The University of California Board of Regents reluctantly approved a new $797.5 million budget for the Office of the President, while questioning the constitutionality of new direct funding from the state Legislature.
Just under $300 million of the budget approved Thursday, during the regents' meeting at the UCSF Mission Bay campus, came directly from the Legislature as part of the state budget deal signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in June.
Previously, state funding for the UC Office of the President, headed by Janet Napolitano, was sent to the 10 campuses, and the president's office collected fees from each campus, giving it complete discretion on how those funds were spent. Now state lawmakers will have more control of those funds.
Increased legislative oversight was one of the recommendations that came out of a damning state audit of the office's budget practices released in April. It found that the Office of the President had "amassed substantial reserve funds, used misleading budgeting practices, provided its employees with generous salaries and atypical benefits, and failed to satisfactorily justify its spending on systemwide initiatives."
At Thursday's meeting, board chair George Kieffer said he agreed with much of what State Auditor Elaine Howle found in her audit, but singled out the Legislature taking direct control of state funding as a "troubling incursion into the board's authority." He and other regents questioned the constitutionality of the move and warned that it could lead to further direct control of the university.
"This is an erosion of our autonomy," Regent Hadi Makarechian said. "We need to preserve our rights. If we continue with this precedent, next time we may get into the chancellors' budgets."
Kieffer said the university has asked outside counsel to weigh in on the constitutionality of the move. The change is authorized only for one year, but Los Angeles state Sen. Ed Hernandez has introduced a constitutional amendment that would enshrine stricter legislative control over the UC system in the state's constitution.
Kieffer said the university brought some of these issues on itself with its previous lax budget practices and that it must communicate better with state lawmakers to improve things.
"I hope by doing our jobs right, this will be a onetime occurrence," Kieffer said. "Because if it's not, we've got a problem."