Gov. Gavin Newsom must diversify UC Board of Regents

STATE ISSUES: Diversity at the top encourages diversity at the bottom. Newsom must do better than his predecessors on appointing regents

Mostly white UC Regents board juxtaposed with diverse UC Berkeley population
Emily Bi/Staff

At the end of his term, former governor Jerry Brown appointed Jonathan “Jay” Sures to the UC Board of Regents — a white man to an already predominantly white male board. Rather than appointing an individual whose identities reflect underrepresented communities in the UC system, Brown chose yet another white man.

The board is now made up of 18 governor-appointees — 11 of whom are white, four of whom are Latinx, two of whom are Black and one of whom is Asian American. At a time when underrepresented UC students desperately need to be heard in conversations about university policy and practices, the regents must reflect the growing diversity of California. Regents have the power to make academic and administrative decisions that impact the entire UC system, and in order for these decisions to uplift all individuals, the board must have representatives from these communities.

Without representation from minority communities, the regents have made decisions detrimental to the university’s “commitment” to diversity. Over the last 15 years, the regents have increased tuition by more than 300 percent. And tuition hikes have been linked to a decrease in diversity, as they can deter students of color from enrolling in these universities, according to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Roughly 22 percent of UC undergraduate students are white, but nearly 42 percent of the appointed board members are white. A study on the diversity of governing boards of higher education institutions found that increased racial equity on these boards is essential to board members’ understanding of racial inequities in workforce participation, social integration and academic achievement.

On top of that, only 35 percent of the UC regents are women, while 52 percent of UC students identify as women. Women, transgender, gender nonconforming and nonbinary individuals continue to experience discrimination and inequality in every facet of life, including in academics. They deserve a seat at the regents’ table to fight for their rights at the administrative level.

The majority of regents don’t even have experience in education — many have backgrounds in politics, business and law. How can the regents successfully govern a public institution of education if only a small fraction have a background in the very thing they’re governing?

What’s also disconcerting is that 18 of the 26 regents are appointed by the governor to serve 12-year terms. The outrageous length of these terms prevent accountability and allow for corruption — as clearly seen with former UC regent Norman Pattiz, who, despite being accused of sexual misconduct and allegedly brandishing a gun at a former employee, remained on the board until he resigned after years of public controversy.

The 12-year terms also limit opportunities for diversity. In order for the board to best reflect the state’s growing diverse population, its members must change frequently enough to allow different identities to be represented.

Gov. Gavin Newsom must not fall in the footsteps of his predecessors. Previous governors — including Brown — have bypassed the California Constitution’s claim that “the governor shall consult an advisory committee” before appointing a regent. Newsom must appoint regents that reflect the diversity of California — in gender identity, sexual orientation, disability status, geographical origin, professional background and ethnicity. Students deserve to be represented by individuals who are invested in higher education and the public good.

If Newsom truly wants to appoint regents who “reflect the diversity of the state,” as he has affirmed, then he must turn his words into action.

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.