University of California Regents Talk Money, Gov. Schwarzenegger Talks to Students
University of California leaders voted to keep a closer eye on the golden handshakes given to departing executives and vowed to work on canceling student fee hikes in a session that was enlivened by a visit from their most famous colleague, Regent Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger, who as governor is constitutionally president of UC’s Board of Regents, joined the board’s regular meeting last week to ask for help in persuading legislators to approve his budget, which would buy out previously approved fee hikes for the 10-campus UC system
“I want to take advantage of our economic recovery and help the students,” the governor said. “After four years of fee increases, this fall students won’t have to pay a penny more in order to get a higher education, a great education in this wonderful institution.”
Schwarzenegger drew smiles and applause — governors rarely attend meetings although aides keep them up to date on issues — and he later met privately with four students to talk more about the challenges of budgeting.
In a bipartisan moment, Republican Schwarzenegger and Democratic Assembly Leader Fabian Nunez, also a regent, embraced as they met.
But the other major money issue facing regents last week was more controversial; how to set executive pay.
UC has come under fire following reports in the San Francisco Chronicle that officials quietly approved millions in bonuses, stipends, relocation packages and other cash compensation during the last fiscal year despite facing a budget crisis.
The newspaper also reported that a UC Davis vice chancellor was secretly given $50,000 and a $205,000-a-year job —
one that required no duties — after she threatened to sue the university for discrimination when she was told to resign.
In response, legislators have asked the state auditor to review UC pay practices, a number of other investigations are under way and Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Maria, has introduced a bill asking the California Postsecondary Education Commission to issue biannual reports on academic salaries. Among those calling for closer scrutiny is Nunez, D-Los Angeles.
UC officials defend their pay policies, saying they need to stay competitive to get the best people.
However, UC President Robert C. Dynes has said the system could do a better job of explaining compensation decisions and appointed a task force to look at the issue.
Earlier, students who met with Schwarzenegger got a firsthand account of the budget process. The governor asked the four about their goals and said he was glad to have the opportunity to speak with them saying “there’s nothing better than being in touch with the trenches.”
The fee hikes, 8 percent for undergraduates at UC this fall, were part of a long-term funding agreement between the governor and officials at UC as well as the 23-campus California State University system.
Schwarzenegger said he decided to propose buying out the hikes when more money was available.
“Today was for me a very meaningful day, to come in and say we are not going to increase the student fees,” he told the students. “That’s great news because we’re helping. That’s what government is supposed to do.”
— Associated Press
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