Thursday, July 28, 2011

State Releases Audit of UC System

After more than a year of research and investigation, the state auditor has released her audit of the UC system. The major findings can be found in the following passage: “the university budgeted widely varying amounts to its 10 campuses. For fiscal year 2009–10, the per-student budget amount ranged from $12,309 for the Santa Barbara campus to $55,186 for the San Francisco campus. Although the university identified four factors that it believes contributed to the differing budget amounts, it did not quantify their effects. The university can also improve the transparency of its financial operations. Although the university publishes annually a report of the campuses’ financial schedules, it could provide other information including beginning and ending balances for individual funds and could publish consistent information for its auxiliary enterprises. We further reported that the Office of the President needs to more precisely track about $1 billion of expenses annually that it currently tracks in a single accounting code—Miscellaneous Services—and that a recent change in university policy allows campuses to subsidize auxiliary enterprises with funding from other sources, despite the intent that they be self-supporting. Finally, we discovered two instances when the university designated $23 million in student funding to pay for capital projects on the Los Angeles campus that were not authorized by the student referendum establishing the fee.” These findings reveal that the UC has been covertly redistributing state funds and student tuition dollars without the knowledge of student, parents, and taxpayers. Moreover, while the UC has improved aspects of its budget transparency, there still is a great deal of money that cannot be traced. In short, the UC fails to act like a public institution because it does not provide important information to the public.

In its response to these criticisms, the UC argues that its budgetary system is simply too complex to explain, and a more detailed analysis of its spending and funding would require many staff hours and years to gather: “I cannot help but comment on the extraordinary time and effort – and considerable expense on the part of the BSA and the University – that went into this audit, which in the end found only minor issues to address. We are proud of the fact that we have come through this review with validation of so many of our procedures and policies which in recent years have come under considerable public scrutiny. But, at what cost? I urge the Legislative Audit Committee to require those who seek to use the limited audit resources of the State to provide more evidence of malfeasance than innuendo and presupposition behind their requests.” The UC clearly does not get it if they think that the audit only dealt with “minor issues” like the secret redistribution of state funds and student tuition or the inability of the system to track its own expenses.

In response to UC’s response, the auditor retorts: “We appreciate the university’s concern about the trade‐off in staff time to implement this recommendation. In that light, the university may wish to consider implementing a Web site similar to the one we created that contains supplemental accounting information we obtained during this audit. On our Web site, we present a link (‐105/) to information related to public funding from the university’s corporate financial system related to fund categories; fund groups; and funds that includes beginning balances, revenues, expenses, transfers, and ending balances. Our information technology team created this Web site using fewer than 60 hours of staff time. We therefore fail to see why the university believes it needs between 12 and 18 months to review and implement this recommendation.” As the auditor implies, on the one hand, the system says that it highly transparent, and at the same time, they argue that they cannot afford to clarify their complicated budgetary system.

In one of the more surprising findings in the audit, we found out that the regents have the authority to use any student voted fees for any purpose the regents want to pursue: “According to the Office of the President, referendum results are advisory under Section 84.20 of the policy, and the regents retain ultimate authority under the State Constitution to impose or modify any and all student fees, including those established by campus‐based referenda.” So if the students vote to fund a learning center, the regents can use the money to fund a new athletic center.

Speaking of athletics, the regents have also authorized a change in policy that allows self-supporting auxiliaries to be funded by multiple funding sources: “Campuses are provided the flexibility to organize and manage their auxiliary operations to meet their individual needs under the University’s Business and Finance Bulletin A-72, Establishment of Auxiliary Enterprises (BFB-72). Generally, auxiliaries are self-supporting, although they are not required to be self-supporting. Other appropriate funds can be used to support auxiliary organizations at the discretion of the chancellor. Donor gifts are an example of funds from other appropriate sources that may be used to support an auxiliary organization. Funds from other sources are only used when permitted.” In other words, self-supporting entities don’t have to be self-supporting.

Turning to the most controversial aspect of the report, the auditor points out that the campuses serving the most under-represented students also get the lowest level of findings. While it is understandable that the university objects to this conclusion, they cannot object to the facts. Whatever the cause, the reality is that Black and Hispanic students may be receiving an inferior education because their tuition dollars are going to support non-under-represented professional students on other campuses. A more accurate description of this situation is that a side-effect of undergraduates subsidizing graduate and professional students on other campuses is that under-represented students are being under-funded.

As the report indicates, the UC is going through the process of changing its funding streams so that campuses get to keep their tuition dollars and other revenue; however, the university still has not figured out what to do about state funds, which make up for most of the inequity caused by redistribution. Furthermore, the UC has argued that the new funding model will be revenue neutral, which means that the wealthy campuses will remain wealthy, while the poor campuses stay poor.

On a positive note, the auditor calls for the UC to distinguish among the costs of undergraduate, graduate, and professional education: “As part of its reexamination of the base budget, it should . . . identify the amount of revenues from the general funds and tuition budget that each campus receives for specific types of students (such as undergraduate, graduate, and health sciences) and explain any differences in the amount provided per student among the campuses.” If the UC does clarify these difference, we can begin to see how the university is really spending its money.

More later.

Click here for UC’s counter-productive spin


  1. also this story, for context, on the racial aspects as they relate to the audit findings,: Wealth Gap Rises to Record Highs Between Racial Groups -- very disturbing. Yet UC media relations and Yudoff wants to 'sing zippity doo dah' and some of the press need it spoon fed to them to understand... let us hope that others will dig deeper into this report. now, we- as a state- can't say that we were not told.

  2. While the distribution of funds is away from the poorer campuses to the wealthier ones, it is not clear that undergraduates on the poorer campuses are worse off than the ones on the wealthier campuses, since the money is going to the graduate and professional schools. I would be willing to bet that undergraduates are being shortchanged almost equally on all the campuses.

  3. All your complaints about capital financing, management salaries and fee diversions don't withstand an actual examination by somebody with expertise.

    (True, they did find $23M of arguable allocations of expense, a small fraction of a percent. Victory is yours on that one! But you were wrong on the things that matter in a multi-billion dollar operation)

    It must be tough to be that wrong and not have the guts to even admit it in your summary of the report.


  4. Actually, anonymous, if you read the audit, it does show problems with fee diversion, and it did not touch on questions concerning capital funding or management salaries. However, the UC will have to report on its compliance to the audit's request for more transparency. Also, perhaps you are not bothered by $6 billion in undefined spending, but others feel this is an important issue. Moreover, it was never the intent of the audit to find fraud and abuse; we are simply asking for budget transparency.

  5. Chancellors, Faculty University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley) have cleaned up at the expense of students, California taxpayers. Californians face mortgage defaults, 12% unemployment, pay reductions, loss of unemployment benefits. UC Berkeley shares sacrifices? No Chancellor, Faculty layoffs or wage concessions. UC Berkeley tuition, fee increases are arrogance. If wages better elsewhere, chancellors, vice chancellors, tenured, non tenured faculty, UCOP apply for positions. If wages are what commit you to Cal, leave for better paying job.
    UC Berkeley wages must reflect California's ability to pay, not what others are paid. There is no good reason to raise tuition, fees during the longest, deepest recession in USA history when wage concessions available from Chancellors, Faculty. The sky will not fall on UC Berkeley.
    Share the sacrifices UC Berkeley Faculty, Vice Chancellors, Provost, Chancellor:
    No furloughs.
    18 percent reduction in UCOP salaries & $50 million cut.
    18 percent prune of campus chancellors', vice chancellors' salaries.
    15 percent trim of tenured faculty salaries, increase teaching load.
    10 percent decrease non-tenured faculty salaries, increase research, teaching load.
    100% elimination of all Academic Senate, Academic Council costs, wages.

    (17,000 UC paid employees earn more than $100,000)

    UC Board of Regents Chair Sherry Lansing can bridge public trust gap with reassurances salaries of Chancellors, Faculty reflect depressed California wages.
    With UC’s shared sacrifices, sky will not fall on the 10 campuses.

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