George Mason Law School

UC is fighting budget cuts, should we?

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September 29, 2009

1:34 AM

The College of William and Mary may be hurting, but we aren’t alone. Last Thursday, thousands of students, staff and faculty members in the University of California system canceled class, signed petitions and rallied in protest of dramatic cuts to the state support of the universities, which were introduced by the state of California as a response to its $26 billion fiscal deficit. This incident underlines the precarious position of public higher education in the current recession and exactly what schools from the UC system to the College can do about it.

For the College, the plight of other elite state schools is even more acute, as the cuts recently introduced by Gov. Tim Kaine put support from Richmond at a record low of 13.7 percent of our operating budget. Like the UC system, the College must continue to scramble for alternate sources of funding in an economic climate in which philanthropy is the first thing to go. According to the College’s 2009 Six-Year Institutional Plan, alternate funding will be solicited from “individuals, foundations and corporations” and from “external funding agencies” where appropriate, especially in support of research and development goals.

To this end, the administration has proposed some innovative ways to cope with the budget shortfall, such as a proposed faculty-student research initiative that would open up 390 undergraduate student research opportunities by 2010 and attract high-profile external grants.

Of course, foundational issues — not individual initiatives — lie at the heart of the current crisis. The numbers are discouraging: Tuition was raised 5 percent for in-staters this academic year, and another mid-year increase is not out of the question. On the faculty side, Gov. Kaine has introduced a one-day furlough, likely to occur the day before Memorial Day, for all state employees. In addition, the $2.7 million in stimulus funds that can be shifted from fiscal year 2011 to the current year would cover less than half of the current gap. Despite these challenges, the administration hopes to maintain a 6 percent annual growth in external funding following the success of the Fund for William and Mary and promises to increase financial aid commensurate with tuition hikes.

While these steps will buoy the College through the current economic crisis, the student body and administration must prioritize outlining a more permanent solution, which recently has featured talks about privatization. A new financial model would most likely stop short at completely severing ties with Richmond, but at other elite state schools — such as the University of Michigan and the University of Colorado — quasi-privatization has been discussed as a way out.

Legislative red tape and the tradition of public education in Virginia would make full privatization nearly unthinkable, but institutions such as the University of Virginia’s School of Law have already enacted de facto self control over all financial matters without severing public ties with the commonwealth. Even the UC system, a model for the implementation of public higher education, is adopting the higher-tuition, higher-financial aid model of private universities through their new Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, which would provide increased financial aid to students with family incomes under $60,000 a year.

Uneasiness accompanies any monetary discussion — from tuition hikes to budget cuts — but failing to at least open a dialogue on what the administration’s next step should be will cause an equal amount of unrest as the College sinks into more dire financial straits. As we watch universities such as UC and Michigan struggle, students and faculty must begin to consider how much we are willing to endure before protest becomes necessary.

E-mail Alexa McClanahan at [email protected]

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