At a UC Board of Regents meeting, a few things are visibly obvious. First, attendees cannot get into the room without going through barricades and at least a dozen police officers. Second, there is a line in the middle of the room separating regents from UC staff and the public. Third, there are few students in the room, and many of them leave after the period for public comment ends and the regents get to work.
The reality is that regents are out of touch with the student experience. Under current Regent Policy 1101, UC regents are “urged” to participate in campus visits but are not obligated to do so. Because there are no consequences for not visiting campuses, there is little incentive to do so. Many regents are millionaires who never talk to students about what it is like to live, learn and work at the UC.
That is why we, the UC Student Association, decided to partner with Student Regent Paul Monge to create a rubric of items we think are important to students and why we will be generate an annual report card and regular progress reports grading our Board of Regents. Each member will be graded on how often they attend meetings and visit campuses, as well as their level of interaction with students. They will also be informed of student priorities before they vote on them, so they have the opportunity to consider the student perspective in their decisions.
We need champions for students to vote on the issues that affect us most. Critical projects students need, such as housing, are often driven by bottom-line business decisions, not by what is actually best for students. This is why we see new residence halls being built to hold four students to a room. UCSA fought for and won housing expansion in the first place, but the regents must continue to listen to us to know what we need.
This is the time to pressure our regents. In April 2017, the California State Auditor released an audit questioning UC finances and priorities, especially state funding and tuition dollars. Students and the state know that there needs to be a change. Regent Report Cards are the first step in informing regents that we will hold them accountable. Ultimately, the Board of Regents needs to be reformed to better reflect the diversity of the state of California. We need more regents with actual experience managing a public higher education system. We need to end the secret appointment process of regents. But until we have public elections for regents with shorter than 12-year terms, students must use every tool they have to demand regents respond to us.
Students and the wider community should welcome any accountability measures for regents. Regental removal is rare and difficult. In the past year, Regent Norman Pattiz has continually been accused of egregious behavior, including sexual harassment and brandishing a gun against one of his employees. This is not who we want serving us, but despite multiple calls for action, the UC has done nothing to publicly discipline Regent Pattiz. The grades will help us show that students and the public know regents like Pattiz do not belong at the table where the most important decisions about the UC are being made.
Inherent to this project is our demand to have more students at that table. Students — not just the Student Regent — should have access to decision-makers. By encouraging regents to more actively engage in campus visits, hold open forums and meet with key stakeholder groups, including students who are not in student government spaces, the grades mean to produce deep, humanizing interactions that will help UC regents shape policy decision that are more responsive and reflective of the needs of students, staff and faculty. We will also continue advocacy for more voting power at the Board of Regents, the Academic Senate and university committees that are leading policy changes at the UC.
At the end of the day, this is a good government initiative. We need to know that regents are actually showing up to meetings, attempting efforts to make informed decisions and incorporating the principles of listening and learning into their governance. We hope the regents will not see the Report Cards as punishment for bad behavior, but as an opportunity to review a syllabus of what we expect and excel above that, so that we can too.
Judith Gutierrez is a fourth year student at UC Santa Cruz, where she is the external vice president of the Student Union Assembly. She is also the president of the University of California Student Association.