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Blue-and-gold day at Capitol

By Dave Jones on April 6, 2007 in University

SACRAMENTO -- UC administrators, faculty, staff, students and alumni converged on this capital city last week to declare loudly to legislators and anyone else within earshot: "California, the nation and the world need UC."

On an overwhelmingly blue-and-gold day, the "citizen lobbyists" participating in UC Day on March 27 touted the university's contributions to society, implored legislators to keep UC accessible and affordable, and asked for continued state funding to help prepare students for college.

Some of the lobbyists shared personal stories. Like UC Davis alumna Ria de Grassi, who told of her cancer-stricken mother, seemingly written off by doctors in Mendocino County, where she lives.

"Had it not been for the can-do attitude of the UC Davis Cancer Center, my mother would not be here today," de Grassi, '83 bachelor's degree and '87 master's, told a legislative aide in a hallway meeting.

UC President Robert Dynes gave a "can-do" example of his own, noting how UC Berkeley came out on top in a recent global competition for a $500 million grant for research into alternative energy sources. That amount, Dynes said, doubles the world's investment in alternative fuels research.

Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed budget for 2007-08 includes $40 million worth of bonds to go with the grant money from British Petroleum. "So, for $40 million, we turned a profit of half a billion," Dynes told a crowd of about 250 at a morning rally.

Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef, meeting later with the UC Davis delegation, touted one of the Davis campus's grant successes: $25 million from Chevron Corp., also for alternative fuels research. And he talked up the UC Davis Health System's telemedicine program by which the university shares its expertise with physicians and their patients in distant locales.

In sending the delegates across the street to the Capitol, Vanderhoef asked them to spread the word about how UC innovation "makes a difference in my life, in my community."

Dynes boasted of the UC system's commitment to research, development and delivery of new technology and products.

"We will keep California the most vibrant economy in the world, with the best quality of life," Dynes said. And, he added, people around the world will continue to say, "We want to be like California."

Band-uh! delivers wake-up call

Dynes' comments at the Sheraton Grand Sacramento Hotel came after a stirring 9 a.m. wake-up call by the Cal Aggie Marching Band-uh! Playing "Sons of California," the Aggie musicians marched into the lobby, down the stairs and into the ballroom where the delegates from around the state had assembled.

Dynes asked his lobbying corps to "tell your own stories" when meeting with legislators. "Tell them what UC means to you, how it affected your life."

In response to a question, he addressed the executive compensation controversy that drew legislative scorn last year. UC aggressively tackled the secrecy issue, he said. "We took every bit of compensation for everybody and put it in the public domain."

On student fees, Dynes said the university over the last several years has enacted increases — including a minimum of 7 percent for 2007-08 -- "because the Legislature keeps cranking down the amount of money the university gets."

"What we've done is put an awful lot" of the added revenue into student aid programs, he said, so students from families with incomes of less than $60,000 annually will not pay next year's fee hike, and students from families making $60,000 to $100,000 annually will pay only half.

UC Davis law professor John Oakley, chair of the systemwide Academic Senate, commented later that UC must provide sufficient resources "to help students get what they are entitled to." Otherwise, he said, financial aid will be like rebate forms that people never send in.

'Squeezing out the middle class'

Some students and their families are in the gap where they make more than the minimum to qualify for financial aid, but still could use some help. Simply stated, the UC fee structure is "squeezing out the middle class," said Talia MacMath, a second-year student at UC Davis, where she is majoring in political science.

She made her comment during a meeting with Ana Rodriguez, an aide to MacMath's state senator, Patricia Wiggins, a Democrat from Santa Rosa.

MacMath, a member of ASUCD's Lobby Corps, urged support for Assembly Bill 152, which would establish a prepaid tuition plan. "It would lock in a rate, so parents and grandparents could start contributing as soon as you were born," she said.

State Sen. Dave Cox, R-Sacramento, addressing the fee issue with another UC delegate, said students have always complained about fees. He said a UC education remains a good value, "better than anything else in the nation."

Elsewhere in the Capitol, UC's lobbyists pressed hard on restoration of state money for the university's academic preparation programs. A fact sheet from the university noted how the programs reach more than 116,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and in community colleges.

"That's one way of overcoming this idea that UC is elitist and not diverse enough," alumni Larry Moskowitz told a legislative aide. Moskowitz graduated from Santa Cruz in 1974 and went on to earn a law degree at Boalt Hall on the Berkeley campus.

In 2006-07, UC's academic preparation programs budget is $31.3 million, including $19.3 million from the state. The state money was a bonus from Sacramento, inserted into the spending plan during legislative negotiations.

Schwarzenegger had included no such money in his draft budget for 2006-07, and he similarly proposed zero in his 2007-08 budget proposal. Now UC is hoping to get back the $19.3 million.

The academic preparation programs are successful, Dynes said, and he gave an example from a visit to Watsonville High School. He said he met with students in a UC program called Math and Engineering Science Achievement, or MESA, and "they are really pumped up about science."

"They were talking to me about college, where they were going to go, even graduate school. One of the students explained the Bernoulli Principle, which tells why airplanes fly. "He didn't know I was a professor of physics. And he got it right."

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,