The UC Board of Regents appointed UC Berkeley senior Sadia Saifuddin as student regent-designate at its meeting Wednesday, despite some controversy over her selection. When Saifuddin’s term begins in July 2014, she will be the first Muslim student regent.
Saifuddin’s appointment was met with controversy during the meeting’s public comment session when some raised concerns about her support of a recent movement to divest UC funds from companies affiliated with the Israeli military. In a rare move, UC Regent Richard Blum abstained from the vote to approve Saifuddin, citing similar concerns regarding her political activity. All other regents voted in Saifuddin’s favor.
This spring, Saifuddin co-sponsored a UC Berkeley student government bill aiming to divest ASUC funds from companies that provide equipment, materials and technology to the Israeli military. Supporters cited concerns regarding Israel’s alleged human rights violations in the region and encouraged the UC system to also take action in withdrawing investments.
During the public comment session, Saifuddin’s critics alleged that her support for divestment would be a divisive force within the UC system and would alienate Jewish students.
Some, including ASUC Senator George Kadifa and former student regent Jonathan Stein, refuted those claims, supporting Saifuddin’s appointment.
“Those who do know her personally know her to be a woman of openness,” Stein said. “She invited students to Muslim student town halls (and) Muslim students to Jewish student town halls.”
Although many regents disagreed with Saifuddin’s position on divestment, they largely approved of her appointment, with explicit support from Regents Sherry Lansing, Bonnie Reiss and Frederick Ruiz.
“We disagree with her position on divestment, but we do so respectfully,” Lansing read from a statement she wrote in collaboration with UC President Mark Yudof and Regents Bruce Varner and Ruiz.
Blum abstained from the final appointment vote, saying that he strongly disagreed with Saifuddin’s point of view but did not know her well enough to justify a negative vote.
“When you’re going to be the student representative, you have to represent all the students, and you don’t want to alienate a lot of people,” Blum said.
After the vote, Saifuddin briefly addressed the meeting, thanking both her family for their support as well as the regents for the opportunity to serve the UC community.
“I think that the UC is standing at a critical juncture right now, and it’s really important for us to come together,” Saifuddin said during the meeting.
Later, at a press conference, Saifuddin addressed some of the criticisms she has received in light of her nomination as student regent.
“I think being on the receiving end of these attacks is difficult, but it’s not something that’s unexpected or unforeseen, and it’s something that I’ll learn to deal with better every day,” Saifuddin said.