UC President Takes Heat Over Hikes And Cuts

The University of California has raised tuition by 32 percent, reduced employee salaries 4 to 10 percent and curtailed freshman enrollment among other actions. Students have staged angry protests, even picketing the home of UC President Mark Yudof. Host Scott Simon talks to Yudof about the effects of the recession on the 10-campus UC system.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

We're joined now in the studio by Mark Yudof, who's president of University of California. President Yudof oversees 10 campuses around the state and a budget of more than $20 billion.

Mr. President, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. MARK YUDOF (President, University of California): Thank you for inviting me.

SIMON: University of California system has raised - they dont say tuition fees, by 32 percent.

Mr. YUDOF: Yes, sir.

SIMON: Reduced employee salaries, curtailed freshman enrollment. That invites the question: How does that square with the mission of a public university?

Mr. YUDOF: Well, let me start by saying this is a fabulous university and my mission is to preserve and protect and to defend the University of California. That's what I do every morning. And in May of last year, my budget was cut 20 percent, the core budget, which was around $3 billion. So we had to do some things which I genuinely hated to do, which were genuinely unpopular, which have caused suffering among our students and our faculty.

So I would say it's not consistent with our mission. It's not what I want to do. It's not what the faculty wants, but it's necessary to preserve the place. So we had a progressive furlough program; lower salaried people had a four percent reduction in salary; people like me had a 10 percent. We raised tuition 30 percent plus to a little over $10,000. It's still a fabulous buy. With the California grants and the Pell grants from the federal government and the Obama tax credits for '09, '10, three quarters of all families below $180,000 in family income did not pay any of the fee increase.

So its not a trajectory we can stay on forever, and I think ultimately it may hurt the middle class more than the low income students. There's more financial aid available to them.

SIMON: For low income students, yeah.

Mr. YUDOF: But it's really the best we can do under very difficult circumstances.

SIMON: You enjoyed such a distinguished background at the University of Texas, University of Minnesota before that. Would you have taken the California job if you'd known this was ahead?

Mr. YUDOF: You know, I've thought about that a lot and I think I would. I mean people write to me from other universities and say, Mark, you have to succeed. And they dont mean me personally. What they mean is, if the University of California is in danger, the whole system of public higher education in America is at risk.

UC Berkeley has more Academy members than the whole state of Texas. Last time around, the Nobel Prizes in economics and medicine were University of California people. This is a magnificent institution with a magnificent faculty, and I think that's worth doing. I mean it gives me a purpose in life. I really wish we had surplus money and I were worried about different initiatives. I would certainly like to expand our enrollment rather than contracting it. I think that's partly closing down on opportunity faculty.

But I think I would've taken the job. And you get to hang out with really great people. We have great students. Now, it has its trying moments sometimes with a demonstration here or there, but its a fabulous job and I'm really glad to be there.

SIMON: Whats your vision for the University of California system five years from now?

Mr. YUDOF: Well, my vision is that we will stabilize our finances, we will retain our faculty, we will renew faculty hiring. I guess I'd say we're on the right trajectory in the sense of a hundred year trajectory, not the last two years. I dont know what the future holds in terms of the financial model. It's broke. We get more expensive over time. That's been the history of the last 10 years.

They wake up in Sacramento and say that, you know, it's - you need prisons and you need to take care of your prison population. We need public safety. But that's not going to make us competitive around the world, for having the best prison system. We need to cultivate the idea...

SIMON: To finish your sentence - the implication being that University of California education system will make it competitive...

Mr. YUDOF: Will make a competitive difference.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. YUDOF: Because its like your seed corn, is what I was going to say. You need the human infrastructure. California and in general this nation will never be the low cost employer. It will never be a deregulated economy. We care about lots of things. I mean who wants to cut out dental care for low income people? That's a horrible result. But in the end, you have to grow the economy and it seems to me education is the smart bet to do that.

SIMON: Mark Yudof, president of the University of California. Thanks so much.

Mr. YUDOF: Thank you, sir.

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