Do you know who your member of Congress is? What about your Assembly member or your City Council member?
Do you know who your UC regents are?
The UC Board of Regents, which acts as the governing body of the UC system, has the “full powers of organization and government” according to the California State Constitution. This power is most obviously and publicly exhibited through raising tuition, increasing the salaries of UC chancellors and prolonging UC worker contract negotiations. Yet the majority of students aren’t aware of the regents’ existences, let alone of the enormous power they hold over students’ everyday lives.
But, to be fair, the regents don’t really know who the students are either.
There are 26 members on the board, most of whom will probably never set foot onto a UC campus. However, they are expected to adequately and efficiently represent more than 238,000 UC students. But the most interaction regents ever have with UC students is at the board’s monthly meetings. To attend these meetings, students have to miss class and take BART to UCSF at 6:30 a.m. to give a one-minute public comment about any given issue.
It is hard to keep a governing body accountable when the majority of its members fail to engage with their constituents beyond public comment periods at inaccessible meetings.
The creation of the UC Student Association’s Regent Report Card — which will assign a grade to each regent for their response to students’ needs based on their voting and policy engagement activity over the course of this year — will be influential in creating public oversight for the board and in ensuring that our UC-systemwide legislators are doing their due diligence.
But this cannot be the only method we rely on to understand what the regents are doing to uphold student needs. The regents need to make a better effort to engage and communicate with students. The board suffers from accountability and transparency issues that stem from the appointment process itself and continue into regents’ terms.
The regents are appointed by the governor of California to 12-year terms. However, before the governor appoints any regent, he or she is supposed to first consult an advisory committee as per the California State Constitution. But in our eyes, the regent selection process has historically felt as though the governor picks people at random to sit on the board.
Without meeting with an advisory committee, how can the governor understand what students require from their regents? We don’t want corporate millionaires and NBA team owners. We want regents with a background in education. We want regents that went to or worked at UC campuses. We want regents who will visit our campuses. We want a regent from the Central Valley. We need regents who will understand that their actions and decisions have direct consequences on our lives.
Gov. Jerry Brown recently convened a meeting of the advisory committee for the first time since 2001. It is essential that this advisory committee continues to meet before Brown appoints any more regents. Additionally, UC students deserve to have a bigger say in the regent appointment process. We are the greatest financial stakeholders in the UC system, yet we have little to no power at the university’s decision-making table. With five vacancies on the board right now, it is crucial for Brown to meet with and consult this committee — as he is required by law to do — in order to make an informed selection of any future UC regents.
The next regents meeting will take place May 23 and 24 at the UCSF Mission Bay campus. During the meeting, there will be a public comment period that students need to take advantage of. The regents are not an all-powerful body. They are our legislators. We cannot sit idly by as they raise our tuition without making an effort to learn about the real issues that face our campuses. Students must hold the regents accountable by making sure the selection process is as democratic as possible while also continuing to share their realities at each and every board meeting. We will be there in May and at every meeting that follows.