On July 6th we delivered the following letter to Senator Carol Liu, the author of SB 42, and to the members of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, who planned to discuss SB 46 July 7th.
UPDATE: On July 15th, SB 42 was amended to address some, but not all, of the concerns we expressed in the below letter.
Dear Senator Liu,
The Council of UC Faculty Associations (CUCFA) opposes SB 42 as amended July 1, 2015. We strongly support an appropriate replacement for or resurrection of the California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC). Unfortunately, the Office of Higher Education Performance and Accountability (OHEPA), as specified in SB 42, would not be a suitable replacement for CPEC.
The California Master Plan for Higher Education recognized the need for a central body to oversee coordination and planning among all segments of higher education in California, including especially the three segments of public higher education. For many years, CPEC effectively served that function. Since its defunding, the Governor and the Legislature have not had the benefit of advice from CPEC or an equivalent body. Given the difficult higher education issues that have occupied State government and the institutions of higher education in recent years, it is clear that independent and objective analysis and advice have never been more needed.
Key to the success of such an entity is that it be independent, strongly oriented to the long term welfare of the people of California, and given the tools and authority needed to carry out its functions.
Our concern is that OHEPA, as described in SB 42, would be unable to carry out the functions and responsibilities that are needed. There are several specific problems.
1) As described, OHEPA is not at all independent. Rather it is created as an office within the Governor’s office with a director who would be a political appointee. Such an entity would be hamstrung from the beginning and face great difficulty in maintaining its credibility as a source of independent and objective analysis and advice.
2) Although OHEPA has been assigned some significant functions and responsibilities, it is unclear that it has the authority that is needed to carry them out. Noticeably absent are the power to require the segments of public higher education to submit data and plans and the power to act independently of the Governor.
3) It is unlikely that the OHEPA, as described, would be appropriately structured to carry out its functions. SB 42 specifies only that it shall have a Director and an advisory board. The advisory board has no authority within OHEPA. It appears to be basically an outside appendage whose only role would be to review and comment upon recommendations that have already been formulated within OHEPA. The Director is given all authority within OHEPA, and SB 42 offers no guidance or requirements on how OHEPA shall operate internally. For any such entity to function effectively and knowledgeably, it must have strong representation from the public and from those with experience in higher education during the process of analysis and during the formulation of recommendations.
In our view, CPEC is fairly well structured via Education Code Sections 66900-66906. Perhaps the most straightforward way to deal with the difficulties noted above would be to reestablish funding for CPEC. If there is a strong bias against that approach, then we suggest that the law to establish a replacement for CPEC be based on the many desirable features of the code establishing CPEC.
The Council of UC Faculty Associations will be happy to continue the discussion of how best to provide for the important functions that were lost when CPEC was defunded.
Acting President, Council of UC Faculty Associations
Professor of Physics Emeritus, UC Davis