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California Governor, Napolitano Get OK to Meet as Committee of 2

SAN FRANCISCO — California Gov. Jerry Brown and University of California President Janet Napolitano received clearance on Wednesday to form an unusual “committee of two” that will look at ways of resolving their standoff over state funding for higher education and the necessity of tuition increases.

The two leaders asked fellow members of the university’s governing board to name them as the sole members of the Select Advisory Committee on the Cost Structure of the University — a formal sounding body that will be staffed by their respective aides and have input from outside experts.

It will essentially give the pair a chance to work out in private the differences of opinion that have divided them since late fall.

“We won’t have more than two opinions, and that’s good,” Brown quipped before a regents committee unanimously gave its blessing.

Over the next two months, Brown and Napolitano will consider and debate some of the proposals the governor says would allow the university to serve more students without big budget increases or tuition hikes.

The options include moving classes online, increasing the hours faculty devote to teaching, spurring students to complete their studies in four years or less, and making it easier for community college graduates to transfer to UC campuses.

The meetings also will give Napolitano a chance to make her case that the university already has been working on these issues and that UC’s reputation is at risk by the state’s failure to adequately invest in it.

“It’s an advisory committee of two that I think will be engaged deeply and holistically looking at the university and its future,” Napolitano said.

At Napolitano’s urging and over Brown’s objections, a majority of the Board of Regents in November approved raising student tuition by up to 5 percent in each of the next five years unless the state gives the university more money.

The governor in turn released a state spending plan this month that would boost the UC system’s budget by a little under $120 million on the condition that tuition levels not rise in the fall. UC officials say the funding was about $100 million less than they needed to avert a 5 percent tuition hike.

Reflecting the building tension over the issue, former Assembly Speaker John Perez, whom Brown named to the Board of Regents, said he would ask the panel in March to formally repeal the five-year tuition plan, which he said “is not rooted in any budgetary realities.”

He said the university would be worse off financially next year if the governor goes through with his threat to make any funding increase contingent on tuition not going up.

“This would in fact be nothing more than a series of games that use students as a pawn to suggest they be the payers of last resort when we, the Legislature and the governor argue,” he said.

Brown and Napolitano plan to hold their first meeting on Monday. UC spokesman Steve Montiel said Wednesday their sessions will not be open to the public to encourage a frank and efficient exchange.

The structure does not violate California’s open meeting laws since the two of them do not have authority to set policy alone and any recommendations they come up with will be vetted and voted on by the rest of the regents, Montiel said.

First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Peter Scheer said that while it sometimes makes sense for power brokers to come to an understanding behind closed doors, the two-member committee made up of the governor and the university’s president would be better off having at least the information gathering parts of its meetings in public.

“It’s probably something they can do, but I’m raising the question do they really want to?” Scheer said. “It would strengthen the public’s confidence in the legitimacy of the choices that ultimately get made if they can see the decisions were made within the context of thoughtful, comprehensive and smart data and analysis.”

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