At her first University of California Board of Regents meeting as UC president, Janet Napolitano today proposed a tuition freeze and announced several new initiatives, including one aimed at making the 10-campus system a model of energy efficiency.
Kicking off the second day of this week's UC Regents meeting at UCSF's Mission Bay campus, the former Homeland Security secretary highlighted the need to make the university more affordable.
She said the university should pursue a new tuition policy to keep students' costs down and make a UC education more accessible to a wider range of students.
Napolitano proposed a tuition freeze during the 2014-15 academic year in order to cap student fees while the university works to create the new policy.
If approved, it would be the third consecutive year of tuition freezes, university officials said.
"I want tuition to be as low as possible and I want it to be as predictable as possible," she said.
While she noted that half of UC students are able to fully cover tuition costs with financial aid, and another 20 percent get at least some financial aid, Napolitano said a new tuition policy would protect against unpredictable spikes in student fees like those experienced by many UC students in the wake of the Great Recession.
She said the policy would depend largely on support from Sacramento in addition to private grant funding, and that cost-cutting measures would have to be enacted.
"It's going to take all of us fighting together, and we will," the new president said during a press briefing this afternoon.
One model the university may consider is known as cohort tuition, in which freshmen enter college with the reassurance that tuition won't increase dramatically during their four years as undergraduates.
The new tuition guidelines would not come to the board until after January, said Nathan Brostrom, the university's executive vice president for business operations.
Additionally, she said, UC needs to focus on streamlining the transfer process for students coming to the university system from community colleges.
The university must do more to broaden its outreach to the more than 100 community colleges statewide, and to boost the success of those students, Napolitano said.
"We will need to grow this university to accommodate these students, so that transfers are not supplanting high school graduates who have earned their shot," she said.
Napolitano said she also wants to see the UC pursue initiatives that would apply university research to address global problems, and called for the UC system to become a "zero-net" consumer by 2025.
"We will have created as much energy as we use, and the energy we use will be clean energy," she said.
The new UC president had previously announced the allocation of $15 million to go toward services for undocumented students, graduate student recruitment and post-doctoral fellowships.
Her statements of support for undocumented students clashed with some protesters' concerns in recent months about how the record number of deportations during her tenure as Homeland Security secretary would translate during her time as UC president.
The new president has been greeted at a number of appearances in recent weeks by protesters decrying her immigration record and demanding she be replaced as UC president.
At today's meeting, Napolitano faced another set of protesters -- about four dozen members of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 3299 -- who voted two weeks ago to authorize their second strike since May.
AFSCME Local 3299, which represents about 22,000 UC patient care and support staff at the university's five hospitals, say they will walk off the job on Nov. 20 to protest intimidation and bullying from UC managers toward workers who have objected to what they say are dangerously low staffing levels.
Union members wearing green AFSCME T-shirts chanted "Whose university? Our university!" as they stood up and walked out of the conference room where today's regents meeting was held.
"This is fundamentally a strike about whether workers have a voice in the workplace," said Todd Stenhouse, a union spokesman.
He said that while the local and university management have made headway over negotiations on wages, pensions and benefits, the union will not compromise on safety issues or put up with illegal intimidation.
"What we would suggest is that lawbreakers should be held accountable," Stenhouse said. "UC's got a new president, and that new president should establish a culture that honors the collective bargaining rights of workers."
United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents graduate student instructors and other UC academic employees, voted on Tuesday to authorize a strike in solidarity with AFSCME, the local announced today. UC nurses affiliated with the California Nurses Association have also authorized a sympathy strike.