Bills on California’s Public Universities Await Action from Brown

Five bills passed by the California Legislature during the 2011-2012 legislative session have been awaiting final action by Governor Jerry Brown to make them into laws. Brown will have an opportunity to act on passed bills dealing with issues concerning the state’s public university system until this coming Sunday. If Brown signs off on the new proposals, they will add transparency to the process the UC system uses to raise tuition, bring down the overall price of textbooks, and provide additional healthcare options to many student athletes.

The first measure, AB 970, will offer a recommendation to UC and CSU boards to notify and consult with student government representatives up to six months prior to finalizing any tuition increases. The proposal drew strong support from both the California State Student Association and UC Student Association, but was initially opposed by the universities themselves. After several provisions were introduced that softened the language and gave the schools “outs” in cases of sudden state budget cuts, the university governing boards withdrew their opposition.

SB 1052, together with SB1053, attempts to engage the university in an effort to design open source textbooks for up to fifty of its most popular undergraduate courses. The courses should be selected by a group of faculty members from the entire California public university system, and the books should be made available in electronic format to all students cheaply or free of charge.

Although the creation of the textbook database has the potential to bring down the costs substantially, according to at least one UC student, it doesn’t go quite far enough. Jacquie Lu, who is a senior at UC Berkeley points out that e-books require digital hardware that might be out of reach for some of the poorer students in state’s universities, although she admitted that this would still be a step in the right direction.

SB 1525:
This bill expands scholarship and health care provisions for student-athletes at university athletic programs that draw an average of $10 million in annual revenue from media rights starting in the 2013-2014 academic year.
According to Cal Athletics Communications Director Herb Benenson, the campus athletics department already offers its athletes the benefits outlined in the bill. UC Berkeley already covers athletic injuries for up to two years, even if the student-athlete has left the campus, according to a bill analysis by the state Senate Appropriations Committee.

Last weekend, Brown made his decision on at least one of the bills in front of him by vetoing AB 2132, which would have made faculty community service a criteria in evaluating tenure and promotion applications. Brown said that the request by the legislature was unnecessary because universities already consider such efforts in the course of reviewing candidates.

SB 1289:
This bill calls for the state’s three higher education systems to include information about federal student loans, such as the availability of these loans to students from all income brackets, in financial aid literature starting in January 2013.

At the moment it is difficult to predict how Brown will act on the bills that remain to be signed or vetoed, but in either case, since the law allows the UC system a fair amount of legislative independence, the recommendations proposed by the legislature will be adopted only if deemed appropriate by the UC Board of Regents.