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A Cut California Governor Shouldn't Make

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Message Patrick Mattimore

    I understand that California is in a fiscal mess. It’s unfair to blame Governor Schwarzenegger for his planned austerity measures that he warned the electorate would happen if the May ballot bailout measures failed.

    Everyone will have a favorite question mark, though, regarding the choices that the Governor is making as to what is slashed. Mine is: How come you have recommended dropping the annual $10.3 million funding for the University of California, Hastings College of the Law?

    Sure, it’s a relatively easy call. Hastings is an independent arm of the University of California system, does not fall under the authority of UC’s Board of Regents, and the school’s budget is a separate line item. Therefore, it’s an easier matter to target an “independent” that doesn’t impact the UC system as a whole.

    But, Hastings is the oldest and largest law school in California. It is consistently ranked in the top tier of law schools nationally. By eliminating state funding for Hastings, which accounts for about 25% of the school’s budget, Hastings would effectively become a private campus, if it remains sustainable.

     Full disclosure: I am a Hastings alum. When I went there (1980), tuition for in-state students was about $1200 a year and it was roughly three times that for out-of-state students. It was the best public university bargain in the country. I feel indebted to Hastings for providing me with a terrific legal education at a bargain basement price.

    Today tuition at Hastings is roughly twenty times more for in-state students and ten times more for out-of-state students than it was in 1980. It is no longer a bargain but is comparable to other state universities and somewhat less than private law schools.

    Law.Com reported that if the entire budget shortfall is born by students it would result in an increased tuition of $8,175 per student. That would be disastrous since student tuitions have already been set for 2009-2010.

    All of which might not matter were it not for the fact that at the same time the state is turning its back on Hastings it is opening a new public law school at the University of California Irvine this fall. As State Senator Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego said, “Why would we start a new law school when we’ve had Hastings around for 100 (actually over 130) years, and it has a great reputation?”

    Moreover, students in UCI Law’s first class will receive a three-year tuition free scholarship while Hastings students will likely shoulder a much larger tuition toll than they had expected.

    While plans were in place to open UCI Law long before the fiscal crisis hit, it would be a major and unfortunate irony if the University of California opens its newest law school at the same time that it is shuttering or severing ties with its oldest.

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Freelance journalist; fellow, Institute for Analytic Journalism.
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