On Wednesday, the UC Board of Regents met virtually for the second day this week to discuss COVID-19, online instruction and special talent admissions, among other matters.
During public comment, students and UC system workers voiced concerns regarding COVID-19, colloquially known as the coronavirus. They also spoke against the UC system’s involvement with the Mauna Kea telescope, the development of People’s Park and a tuition increase that was scheduled to be voted on during Thursday’s board meetings.
John Pérez, chair of the UC Board of Regents, then announced that the discussion and vote on tuition plans would be postponed until a later meeting in light of COVID-19.
“In this moment of great uncertainty, adding a change that people couldn’t fully anticipate is not the right course of action,” Pérez said. “So we will be removing the cohort tuition item from our agenda and we will focus on the things that will help us navigate the challenges.”
Dr. Carrie Byington, the executive vice president of UC Health, gave an update on the COVID-19 outbreak to the board.
According to Byington, models for the virus predict that between 30% and 70% of the world’s population will be infected. Byington added that taking steps such as social distancing to slow the spread of the virus is important.
Several UC campuses have developed and are administering COVID-19 tests, Byington said.
“The protection of our healthcare workers and making sure they have adequate personal protective equipment has been a major priority,” Byington said.
According to UC President Janet Napolitano, all UC campuses are keeping their food pantries open. In addition, university housing and dining services will continue to remain operational.
“All of the chancellors and their staffs have been encouraging students to leave the dorms, providing housing and food rebates on a pro rata basis,” Napolitano said. “A number of students have already left the dorms.”
The Compliance and Audit Committee met to discuss special talent admissions on UC campuses. Alexander Bustamante, the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, chief compliance and audit officer and senior vice president and chief, and UCOP systemwide deputy audit officer Matthew Hicks presented their findings from an admissions audit.
The audit found a lack of documentation regarding students who were admitted on a special talent basis. Regent Janet Reilly and student regent-designate Jamaal Muwwakkil both expressed concerns over the criteria in which students were admitted. Hicks highlighted that while there are guidelines for such criteria, these guidelines are not documented.
“I want us to be very clear about who we’re admitting,” Pérez said. “We need to be diligent and hold ourselves to the highest standard.”
The Public Engagement and Development Committee endorsed UC Berkeley’s philanthropic “Light the Way” campaign, which aims to raise $6 billion for the campus over the next 10 years.
Chancellor Carol Christ explained that the funding from the campaign will provide 100 faculty positions, 300 graduate student fellowships and enhance the undergraduate experience through scholarships, research and improving student housing and STEM facilities.
After Muwwakkil asked about the distribution favoring STEM disciplines over humanities, Christ highlighted the importance of STEM at UC Berkeley.
“STEM has a focus because we will lose our competitiveness if we don’t upgrade our facilities,” Christ said.
The committee also endorsed a general obligation bond, or the California Stem Cell Research, Treatments, and Cures Initiative of 2020. The measure, which would continue to fund stem cell research, will be on the ballot in November if there are enough signatures.
The bond would provide $5.5 billion, with $1.5 billion being allocated toward research into the treatment and conditions of diseases like dementia, epilepsy and autism. Regent Lark Park, who is not a part of the Public Engagement and Development Committee, said she would not support the measure, as she believes it provides too much money for such a narrow scientific field.
The Finance and Capital Strategies Committee met and deferred the majority of agenda items to Thursday’s meetings, during which they may be voted on or pushed to the scheduled meetings in May.
“I, as the chair of this committee, feel very uncomfortable not knowing what the status of our cash flow will be in the next three months, six months,” said Hadi Makarechian, regent and chair of the committee. “It would be prudent for us to wait 60 days.”
The Wednesday meetings followed Tuesday’s discussion on basic needs, during which regents heard public comment, discussed the impact food and housing insecurity has on students and looked at preliminary findings from a Special Committee on Basic Needs report.
The board also discussed the impact of COVID-19 on students facing basic needs insecurity and brought up ideas such as increasing access to off-campus food pantries and partnering with food banks.
“Even in these times of self-isolation and quarantine, I hope that everyone in our UC community knows that they are not alone,” Pérez said during one of the meetings Wednesday.
Contact Maya Akkaraju, Shylie Ati and Maria Young at [email protected].