The UC Board of Regents heard public comment, discussed diversity initiatives and approved capital projects and the budget for 2022-23 at its meeting Wednesday.
The day began with 30 minutes of public comment, a new hybrid model with both in-person and call-in speakers. The majority of those who spoke demanded fairer wages and benefits in their respective jobs across the university, with many citing the high cost of living in California. Among those represented were UC-affiliated nurses, student researchers and members of Teamsters Local 2010.
UC President Michael Drake then addressed the meeting. He first congratulated the 2021 UC-affiliated Nobel Prize laureates — David Julius, UCLA alumnus Ardem Patapoutian, UC Berkeley economics professor David Card and UC Irvine alumnus David MacMillan.
Next, Drake shared with the board that the university reached a tentative agreement with UC-AFT for “more job security and other important benefits.”
“This is a very positive development for our entire community, especially the students that we serve,” Drake said during the meeting. “This contract honors the vital role our lecturers play in supporting UC’s educational mission in delivering high-quality education.”
Drake then updated the Board on the Capacity Working Group, composed of himself and the 10 UC chancellors, which has set a goal of adding 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students by 2030. This increased enrollment will happen on campuses with the physical capacity to grow, Drake added.
During the Public Engagement and Development Committee meeting, the regents discussed efforts to increase financial assistance for students.
The university and the UC Student Association have developed a campaign calling on Congress to double the Pell Grant by 2024-25, according to UC Associate Vice President for Federal Governmental Relations Chris Harrington.
“Debt-free doesn’t mean free, but means that we give students the tools to have enough money for what they need and to graduate debt-free,” said Sen. John Laird during the meeting.
The Office of Ethics, Compliance and Audit Services, or ECAS, also presented its annual report to the regents.
Notably, the overwhelming majority of complaints put forth by UC employees this year were made through the whistleblower hotline, which offers 24-hour service and optional anonymity, said Alexander Bustamante, chief compliance and audit officer for ECAS.
The report also covered systemwide rates of completion for mandatory faculty and staff trainings regarding cybersecurity, sexual harassment and conflicts of interest in research.
The cybersecurity awareness training, with a completion rate of 78%, was of particular interest to board member John Pérez.
“Every time we have had significant cyber events, there were human deficiencies,” Pérez said during the meeting. He noted his interest in a report examining how successful UC has been in actually changing human behavior related to cybersecurity rather than simply measuring how many employees viewed the trainings.
At the meeting, the Academic and Student Affairs Committee discussed plans to increase participation in the Eligibility in the Local Context, or ELC, program among California high Schools. This program allows for high school students to be admitted to the UC system based on their performance relative to the students in their own school, rather than in comparison to students on a statewide scale.
UC Provost Michael Brown described ELC as a “critical tool for the university to broaden its geographical diversity of the undergraduate entering class.”
According to Brown, in fall 2020, 40% of the university’s admitted class was admitted through the ELC program and 7% of the class was only eligible for admission due to ELC. The committee also discussed the UC initiative to ‘grow our own,’ which aims to increase and diversify the pathways available for UC students to go on to work in roles as researchers and professors within the UC system.
“The University of California at this time has a generational opportunity to advance educational diversity,” Brown said during the meeting.
UC Merced Executive Vice Chancellor Gregg Camfield highlighted ways UC campuses can increase diversity in their programs, including mentorship programs and providing stipends for research. Camfield explained that low-income students are often left out of research opportunities as they are in need of money, while students from higher-income backgrounds are able to access unpaid research opportunities without the same stress or concerns of their peers.
In one of the final meetings of the day, the Finance and Capital Strategies Committee discussed funding new capital projects, the upcoming UC system budget, the past year’s expenses and a proposed reduction in the employer contribution to the UC pension plan.
“Despite the fiscal impact of COVID, the university’s financial position improved quite dramatically in 2021, and it was primarily driven by the strong performance in investments,” said Nathan Brostrom, the UC executive vice president and chief financial officer, during the meeting.
The UC system saw a 30% return on its investments in 2021 and received federal financial assistance in the form of $456 million in CARES Act funding and $424 million in additional assistance to its medical centers. Its net financial position improved by $5 billion.
The board unanimously approved the UC system’s 2021-2027 capital finance plan and 2022-2023 budget for current operations, as well as its financial statements for 2021.
The university’s budget plan passed with an amendment, requested by Drake, to increase the projected faculty pay scales for policy-covered faculty to account for the current spike in inflation.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to really have the University of California grow and serve in the way that it was intended at its founding,” Drake said of the budget during the meeting.
The committee also approved funding for three capital projects and long range development plans for UC Irvine and UC Riverside.
All items passed with unanimous consent from the board except for a proposal to reduce the employer contributions to the University of California Retirement Plan to provide budgetary relief to campuses.
“This proposal makes me very nervous,” said board member Eloy Ortiz Oakley during the meeting, noting that it is easier to decrease contributions than increase contributions.
The motion ultimately passed with three dissenting votes.
“We’re not going to zero,” said Cecilia Estolano, chair of the board, before voting for the proposal during the meeting. “We have a need right now to benefit students.”
Lauren Good, Dima Aboukasm, Alexander Wohl, Riya Chopra and Winnie Lau contributed to this report.