Students, faculty call for more academic representation on UC Board of Regents

Many members of the UC Board of Regents, some of whom are shown here with Gov. Jerry Brown (right) at their Jan. 22 meeting, do not come from academic backgrounds. Some student groups hope to see board vacancies filled by more academics in the future.
Michael Drummond/File
Many members of the UC Board of Regents, some of whom are shown here with Gov. Jerry Brown (right) at their Jan. 22 meeting, do not come from academic backgrounds. Some student groups hope to see board vacancies filled by more academics in the future.

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Gov. Jerry Brown nominated four candidates to the UC Board of Regents earlier this month, sparking debate about the role of the university’s top decision-making body, which some students argue is not representative of student needs.

Brown filled two long-vacant seats on the board and renewed the terms of two current regents, alleviating growing concern that the 18-person board’s five vacancies, some of them open for more than a year, were impeding the regents’ ability to serve the university. But the nominations have since raised new questions about the nature of the Board of Regents itself, as students and others decry a lack of academic representation on the board, which sets tuition, determines the UC budget and has the final say on a variety of UC ventures, both academic and otherwise.

Brown appointed to the board Richard Blum, Monica Lozano, Norman Pattiz and Richard Sherman, who now await the approval of the California State Senate. Current regents Blum and Pattiz will be continuing their service on the board, and Lozano will be rejoining the regents after a year’s hiatus — she served previously from 2001 to 2013. Sherman — the CEO of the David Geffen Company, an investment management firm — will be joining the board for the first time.

After Brown’s announcement, the University of California Student Association, a coalition of students and student governments from throughout the UC system, released a statement urging the governor to alter his method of choosing regents, calling the current board “significantly absent of leaders” from within higher education.

“My first reaction when I saw that there were new regents was excitement to see who the new people were, and it turned out that they weren’t new people at all,” said Kareem Aref, president of the UCSA. “There’s a very large disconnect between the regents and the campuses they serve. They don’t understand classrooms and what’s going on, because they haven’t been at the university in years, since they were students.”

Most of the current regents do not come from UC positions. Regent Bonnie Reiss served as California’s secretary of education from 2006 to 2007 and now works as global director of the University of Southern California’s Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, but the majority of the regents hail from backgrounds in business, entertainment and law.

Brown’s new appointees have similar credentials. Blum, who has served on the board since 2002, is president of Blum Capital Partners LP, a private equity firm, and is the founder of the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley. Pattiz, who has served on the board since 2001, is CEO of Courtside Entertainment Group. Lozano is the CEO and board chair of ImpreMedia LLC and served as chair of the Committee on Finance in her previous term on the board. Along with Sherman, they all are slated to begin their 12-year terms in March.

Their nominations leave three empty seats on the board, and student leaders and others are hoping to see these slots filled by academics.

Among those advocating for a more academic slate is Academic Senate Chair and UC Santa Barbara professor of mathematics William Jacob. Appointing academics to the Board of Regents is somewhat untraditional, according to Jacob, who attends UC Regents meetings but does not vote.

“Having been at Regents meetings, a large amount of their work is business-related, and then there’s this slice that is academics,” Jacob said. “And it would be nice to have some regents that can deal with that slice.”

The board interacts most directly with academic issues in its Committee on Educational Policy, which discussed the California Master Plan for Higher Education and online education at the regents’ most recent meeting.

Cinthia Flores, the board’s student regent, submitted a list of potential nominees to Brown’s office last year in conjunction with the UCSA and former student regent Jonathan Stein, including names such as Robert Reich, former secretary of labor and current campus public policy professor.

Along with the list, the students attached a statement urging Brown to pick regents with “prior experience as an advocate for higher education, in education policy, or as an educator” and also encouraged him to choose regents from diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. Brown’s recently announced nominees were not among the student leaders’ suggestions.

Despite her disappointment, Flores said the individuals Brown has reappointed have valuable experience that will benefit the board moving forward.

Brown’s office was not available for comment at press time.

Pattiz, chair of the Committee on Oversight of the Department of Energy Laboratories, said his renomination is in part due to the specific demands of his role within the board, which requires him to attend meetings regarding Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and other labs the university works with several times a year. Pattiz, whose term was set to expire in March, said there is “no logical successor” with the experience for his position at this time. This is in part due to the board’s many vacancies, which left most current regents without the time to dedicate to the labs, Pattiz said.

The regent said students who are unhappy with the board’s current make-up may not fully understand the role the regents play within the university.

“The students may be missing the point of shared governance,” Pattiz said. “The University of California has a very active Academic Senate who present the views of the academic community clearly and with great energy. The Board of Regents is a different body — it’s a board of directors, really, and it’s important for the representation of that board to be widely dispersed across a number of areas.”

Still, Flores said student leaders will be working hard to change the nature of Brown’s next appointees.

“I would hope that the remaining three appointments provide diversity to the board,” Flores said.

Libby Rainey is the lead higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @rainey_l.

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