Regent gets regional: A Q&A with UC Regents chair George Kieffer

Joshua Jordan/Senior Staff

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UC Board of Regents chair George Kieffer sat down with staff members of The Daily Californian to discuss tuition increases, student housing and other issues affecting both the campus and UC on Thursday.

Now in his eighth year on the UC Board of Regents, Kieffer has seen the university’s suit against the Trump administration for the repeal of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program in September 2017, the most recent out-of-state tuition hike March 15, numerous protests at regent meetings and much more.

Kieffer is on a two-day campus visit for UC Berkeley’s 150th Charter Day celebration, where he will be a greeter at the ceremony. His agenda includes a visit to People’s Park in response to Chancellor Carol Christ’s potential interest in building student housing on the park.

Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

The Daily Californian: Touring Berkeley, what have you seen as the biggest challenges facing this school, compared to other UCs?

George Kieffer: It has certain issues in common with other campuses. One is handling enrollment and the staffing support necessary to support enrollment. Two is housing needs. That’s common on many of the campuses. I think it’s more severe here because there is a smaller portion that is university-owned housing and the cost of living in this area is so high. Those issues are severe for Berkeley, and while they are in common with other campuses, they are uniquely difficult right now for Berkeley.

DC: What can you say about the recent out-of-state tuition hike and how do you see the in-state vote going in May?

GK: The vote on out-of-state tuition was 12-3; it was almost unanimous. We had never received pushback on out-of-state increases until that point in time, and I think in some ways it was related to the possibility of an in-state tuition increase in May. … The reality is that the budget needs of Berkeley are such that if we don’t do that, there will be cuts to support here. I’m not sure what will happen in May. I’m hopeful the state Legislature will buy out the need for an in-state tuition increase.

DC: How are you collaborating with the state to boost our housing?

GK: I think we have to begin to address housing as an issue directly with the Legislature. … I think that the state government has not recognized how serious that issue is for students who are not economically in the same position as we all were when we were coming through the university. … We need to highlight housing the way we highlight tuition. Students chasing tuition is a misdirection on where the problem is.

DC: (UC President Janet) Napolitano just called for all qualified community college students to receive guaranteed admission to UCs. How can you reconcile with this growth in enrollment?

GK: We’re meeting our commitment to having the pathways open for transfer. Now the question is, for the state, are you going to support it? We’re trying to create a smooth transition so that it can work, but it won’t work unless you provide us the money to make it work. It can’t happen by magic. It’s not the process that is stopping this; it is the state funding.

DC: Can you comment on the allegations against former regent Norman Pattiz?

GK: This was a new issue for us — something being brought to public attention outside the Board of Regents. Honestly we had not ever addressed that before. That was something we had to deal with on a policy basis. … It put us in a situation where we have a regent denying what has been said, a newspaper saying something and a reaction from the public and students saying that we should take action. Our view was we needed to let this play out in court, rather than force some action by Pattiz. … He planned to resign rather than being forced to resign. My sense was this was a decision that he should make, that he probably would make, that he did make. From the outside, it was more simple than what it was in reality.

DC: The UC filed a “friend of the court” (brief) in support of DACA cases. What is the university’s stance on this?

GK: We filed a lawsuit against the federal government to declare the action invalid; I was one of the leaders on that. We’ve been successful in at least getting a stay on that action. … We are trying to provide as much support as we can through each of the campuses — psychological, emotional support, and provide any administrative help undocumented students need in meeting federal requirements. I’m hopeful that the federal government will resolve this in a way that makes it a nonissue; we’ll continue taking the position we’ve been taking.

DC: Who will Governor Jerry Brown appoint to be the new regent? There was a story last year … criticizing Brown for not properly convening the 12-person selection committee for the new regent. Will this happen again with the vacant seat?

GK: There are actually four vacancies, not just one. … The selection committee meeting happened. I received a letter saying “come to the governor’s office” on March 12. … He asked us what we thought the board needed in the way of appointments … but he didn’t tell us anything about what he was going to do. There were a lot of things mentioned, like making sure there is some geographic diversity on the board, and another point that was stated was that we need people on the board with board experience.

DC: For our last question, we wanted to ask whether or not you want to repeal Prop. 209 (an amendment to the California Constitution that prohibits public institutions from discriminating on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity)?

GK: That’s the first time I’ve been asked that question. I’m chair of the board, and the board doesn’t have a position on that. I don’t want to get out in front of the board on that issue right now, but I think 209 was a mistake. I’ll stop at that.

Contact Amanda Bradford at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @amandabrad_uc.