before providing public notice of a cost increase proposal. UCSA President Varsha Sarveshwar said at Tuesday’s Board meeting that they were only given advance notice for a single tuition increase and not the originally proposed five.
The UC administration released a statement addressing the delay, acknowledging the concerns of students. UC Regents Chairman John Perez determined that the student notice requirement would not have been met if the vote proceeded on Wednesday and it had been decided that a delay would be the best course of action.
The first proposal increases undergraduate tuition annually for all students based on inflation through the 2024–25 school year. Under this proposal, the UC system projects that tuition and fees will reach $14,670 and $49,452 for in-state and out-of-state students respectively by 2024-25.
The second proposal would freeze costs for current students and only apply increases to incoming classes of students. This would be a shift from previous increases that were uniformly applied to all students.
According to the UC Office of the President (UCOP), both plans would ensure the university can sustain research and education operations and invest in student success programs. UCOP also says that the plans are expected to increase the financial aid funds for UC undergraduates with the “greatest financial need.”
As per the UCOP’s report, without an increase in available funds, the UC system would need to shift current aid away from some students to fund aid for students with “very low” household incomes. The UCOP’s report also states that without an increase in available funds, the university could face a $700 million-plus budget shortfall by 2025. Last June, UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla presented to the campus Academic Senate that UCSD could incur a $24.2 million deficit in the 2020–21 budget.
Although the tuition increases would increase financial aid funds, UCSA sponsored a petition in opposition to both proposals advocating for no increase this year.
In the petition, UCSA argues that coupling tuition increases with increases to financial aid will exclude middle income and out-of-state students in need of financial assistance without clearly helping low-income students. The petition also says that the higher tuition price may deter students from applying, regardless of whether that number reflected their actual out of pocket costs or if they qualified for aid.
On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom voiced his opposition to the tuition increases, saying that “the proposed tuition increase is unwarranted, bad for students and inconsistent with our college affordability goals.” The Governor’s Office released their budget proposal earlier this month, including $217.7 million in new permanent funds and $55.3 million in one-time funds to the UC system.
An exact date for the vote on tuition has not been announced, but UCSA leaders anticipate the vote on tuition to occur at the March or May Regents meeting.
Sahana Narayan is a Staff Writer for The Triton. You can follow her @saharadesert00.