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August 11, 2003
Volume 81, Number 32
CENEAR 81 32 pp. 26-27
ISSN 0009-2347


ACADEMIC BUDGET CRISIS IN CALIFORNIA
Budget cuts and tuition increases at universities lead to concerns about long-term impact

JYLLIAN KEMSLEY, C&EN WEST COAST BUREAU

After months of anxiety and turmoil, international press attention, and a 29-hour marathon session of the state Assembly, California finally has a budget. And it's not pretty. In the final version signed on Aug. 2 by Gov. Gray Davis, legislators slashed $5.4 billion from the state budget, leaving behind $71 billion in spending and a $7.9 billion deficit to carry over to next year.

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SURREAL As the state cuts millions from the UC budget, the Irvine campus is adding 460,000 sq ft of new space for physical and natural sciences. UC IRVINE PHOTO

The situation bodes ill for higher education in California. Included in the new budget are cuts of about 10% to the two state university systems--California State University (CSU) and the University of California (UC)--on top of midyear cuts already implemented. At a time when both systems had planned to grow significantly in response to increased student demand, the legislature indicated it would provide no funds for enrollment growth, salary increases, or inflation in 2004–05.

"This will be the first time in memory that we would turn qualified students away from the University of California," says Kenneth J. Shea, professor and chair of chemistry at UC Irvine. A systemwide enrollment cap is also unprecedented for CSU.

To cope with the cuts, both systems are raising student fees dramatically for next year. "Fees" are California's in-state tuition. CSU is raising fees 30% for 2003–04. UC students face a fee hike of 45% above fall 2002 levels. Additional tuition for UC students who aren't California residents is also going up by 10%.

But the fee increases will only mitigate some of the damage, and the budget crunch is also affecting chemistry and chemical engineering departments throughout the state. "We had a 10% cut for the end half of 2002–03," says professor Carl Carrano, chair of the chemistry department at San Diego State. "We're preparing for at least a 10 to 15% cut for 2003–04. And 2004–05 is supposed to look even worse." The department has halved its lecturer staff and reduced the number of classes offered, making it more difficult for students to complete graduation requirements. Also slashed is the departmental budget for supplies such as dry ice and solvents.

Other campuses are facing similar cuts. "We are very close to having to cancel some classes that are expensive to teach," says Ronald L. Marhenke, professor and chair of chemistry at CSU Fresno. His department has already restricted enrollment in advanced organic and biochemistry labs.

And although some departments are still hiring, new professors may face a rocky start. "We've had some serious problems" with access to start-up funds at San Diego State, Carrano tells C&EN. "It has been very disruptive for people trying to get their research programs off the ground."

The situation appears somewhat less dire at UC campuses. "At this point, it does not look nearly as draconian as you would picture," says Stanley B. Grant, professor and chair of chemical engineering and materials science at UC Irvine. "We're still kind of reacting, waiting for the dust to settle." His department is looking at cuts in supplies, undergraduate equipment, and lecturer positions.

Elsewhere, departments at UC Berkeley had to implement a 5% cut at the beginning of July. "This is a pretty big thing for us, since our permanent budget is 80% salaries," more than half of which covers tenured faculty or long-term employees, says professor Clayton H. Heathcock, dean of the College of Chemistry. Most of the cuts were made through layoffs of support staff such as carpenters, plumbers, and electricians.

But Heathcock is wary of what might happen next. "I'm just kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop," he says. "The upside is that we're resilient, and we've been through these things before, and we won't let it affect us in the long term."

Both UC and CSU department chairmen say their reactions to the current crisis have been tempered by memories of cutbacks in the early 1990s. "It's been at least a decade since all of our funding came from the state," says Emily L. Allen, professor and chair of chemical and materials engineering at San José State.

IT REMAINS to be seen what effect the fee and tuition increase will have on department teaching-assistant budgets or on faculty supporting graduate students through research grants. "I haven't had complaints about that yet," says Stanley M. Parsons, professor and chair of the chemistry and biochemistry department at UC Santa Barbara. "A lot of faculty members will get an unpleasant surprise in September when they have to pay these fees for their students." Parsons himself is counting on a student to finish her Ph.D. this summer, and he's unlikely to take on another this fall. UC Santa Barbara--and other schools--may have to consider accepting fewer graduate students in the future.

Meanwhile, undergraduate enrollments are--or should be--increasing. CSU was planning to grow by 7% in 2003–04 but now needs to cut back to 4%. That number pales in comparison to projected growth at some UC campuses. "Last year, we taught 20% more students in the chemistry department" at UC Irvine, Shea says. Irvine was one of the campuses slated to accept most of the growth in the system, which means Shea's budget hasn't been cut--yet. He expects serious cuts next year when enrollment is curtailed.

Anticipating growth in students and faculty, Irvine is also building. The physical and natural sciences departments will have 460,000 sq ft of new space by the end of 2005. "It's a very weird situation," Shea says. "We have new buildings going up all over, but we're still in the throes of this budget crisis. It's surreal."

Looking at the long-term picture, many faculty members are concerned with the overall health of the CSU and UC systems. Departments have barely recovered from cuts in the early 1990s, only to be faced with shortages again. And although some cuts were listed as temporary, no one expects the state's financial situation to improve substantially in the next several years--and there's still that $7.9 billion deficit that legislators rolled over into next year.

"Short-term budget cuts directly have an effect on the students. Literally, the next day, there are fewer classes," San José State's Allen says. "But with long-term cuts, especially when you can't hire new talent, there's an eroding effect on departments. The whole system degrades."



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