Illustration by Christine Hipp

The University of California isn’t an equal system, and it never has been. The system’s growth since first establishing UC Berkeley in 1868 to 10 campuses statewide by 2005 has exponentially increased enrollment and tuition. But calling the UC a well-oiled machine simply due to its autonomy from the state and highly-regarded reputation is far from accurate.

When Chancellor Blumenthal assumed his position at UC Santa Cruz in 2007, he found that the school was distributed 67 cents on the dollar for its collected tuition funds.

The rebenching committee, formed only a year ago, would reevaluate how state funds are allocated toward UC campuses. Additionally, the committee would also grant more autonomy to each school.

The problem is, nothing has happened yet.

The California state budget crisis and the consequent funding cuts directed toward education and the UC have triggered a systemwide cry for greater autonomy and more money for individual schools.

The redistribution of enrollment funds back to the campuses from which they originated has long been carried out through a bottleneck process for schools that tend to not only be smaller and less regarded, but newer to the system as a whole.

Higher education shouldn’t be a prize wall priced at low, middle and high tiers — and the UC system doesn’t do this, as everyone pays the same tuition. However, the stereotype that the system is composed of low-, middle- and high-tier quality schools is largely a product of such funding disparities.

Increased funding for “high-tier” schools at the expense of other institutions within the system only perpetuate a precedent of a lack of opportunities and development space for smaller and usually newer schools to improve.

When smaller UC schools are already fighting a funding disadvantage, greater autonomy is the first step to leveling the playing field.

A proposal released in April by UC Berkeley leaders outlined a plan that would give more power to individual UC schools to govern themselves. The proposal called for a reduction of duties for the central Board of Regents, limiting their duties mainly to admission standards, state funding and top appointments.

UC Berkeley leaders claimed that the UC system has become so complex that autonomous campus governing boards must be formed in order to sort out such policies on an individual need basis.

Under the proposal, individual UC schools would be able to set their own tuition and decide out-of-state enrollment numbers. The proposal would also gives schools the power to approve construction projects and gain control of institutional investments.

Through the formation of campus governing boards, which would each include two regents, schools would be granted the power to set undergraduate tuition within ranges established by the regents and charge out-of-state and graduate students accordingly. Additionally, campuses would also have more say in the salaries of faculty and nonunionized staff.

Even with the proposal in negotiations — like many other efforts of greater institutional reform — the UC continues to teeter in the midst of the waiting game necessary to implement new budgetary and redistributive policies within the system.

Both rebenching efforts and greater autonomy aren’t just about making sure everyone has an equal slice of the pie. They’re about ensuring that the UC system as a whole, and specifically its smaller institutions, can be on the same page as its larger, more reputable counterparts — or at least have the resources to do so.

Growing funding disparities have only further defined the systemwide inequalities that have catalyzed the call for greater autonomy among individual schools.

UC Berkeley’s proposal highlights the need for “transparency, accountability and flexibility,” within the governance of the UC system. In a UC report, officials claimed that the fundamental objective in evaluating budgetary reform, enrollment plans and other policies should be to preserve UC’s “excellence in research” and to put “quality before access and affordability.”

Leading research institutions such as UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles and UC San Diego are undoubtedly valuable assets to the UC system, but unless smaller and newer institutions are given the necessary funds and resources for greater research mobility, the system will continue to stagnate in its current,
disparate mold.