State Lawmakers Challenge Autonomy of U. of California's Regents
Oakland, Calif. — A bipartisan group of California lawmakers has proposed a state constitutional amendment that would subject the University of California to direct legislative oversight for the first time in its history.
The university system’s Board of Regents has long held constitutional autonomy from the Legislature, giving it the sole authority to make governance decisions. The proposed amendment, which was introduced on Tuesday in both houses of the Legislature, would remove that autonomy starting in 2011. The Legislature already has similar oversight of the California State University system.
Supporters of the proposal said they were fed up with high salaries for administrators and rising tuition at the University of California. Sen. Leland Yee, a Democrat and a longtime critic of the university, said the university’s leaders were not being held accountable to the public.
“Their arrogance and autocratic attitude has got to stop,” Mr. Yee said in comments quoted by the San Francisco Chronicle. “This is a public institution, it’s not a private club for anyone. We’re leaving it to the regents to run the UC, but it ought to be responsive to the people and the state Legislature.”
The proposal comes as state officials consider steep cuts in the funds allocated to the university, and it signals a low point in an often tumultuous relationship between the Legislature and the university. If two-thirds of the lawmakers in each house endorse putting the measure on ballots, the state’s voters could make it law with a simple majority.
In an unusually strong statement, the University of California called the proposal “absurd” and “a distraction,” and ripped into the performance of the Legislature, which has historically low public-approval ratings after a series of deadlocks over the state budget.
“Given the current $25-billion hole in the state budget and the political paralysis that chronically plagues Sacramento, tossing a 10-campus public research university that is the pride of California and the envy of the world into the Sacramento mix should be a non-starter,” the statement said.
The university can still attract top talent, the statement said, “and can do so despite the easily verified fact” that it compensates executives “well below the national average for comparable institutions.”
Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said on Wednesday that he doubted the proposal would make it out of the Legislature. “But I think it’s a good shot across the bow.” —Josh Keller