UC Regents discuss UCOP audit implementation, student climate

Audrey Mcnamara/Senior Staff

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The UC Regents assembled Wednesday at the UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center for the second day of its regular July meeting. Among the presented topics, the regents discussed student life, implementation of UCOP audit recommendations and potentially adding letters of recommendation to the UC application process.

New board Chair George Kieffer, who was elected to the position in early July, began the meeting by welcoming regents, board guests and university campus chancellors, including UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ. Kieffer noted that this was Christ’s first regents meeting as chancellor.

Kieffer named Devon Graves, a doctoral student at UCLA, as student regent-designate — a nonvoting position — for 2017-18 as part of the regents’ initiative to incorporate the student perspective in board decisions. Graves will then serve as student regent from 2018-19.

UC President Janet Napolitano followed Kieffer’s remarks. Napolitano stated at the meeting that the university is “on track for reaching our goal” of enrolling an additional 10,000 California students. According to Napolitano, the university has also seen an increase in transfer students, students from underrepresented minorities and low-income families.

“With our budget challenges, I think it’s important to not lose sight of why we are here,” Napolitano said. “To educate the next generation of Californians, to create new knowledge to serve the public, to expand the opportunity at the world’s leading public university system.”

In the morning, the board heard a 60-day status report on the implementation of UCOP audit recommendations. The 33 recommendations, all yet to be implemented, have been divided into 10 “workstreams.”

The state auditor asks that UCOP implement the recommendations on a sliding timeline between April 2018 and April 2020.

The board’s Academic and Student Affairs Committee, chaired by Regent John A. Pérez, convened in the afternoon to discuss UC graduate student life and a possible change in policy for undergraduate admissions.

UC Provost and Executive Vice President Aimée Dorr also presented the results from a recent “Graduate Student Well-Being Survey,” in which 35 percent of graduate student respondents reported having feelings of depression. The survey determined that some of the major causes of depression among graduate students are food and housing insecurity, unstable job prospects and poor mentorship relationships.

UC Santa Barbara Graduate Dean Caroline Genetti discussed a campus pilot program that provides meal vouchers and food pantry accessibility to food insecure students. According to Genetti, the goal is to “provide academic, social and wellness structures” for these students.

Panel members noted initial program success and suggested it could be an effective systemwide model.

According to survey results, underrepresented minorities and LGBTQ+ students reported higher rates of depression when compared to the group average.

The following presentation committee discussed the need to encourage and support minority students in UC graduate programs. While there have been new efforts to diversify the UC graduate student body, the numbers haven’t changed significantly since the early 2000s, according to Pérez.

“I resent the need to keep having this conversation (about diversity),” Pérez added. “I’m frustrated by what I see as still too slow of progress.”

The regents then heard from the UC Academic Senate, which asked that the board consider incorporating letters of recommendation within an “augmented review policy” for admissions, said Academic Senate Chair Jim Chalfant.  

Under a UC Berkeley pilot program, the Senate found that supplemental letters of recommendation added more information to a student’s application, which rounded out student profiles and limited applicant rejection based on not “(having) the information we need,” Chalfant said.

There is no widespread support for mandatory recommendations, and Regents Eloy Ortiz Oakley and Pérez expressed concern that letters could be an additional hurdle for already disenfranchised students with fewer resources and limited mentors to write recommendations.

Christ countered this argument by saying that “concentrating on letters of rec as a marker of bias is wrong.” She said that in “judging between two indistinguishable applications,” the information from letters can be beneficial. According to Christ, the existing application process, including SAT scores and personal statements, favors students with more access to resources.

The regents will convene again at UC San Diego on September 13 and 14.

Contact name Sydney Johnson and Audrey McNamara at [email protected].