Illustration by Christine Hipp
Illustration by Christine Hipp

Jan. 18 marked the end of an era. After nearly five turbulent years on the job, Mark Yudof announced he’ll be stepping down as UC President this August. With the regents currently in the midst of a nationwide talent search to find his successor, it’s high time that we as students reflect on what direction the UC system should be moving in.

The last five years have not been kind to higher education, and UC is no exception. Yudof began his term in 2008 at a time of unprecedented cuts to UC’s state funding and general financial turmoil. Since then tuition has nearly tripled while faculty and program budgets have been slashed.

Yudof undeniably faced an uphill battle from the moment he took office, and the responses of the UC system to its fiscal woes cannot be attributed solely to him. Some of those responses are commendable and should be continued in the future. The Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, which extends grants to students of families making less than $80,000 a year, is perhaps the best such example.

In other ways however, the direction that the UC system has taken in the last five years is less hopeful. For the first time since its creation, we now receive more money from student tuition than from state funding. Yudof also launched “Project You Can”, which seeks to raise a billion dollars in private donations to supplement losses in state funding.

Over the last 10 years, the UC has also become increasingly reliant on construction bonds backed by student tuition as a way to continue expansion despite falling state funding. At the same time, the hiring of administrative staff has skyrocketed relative to the hiring of instructors and other staff.

This increasing privatization of the UC system must be examined closely and critically by the next president.

When the Master Plan that created the UCs was enacted in 1960, it envisioned a system of universities and community colleges that would function as a public good, not as an enterprise that exists solely to turn a profit. Furthermore, the increasing privatization of the UC system has also paralleled what many students and faculty see as an increasing lack of transparency.

If the UC is ever going to achieve its full potential as public center of higher education, it is imperative that students, faculty and the public at large have a voice in the UC’s decision making process.

California’s recent passage of Prop 30, which avoided a $250 million cut to the UC system and prevented a potential mid-year tuition hike of 20 percent, can be taken as a sign that the public is beginning to appreciate how important our university system is to a healthy state. That sentiment, however, will be squandered if the UC system continues to transform itself into a private institution.

No one will deny that the UC system must continue making changes in the years to come. Although California’s budget crisis looks like it has almost abated, alleviating one major source of concern, the UCs and higher education as a whole are in a transitional period.

The next president of the UC system will be responsible for bringing us into the era of online education, and must do so in a way that embraces these new technological opportunities, but not at the expense of the quality of a UC education. Doubtless the input of students and teachers will be instrumental in achieving that goal.

As the UCs move past the worst of their financial woes, it will be more important than ever for their next president to remember the values of the Master Plan, which stressed quality, affordability, accessibility and innovation, but not profit for profit’s sake. During this time of uncertainty, the UC’s next president would do well to remember that a public education means just that.