Students are circulating a petition to ask that the University of California be more transparent about tuition breakdowns, following the controversial state audit report that revealed the UC administration withheld nearly $175 million in budget reserve funds.
Third year economics major Andrew Kitchner began a Change.org petition on May 9 in an attempt to raise awareness for the issue — and force action on it. Kitchner called for an annual breakdown of student fee allocations at UCSB, as well as an online public platform for inquiries about the topic. As of press time, it had garnered 118 signatures.
“I’m not somebody who thinks that the UC system is trying to cover up anything,” Kitchner told The Bottom Line on Tuesday. “I just want there to be two things: an increase in transparency and also an avenue for the public to inquire about how money is being spent.”
The California State Auditor first released the audit April 25. Among other things, the report included that the UC system overpays top administrators compared to state employees. It also found that the UC pays its top administrators a combined $2.5 million more than the maximum salaries at other comparable positions. UC President Janet Napolitano denied hiding funds in a letter, disputing the true amount of funds available and the nature of the reserve.
In the weeks since, much has been reported about the UC Office of the President’s failure to disclose $25 million in travel, catering, and entertainment expenses. The Office of the President has also been accused of interfering with the audit process. During the audit, confidential surveys were sent out to each UC campus. The Office of the President improperly interfered with the surveys by screening the answers and suggesting changes.
On May 11, the UC Board of Regents authorized the hiring of an independent investigator to assist in any findings, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Kitchner’s petition calls for UC administration to open more doors to communication with students.
“For us, as students, I believe it’s vital for us to be informed as to how our tuition/campus fees are being allocated,” the petition reads. “Financial transparency should not be withheld from the student body, but rather, it should be proudly, openly, and honestly displayed as evidence of our administration’s desire…to demonstrate their competency.”
Every time the petition is signed, an email will be sent to the UCOP, Chancellor Henry T. Yang, and the financial staff at UCSB, Kitchner said. His goal is to show student support for the petition more directly.
“It is pressure on the administration,” Kitchner said, “but it’s not extortion. At the root of it, it is pressure to create dialogue, which I think they should push for.”
Aside from the student-led efforts, no action has yet been taken by the State of California, likely because there has not yet been an official release regarding the findings. Any potential action is contingent on the results of the May 18 hearing, according to investigator Howle.
“I’m sure that regents had the best interest of their students in mind when they decided they had to increase tuition, but they didn’t know there was a reserve amount out there that could have covered a portion of that tuition increase, reduced the amount, or maybe eliminated it completely,” Howle told the Los Angeles Times.
Kitchner believes the petition will reach its goal.
“Once we can get to around 250 signatures,” he said, “I think we will have a base of legitimacy, and then I can start talking to administrators with more support.” He said if the administration sees that the student body — which funds much of the UC — speaking out, it will call attention to the issue.