Big UC changes may come from private ‘Committee of Two’ meetings 

brown and napolitanoIronically, in the midst of Sunshine Week, designed to create more open government and freedom of information, the “Committee of Two” considering the financial situation of the UC system – Gov. Jerry Brown and University of California President Janet Napolitano – are not forthcoming in revealing details about their negotiations. Despite protests to the contrary, this may be a necessary thing.

Yesterday at the UC Regents’ meeting in San Francisco, both Brown and Napolitano did a two-step around whatever progress is being made in their talks about the proposed tuition increase. Napolitano and the Regents supported tuition increases if the university system did not get more money from the state. Brown refused to be bullied.

Now the two are working on a plan that will try to re-set some university finances without raising tuition or dramatically increasing the state’s contribution. Not an easy task, but they claim they are making progress.

That doesn’t stop critics from demanding the negotiations be more open. As one student was quoted in the Sacramento Bee, “We need a committee that not just represents a committee of two, but a committee of 240,000,” referring to the number of students in the system.

University business

Are private talks setting government plans ever the way to go? Historians have suggested that, if the United States Constitution was cobbled together in open meetings the document would be much different and, they suggest, not better.

Tackling tuition hikes is not the same as constitution writing. However, to continue the broad analogy, what comes out of these private meetings may set a course of change for the way the university does business, just as the long ago constitution-writers went beyond their original assignment of fixing the Articles of Confederation.

I know – a little bit of a grandiose comparison.  But it is quite possible the UC system might look and feel quite different if the negotiators come to an agreement and any proposed changes are approved after debate. Online courses, larger teaching loads for professors and a shorter time to graduation all may alter the university experience as we have come to know it over the last few decades.

Whatever the Committee of Two comes up with would have to withstand vigorous public debate. There is no guarantee any Committee of Two proposal will pass the test. I served on a half-dozen state commissions over the years and few commission recommendations were turned into state policy.

Pensions

One big issue that is affecting all government-related organizations is employee pensions and health costs. When the issue of raising tuition first surfaced, the university’s financial division pointed to pension costs as one of the culprits. That issue must also be part of the negotiations, along with rising retiree health care costs.

We will see if the Committee of Two can come up with any solutions on the pension/health care front that succeed and maybe set the course for reform in this area for other government entities.

One suspects big changes are coming to the UC system. Getting the ball rolling is happening in private.

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