MERCED -- University of California at Merced Chancellor Steve Kang likens his university to a baby, one that still needs milk and tender loving care to survive.
Translation for state legislators: The UC Merced "cannot afford any budget cuts."
That was the message Kang gave three legislators on the state's Assembly Select Committee on Development of a 10th University of California, Merced Campus, who visited the school Thursday.
The state's budget woes and its ripple effects on UC Merced were among the topics Kang and university administrators discussed with the legislators. Although no one knows how the state's projected $16 billion budget deficit through June 2009 will affect UC Merced, Kang said he hopes legislators will help the school weather the storm.
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"We really can't cope with any cuts," Kang said. "If we don't get more support, we cannot hire more professors. If you do not have more professors, you cannot teach more students. It will freeze our student enrollment. We may even lose some students without additional support."
Still, even under the best-case scenario, UC Merced may face substantial cuts. Under the governor's proposed 2008-09 budget, state funding for the University of California system would be reduced by $331.9 million, according to the California Budget Project. Any cuts to UC Merced's and other UC campus budgets would be decided by the UC Office of the President, according Patti Waid Istas, UC Merced spokeswoman.
UC Merced's operating budget in 2007-08 was about $80 million, according to Mary Miller, vice chancellor for administration.
Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, said even with the dire budget predictions, the legislature cannot allow deficits at the state to keep UC Merced from progressing. Galgiani said the opening of the 3-year-old campus was delayed by one year because of previous budget woes.
Other legislators in attendance said they are mindful of the potential effects of the budget crisis on UC Merced. "We don't want the baby to die," Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, told Kang.
Kang said he has received a commitment by the UC Office of the President to protect UC Merced.
Galgiani, Portantino and Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, were the only members of the seven-member committee who attended the meeting.
Supplemental funds discussed
Administrators also discussed the reduction in supplemental state funds facing UC Merced. UC Merced has received $14 million in state supplemental funds each year since the campus opened in 2005. The $14 million state supplement is expected to shrink to $10 million during the 2008-09 fiscal year. The following year, those funds will fall to $5 million until, finally, by 2010 they will disappear.
Those dollars, which go toward the school's general fund to pay operating costs, were initially provided by the state with the intention of helping UC Merced financially with the assumption that the university would reach an enrollment of 5,000 students by 2010. "We think the crossover point should have been a few years later," Miller said.
Miller said UC Merced is continuing talks with the UC Office of the President to find ways to bridge any gaps that may be created by the shrinking state funds. Miller said even though the school will not reach its original goal of 5,000 students by 2010, she's optimistic that UC officials will find solutions. "We're pretty confident that we'll be able to work something out," Miller told legislators.
The committee also received an update from Maria Pallavicini, dean of UC Merced's School of Natural Science, on the plans for a medical school. Pallavicini said administrators will give a presentation on the medical school to UC Regents in May.