‘Born to shake the status quo’: Bonnie Reiss, UC regent and senior adviser to former California governor, dies at 62

Bonnie Reiss Portrait  Emmy Magazine
Bonnie Reiss Portrait Emmy Magazine

Bonnie Reiss, a member of the UC Board of Regents and senior adviser to former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, died at the age of 62 on Monday after battling cancer for one year.

Schwarzenegger said in a Facebook post that Reiss had fought cancer as bravely as she had fought for students, the environment, justice and many other issues during her time in public service.

“It was in her DNA — Bonnie never accepted things as they are — she was born to shake the status quo to its core and shape the world,” Schwarzenegger said in his post.

Schwarzenegger added that he has never met anyone with more energy for helping others and improving the world. He said Reiss was a fighter, whether it was for a selfless cause or against a personal disease.

“Bonnie inspires me on a daily basis, and her legacy will inspire me forever,” Schwarzenegger said in his post.

Reiss was global director of the University of Southern California’s Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy. She was also a public accountant, a campaign strategist and an accomplished attorney. In addition to working for senators, governors and presidents, Reiss consistently advocated for children, education, environment and political reform.

“Students, faculty, and staff — both current and those to come — have benefitted from Bonnie’s efforts to improve policies that combat sexual harassment and sexual assault, and her work to ensure that California’s public research university maintains its academic excellence while remaining accessible to our state’s students,” UC President Janet Napolitano said in a press release.

Reiss helped found and lead the Earth Communications Office, After-School All-Stars and the USC Schwarzenegger Institute, all of which are nonprofit organizations. Additionally, Reiss served on the California Board of Education and as the California secretary of education.

Reiss was also involved in all the major policy initiatives during the Schwarzenegger administration and played a significant role in shaping the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which required a sharp reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Napolitano said in her statement that the UC’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative Student Fellowship Program will be renamed the Bonnie Reiss Carbon Neutrality Student Fellows Program.

UC Board of Regents chair George Kieffer said he worked with Reiss both on the board and during the transition of the Schwarzenegger administration. He added that Reiss was a close friend and led many efforts on the board, including education and sustainability, and played a supportive and optimistic role.

Kieffer also said that Reiss had a beloved dog Boo that she would often bring to board meetings over the past couple years.

“Bonnie was an immensely optimistic spirit on the board,” Kieffer said. “She just had a very big heart, and everybody could feel it.”

Rishabh Nijhawan is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @realRishNij.