Legislators given bad grades by CSU

Gabrielle Moreira

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State Assembly members and senators question whether California State University officials made good use of taxpayer funds when they created a scorecard giving lawmakers poor marks on their educational legislation.

CSU officials released a scorecard grading state senators and Assembly members on how they voted for 24 bills directly impacting CSU schools. However, state legislators contend the grades more closely reflect  whether legislators backed “misguided university policies,” not school advocacy.

All 80 members in the Assembly were given grades, with 44 percent receiving the highest grade of a “B” and 26 percent receiving the lowest grade of an “F.” All 40 state Senate members were also given grades, and 30 percent received a “B,” while 15 percent received an “F.”

Each legislator received a 10 percent grade increase if they authored or supported a bill CSU officials agreed with, but were given a 5 percent reduction for authoring or supporting any bills the CSU opposed.

“It’s a waste of students’ and taxpayer dollars,” said Adam Keigwin, chief of staff for Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco). “The money needs to be going into the classroom. Instead, they decide to give out a card grading legislators who have actually tried to help students and the CSU.”
In response to the card and his grade, Yee issued his own scorecard giving the CSU administration an “F” in categories such as “advocating for students” and “transparency.” The only “A” Yee issued to the board was for “advocating for top executives.”

“Yee wanted to show that Chancellor Reed’s priorities have been in the wrong place,” Keigwin said. “The only thing the CSU has been successful with is fighting for themselves.”

Michael Uhlenkamp, director of media relations and new media at the CSU offices, said the scorecard was created in-house at a “minimal cost” and that there is no specific dollar amount. All the information on the card was compiled by the CSU’s government affairs team and was part of their “day-to-day work” schedule.

Yee, who authored two bills that the CSU opposed, received a “D,” along with seven other senators.

SB 1515, which Yee authored, would have lowered the board’s members appointed by the California governor from 16 officials to 14, with one being a tenured CSU faculty member and another being a “nonacademic” employee of the system. SB 1515 also asked the number of student trustees be increased from two members to four.

The second bill, SB 967, stated that board members of both the CSU and UC systems could not approve salary increases for any executive officers, such as new campus presidents, within two years of a tuition increase.

In the scorecard, the CSU argued that the bill limits the board’s power and creates “further disadvantages for the CSU in recruiting and retaining qualified individuals to lead the university.”

A scorecard can be helpful to the public, but not if the CSU has used taxpayer funds to create it, Keigwin said.

The California State Student Association (CSSA) and California Faculty Association (CFA) issue scorecards, using their own funds to create it, and gave Yee an “A,” Keigwin said. Yee was also named Legislator of the Year by the CFA.

“These grades show that Yee isn’t fighting for the administration,” Keigwin said. “It shows he’s fighting for the students and faculty.”

Although Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-San Fernando Valley) received a “B+” from the CSU for supporting the same bills the CSU did, he is still critical of how the CSU created the card.

“This is a sham scorecard focused on defending misguided university policies instead of the needs of students and faculty,” he said.

Blumenfield, who was re-elected Nov. 6 and chair of the assembly budget committee, said he is proud that his votes have helped cast light on the subject of university spending during a budget crisis.

“Considering the tough budget cuts made to our state budget, making this document was an indulgent waste of taxpayer money,” he said.

Uhlenkamp went on to say though the report card is the first one released to the public, it is actually the second card created. Last year’s version did not contain letter grades.

Uhlenkamp said he cannot predict if the scorecards will continue under new CSU Chancellor Timothy P. Whyte.

“Criticism from legislators who are unhappy with their grades would not deter us from doing one next year,” he said.

“The purpose of the scorecard is to inform people about how a legislator is voting in regards to bills that have a direct impact on the CSU, and we feel that it’s important to provide that level of accountability.”