When former ASUC senator Sadia Saifuddin was appointed to the position of UC student-regent designate at this month’s UC Board of Regents meeting, what should have been a conversation focusing on the candidate’s qualifications devolved into a shameful spectacle.
The conversation to approve Saifuddin failed to assess her preparedness to be a successful student regent in favor of demonizing her for co-sponsoring a campus divestment bill this spring. The bill, which would have divested ASUC funds from companies that provide resources to the Israeli military, initially passed in the senate but was later found to have violated ASUC bylaws and stripped of its financial effects.
In a rare gesture, UC Regent Richard Blum abstained from the vote to approve Saifuddin, stating that he disagreed with Saifuddin’s point of view but did not know her well enough to warrant a negative vote. He justified his abstention by stating that Saifuddin’s support of divestment would alienate the student body and make her too divisive of a figure.
This is flawed reasoning. For one thing, not one current UC student stood up at the regents meeting to speak out against Saifuddin’s nomination or say that she would fail to adequately represent them. In fact, students and alumni, including former student regent Jonathan Stein came to her defense, saying that Saifuddin brought students together in the spring by inviting them to Muslim and Jewish student halls to discuss divestment.
Furthermore, given that UC Berkeley originally passed the resolution with more than half of its student senators in support of the bill and that similar resolutions have cropped up at at least three other UC campuses this past year, it’s clear that the issue is important to many UC students. For that reason, Blum’s claim that her support of divestment will make Saifuddin divisive feels more like an attempt to stifle legitimate political debate than to preserve student unity. Blum’s comments were out of line and seemed to be aimed at appeasing lobbyists critical of divestment.
It would be one thing if the board itself did not pick Saifuddin for the role. But the process of choosing Saifuddin is the same one that is used every year: Applicants must go through a series of interviews with campus and UC student government leaders before being interviewed and selected by a special committee of the UC Board of Regents.
If the regents felt Saifuddin would not be an adequate representative of the student body, they should have voiced their concerns earlier. Some of the regents said that though they respectfully disagreed with Saifuddin, they still respected her appointment through the long-standing student regent selection process. Blum should have taken a similar stance instead of focusing so heavily on divestment.
We are also very disappointed in the way that much of the commentary on Saifuddin’s appointment, both during public comment at the meeting and elsewhere, has been openly Islamophobic and perpetuated stereotypes that have nothing to do with the work she has done as a student senator or how she will perform in the student regent position.
We believe Saifuddin is a qualified candidate and worry that her reputation has been wrongfully damaged by some of the comments made at the board’s meeting. Student government representatives should be able to openly address controversial issues like divestment and involve the student body in honest political conversation, even when there is disagreement among students. The board hindered this conversation at its meeting by focusing on just one aspect of Saifuddin’s experience.