This opinion piece appeared on page B - 7 of the San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 2007

The incredible UC Regents

By Charles Schwartz

The University of California is going through hard times. Some of this is due to real budget issues related to state finances but some of it is due to the bad behavioral habits of the people on top: the Board of Regents. Let me recite a few recent occurrences.

When that scandal over UC's executive compensation broke open, nearly two years ago, the regents backed incumbent UC President Robert Dynes, even though it was well established that he was at the heart of the problem. Now, the regents have pushed him out and started a search for new leadership. The regents' special committee to select a new president had a recent closed meeting to discuss "matters pertaining to potential candidates." In California we have the Bagley-Keane Act, a set of open-meeting laws, which restricts the situations in which public bodies may close their deliberations to public view. Personnel matters are one such exemption, clearly for the purpose of protecting the privacy of individuals who may be under evaluation for some job. But in this case, there are, as yet, no candidates to be evaluated; so those regents must be talking about broad policy issues.

But why behind closed doors? What are the major issues facing UC? The university has grown and performed wonderfully in decades past under generous state funding; but now state budget problems have caused major shifts in the university's financing. Student fees have climbed 92 percent since the 2001-2002 academic year to make up for what the university could no longer receive from Sacramento.

Will, in the future, the university be able to maintain the principles of California's Master Plan for Higher Education - quality, access and affordability for all students - or will the latter principles be sacrificed as UC is transformed into a copy of the exclusive private universities?

Those potent issues have been much studied and discussed by UC's administrators and regents - mostly behind closed doors. In 2005, they created a UC Long Range Guidance Team, which met in secret sessions for over a year to discuss what the university needed to look like to serve the needs of the people of California for the next 20 years, and produced a bland report. Recently, the Board of Regents created a new Committee on Long-Range Planning, which would have to consider those issues in open meetings; however, its mission has been pre-empted by another regents' Task Force to Evaluate University Funding Options, appointed by the board chairman and meeting in secret.

No matter how many problems there may be facing this great university, there is no need for and should be no tolerance for, backroom dealings. The UC Board of Regents has long been seen as a very exclusive private club, inhabited by big-time business and political players on the California scene. This, however, is still a public institution ("a public trust," as defined in the state constitution); and it is up to us, the people, to insist that it continue to serve the public interest and not be skewed toward any private agendas.

The waste of money on an overgrown university bureaucracy is hardly a new subject. One can look at published data on UC's employment patterns over the past decade and find during that time enrollment has grown by 33 percent while faculty has increased by 24 percent and overall UC employment has increased by 31 percent. In contrast, management staff has grown by 118 percent.

I estimate that this excessive growth in management amounts to a waste of at least $300 million per year; yet UC's top officials have not been able to explain this phenomenon.

Let me mention one other hot issue where UC officials are less than candid. The official UC budget says that the average cost of education is $17,030 per student per year (2006-07) and student fees now pay only 30 percent of that cost. If you are careful to ask the question, "How do undergraduate student fees compare to the actual expenditure for undergraduate education at UC?", the answer is quite different: It's about 100 percent.

If this wonderful university is to flourish in its historical missions of teaching, research and public service, it needs new leadership that will talk openly and honestly with all the citizens of California. We need a restoration of credibility at the top.

Charles Schwartz is a UC Berkeley professor emeritus of physics. (See details on student fees at his Web site: )