Analysis: How Different are UC and CSU?


By Tanya Schevitz
Special to Calbuzzucberkeley

Frustrated with “egregious” executive pay hikes, questionable policy decisions and student fee increases by the University of California, State Sen. Leland Yee has stirred up a controversy with a plan to give legislators more control over the university.

UC leaders object to his proposed constitutional amendment, which would strip the system of the autonomy it has had since 1879, saying it would allow Sacramento politics to disrupt a higher ed system that is the envy of the world.

Yee points to the strife over compensation and disclosure practices which has dogged UC in recent years as evidence the system needs more oversight. But critics of his proposal say financial oversight can be handled through the state budget, while the Legislature exerting more institutsanjosestateionalized control raises the specter of intrusion into academic freedom.

“You make your list of what is working and just simple muffler shop logic is, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” said UC spokesman Peter King.

At the core of the issue is the disparity in oversight of the state’s two public institutions. Both university systems have governing boards (25 trustees at CSU and 26 regents at UC) with the majority chosen by the governor and confirmed by the state senate. In addition, the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the assembly sit on the boards by virtue of their offices.

The key difference is that the Legislature has broad authority over the California State University system, allowing it to enact statutes affecting its policies. But UC’s autonomy, granted in the original state Constitution, means the Legislature can only “urge” the 10-campus UC system to comply with its desires.

lelandyee1Yee’s measure, if placed on the ballot by lawmakers and approved by voters, would give the Legislature the same sway over UC it has over CSU. This could mean affecting changes that range from limiting executive pay to more extreme policies, like deciding what industries should be banned from funding research.

Critics of the plan, arguing that UC already complies with most legislative demands, said his proposal would take one of the state’s more successful enterprises and put it in the hands of state leaders who have run the state into near poverty.

Supporters dismiss that criticism as “sound bite” hysteria. They argue that the Legislature has not abused its oversight authority with CSU. That system’s 23-campuses are overseen by their own governing board, and the Legislature does not interfere in most of its most policies, said Adam Keigwin, Yee’s communications director.

“All we are saying is that there should be some accountability here,” Keigwin told Calbuzz. “Now, if you don’t like something that happens at UC, too bad. We can pass statutes and it applies to CSU but our hands are tied with UC.”

Keigwin insists that the constitutional amendment is not intended to take policy leadership away from the appointed UC Board of Regents, and that any proposed changes would have to pass through the legislative process before being imposed.

However, in a press release announcing his measure, Yee listed “questionable conduct” by UC that included the system’s use of tobacco industry funding for research, exactly the kind of issue that critics say would put UC at the mercy of legislative meddling, and interfere with academic freedom.

The history of the UC system provides some guidance.

Daniel Coit Gilman, UC’s second president, resigned in 1875 stating that “however, well we may build up the University, its foundations are unstable, because dependent on legislative control and popular clamor,” according to a 1977 UCLA Law Review article by Professor Harold Horowitz. Soon after Gilman’s resignation, UC was granted autonomy through the 1879 Constitution.

Some CSU leaders, well familiar with mandated Legislative oversight, say it would be a mistake to impose the same on UC. Because of its required ties with the state, CSU has had to deal, for example, with everything from legislative regulations on what kind of cars to buy its police officers to extra hurdles instituting new academic programs.

Karen Zamarripa, CSU’s assistant vice chancellor for advocacy and state relations, said that legislators are not familiar enough with the institutions to set policy, such as the level of raises that should be allowed. That should be left to the governing boards, which she noted at CSU has members appointed by the governor and approved by two-thirds vote by the state senate. At UC, confirmation of regents requires only a majority vote by the state Senate.

Zamarripa said that she has seen very few instances where UC has not complied with legislative requests. Although the state’s share of UC’s budget has shrunk dramatically – to about 15 percent of its overall $19 billion budget – the system still depends on legislative-approved state funds. This means that lawmakers can simply pull on those purse strings, if they want something done.

“What they really want to do is get into the micromanagement of the organization, and that has not been helpful for us,” Zamarripa said. “I’m not sure what they get here except to interfere in areas that are not appropriate. They have control of UC’s budget and they can publicly pressure them.”

UC’s autonomy has concrete impacts in recruiting academic and research talent, as well. Instead of being part of the state retirement program, UC has its own retirement system, which has been a major tool in recruitment and retention.

The controversial bill, SCA 21, is authored by Senators Yee, (D-San Francisco), Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) and Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), and introduced in the assembly as ACA 24 by Assembly members Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert) and Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada Flintridge). It faces a long road, requiring approval of two-thirds of the Legislature and then a vote of the people. So its passage is uncertain.

However, former UC Regent Velma Montoya predicted that, “UC likely will learn how much it has fallen in favor with legislators, and by extension with voters, by not sufficiently cleaning house.”

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There are 4 comments for this post

  1. avatar Desert Observer says:

    The last line, “UC likely will learn how much it has fallen in favor with legislators, and by extension with voters, by not sufficiently cleaning house.”, pretty much sums up the UC public relations problems. The perception of their arrogance combined with “public be damned” policies may indeed prove their undoing. At this point, barring evidence of major change in UC management attitude, I’d be one voting in favor of shifting some control over to the state. The State University system doesn’t appear to have suffered from legislative oversight.

    • avatar mikesilva says:

      First, the article specifically mentioned meddling on the part of the legislature.

      Second, the CSU is not a research university. That is the purview of the UC system. I don’t want a Republican controlled legislature, consisting of anti-science jihadis and the scientific method and objective reasoning challenged EVER having control of UC research. It will kill the University.

  2. avatar KBirdeau says:

    UC Regents and executives have thumbed their noses at legislators (elected and term limits), Californians (tricked by higher education cloak), and parents/students (vulnerable easy targets) for the past 10 years. They continue their lies and PR talks with impunity. Well connected inner circles continue to dole out cushy jobs and benefits/perks/2nd, third retirement to friends. Executives continue to hire Executive Assistants after retirement, paying six figure compensations to these assistants. Managers are hired based more on personal connections than solid credentials. Yes, UC and CSU need supervision big time. CSU’s Barry Munitz carried the CSU ethics (or lack thereof) to Getty Trust, then got rehired at CSU despite faculty uproar, after being investigated for lavish spending at Getty by attorney general. Even a private trust can not tolerate that kind of behavior, but somehow UC and CSU, funded by public money, continue to get away with lavish perks and corruptions and the white wash lies. ‘Sacrificying clarity for brevity”? Thou must be joking. They have lost all senses of shame and conscience.


    • avatar mikesilva says:

      Or perhaps the state needs to elect better governors. The vast majority of the regents, who ultimately manage UC, are appointees of Schwarzenegger. I don’t think any of these scandals are really that horrible. They are mostly just finger wagging exercises for the easily distracted alcolytes of Republicans, that like to bitch about government excess, without actually having any sense of scale, if they even know what they are talking about.

      Further, it’s a tad curious that you say both, “…UC and CSU need supervision big time.” The article clearly states the fact that the latter of these already has direct legislative control, so I’m not really sure how the failure of that management system in the CSU case means that imposing the same structure on UC will lead to the glorious holy grail of ‘good management’ you wish for.

      As for the enormous salaries you obviously quake with rage over, the first article you cite list a salary that’s not exorbitantly high, if you have any sense of context. One it’s the Bay Area, two many lower echelon Silicon Valley engineers, or managers of much smaller enterprises than UC, make salaries equivalent to that, if not more.

      As for the severance, who cares. $100,000 in the context of the state budget, and how many people were in the Voluntary Separation Program is peanuts. You are obviously someone that doesn’t know the first thing about the UC system. The Office of the President and the campuses run off separate budgets, because for all intents and purposes they are separate entities. Why? Because there is some value in each campus being able to run it’s own affairs in the way that makes sense for it’s location and conception of it’s mission. Diversity in the system is a good thing. The Presidents Office sets the high level guidelines for the system, but with respect to campus hiring that’s under the purview of each campus’ chancellor. Yes, Williams took a new job in the UC system, but for all intents and purposes at what would be a separate company or subsidiary in the private sector. And in the private sector, she would have gotten the same sort of severance payout.

      Finally, it seems somewhat misplaced to get all aflutter over UC managers acting like their private sector brethren, when you have a Regents Board packed to the gills with Republican corporatist appointees. I assume you are Republican, and aren’t you folks all in favor of the “greed is good” principle…even when, as this case shows, the greed is relatively small scale? Or do you guys only like greed in the private sector, and the people that work in the public sector are supposed to spend their lives groveling for crumbs instead of being compensated in kind?

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