UC Riverside hopes share in $1.46 billion bill adds faculty, classrooms, equity – San Bernardino Sun

School at the movies might sound fun. At UC Riverside, it’s a frustrating symbol.

UCR’s lack of classroom space forces students to trek off campus and under a freeway to classes at a cinema in the University Village shopping center. It’s an example of what officials call a chronic and unjust funding disparity between UCR and other UC campuses.

Students, faculty, and elected leaders stood in front of the University Avenue cinema Friday, June 3, to call attention to that gap and rally support for a bill that would pump a total of $1.46 billion into UCR and UC Merced to build new classrooms, hire staff and address other needs. AB 2046, or the Inland Rising Fund, is part of the legislature’s budget proposal to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The bill would allocate $790 million for construction projects and $80 million in permanent funding to UCR.

“If there’s ever going to be a time to make this kind of transformation investment (in UCR), this is the year” with California expecting a $97 billion budget surplus, said Assembly Member Jose Medina, D-Riverside, one of the bill’s sponsors.

Critics blame the gap on funding formulas that favor coastal universities over UC’s inland campuses. Medina last year said calls for racial justice following George Floyd’s murder called attention to how state dollars are distributed.

The UC system “continues to review the substance of AB 2046 and analyze its impacts on our campuses.” Ryan King, a UC spokesperson, said via email.

“We are deeply engaged in understanding how best we can continue to serve the Inland Empire, the San Joaquin Valley and the entire state. UC will continue to work with Assembly Member Medina, (Assembly Member Adam Gray, D-Merced) and leaders in the Legislature to secure additional support for all of our campuses as we work to build on the significant investments provided by Governor Newsom and the state Legislature in their latest budget proposals.”

Medina; Assembly Member Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside; and Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-Colton; appeared at Friday’s event to highlight the need for greater state investment in UCR.

“We as residents of the Inland Empire know that California is a tale of two states — the haves and have-nots,” said Medina, a UCR alum and chair of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee.

“The economic benefits of the state of California are not all shared the same and here in the Inland Empire and the Central Valley … This lack of equity begins with the schools” with UCR getting the lowest level of per-student funding of any UC campus.

The UC system “is a great system,” Reyes said. “Nothing against my UCLA Bruins. But when they get too much money compared to (UCR) I’ve got a problem with that, too.”

Reyes said AB 2046 would also help her San Bernardino County district, because many San Bernardino Valley College students move on to UCR.

According to UCR, its student population has grown 96% since 2000 while state support rose just 24% during that time frame. Academic advisers serve twice the number of students they’re supposed to, a UCR administrator said last year.

Workplace buildings “are in dangerous disrepair” and classes of 60 students “have no teaching assistants to grade work,” said Mai Nguyen Do, a UCR doctoral student and teaching assistant union member.

A UCR report found a $370 million backlog of repairs for more than a dozen structures built between 1916 and 1974. UCR’s English Department chair last year said students are forced to learn in crowded classrooms amid falling ceiling tiles and the smell of backed-up sewage.

“As a student who has rushed to class early in hopes of getting a seat, let me tell you, we need more buildings,” said Elysha Castillo, a junior sociology major and vice president of external affairs for UCR student government.

Faced with budget cuts tied to the coronavirus pandemic, more than 30 UCR department chairs sent a letter to UC’s president and board in February 2021 demanding an end to the funding gap. In it, they noted that UCR’s student body is 85% people of color, and more than 50% of its students are the first in their families to attend college.

“We cannot claim to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education when we ignore that some of our UC campuses serve our most disadvantaged students, yet receive the least support,” said Cervantes, an AB 2046 principal co-author and a UCR graduate.

While the Inland Empire is one of California’s fastest-growing regions, “the UC campus in our region consistently gets underfunded,” Cervantes said. “We are asking … that our Inland communities’ UC campuses get closer to the same amount of attention and funding as our flagship campuses.”

Besides giving UCR a financial boost, AB 2046 also aims to support “economic development and innovative climate change research efforts and health care and medical research operations,” the bill’s text states.

According to UCR, the bill would fund 100 faculty positions, 400 staff positions and make investments in teaching assistants, graduate student researchers and doctoral assistants.

Money in AB 2046 would also allow UCR to build more on-campus classrooms so off-campus venues like the movie theater wouldn’t be needed. Dollars also would go toward a clean-technology park, an engineering building and natural sciences facilities.

The bill would also allow UCR to gain a higher level of national accreditation, officials said.

Medina said he spoke with the governor’s office this week about the need for AB 2046 to be included in the final state budget, which will be passed this summer.

“I’m only confident once the governor signs something,” he said. “That’s why we’re all here. We’re all here to raise our voices to raise the Inland Empire.”

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