UC regents discuss small business initiatives, COVID-19 in final meetings

Photo of the regents
Phillip Downey/File
Anticipating a sixth wave of COVID-19, UC Berkeley — among other UC campuses — is receiving grants to handle the ongoing pandemic.

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The UC Board of Regents heard public comment, discussed small business diversity initiatives and received an update on the COVID-19 pandemic during its final day of meetings Thursday.

Students and faculty from UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara voiced their concerns regarding the rising cost of housing in college towns. They noted how external scholarships are no longer enough for low-income students to pursue an education at the university.

“Students are overwhelmingly in support of new investment to be allocated to the path to debt-free program,” said Joshua Lewis, UC Berkeley senior and UC Student Association chair, at the meeting. “While confident in the efficacy of these investments, there is undoubtedly a greater need to pursue an aggressive reduction of self-help contribution for low-income students.”

UC Health Executive Vice President Carrie Byington gave a systemwide update on the COVID-19 virus and what to expect moving forward.

Byington said the United States is still in the middle of an omicron wave — specifically the BA2 variant — where 100% of isolates, or currently infected individuals, today are omicron cases. Despite this wave, university and statewide cases are still declining, she noted.

“As of yesterday, all of our campuses are in the lower, or green, category,” Byington said at the meeting.

However, a sixth wave of COVID-19 is on the horizon and currently hitting the United Kingdom, according to Byington. The lower rate of immunizations and booster shots in the United States makes it likely that this wave will overtake the country in the near future, Byington added.

To further handle the ongoing pandemic, grants have been given to UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UCLA and UCSF to improve precision of COVID-19 forecasting, work with vulnerable communities, create models for K-12 schools and eliminate disparities in vaccine updates, Byington noted.

“Over the course of the last two years, as we have been able to get vaccines available in our countries, vaccinate vulnerable groups, boost those vulnerable groups, and then, with the onset of omicron — which has some lesser implications for disease — we have seen the mortality decline,” Byington said at the meeting.

UC Procurement Associate Vice President Paul Williams and Office of the President Associate Vice President for Energy and Sustainability David Phillips provided an update on the UC Small Business Utilization initiative.

Most UC campuses spend more than 10% of their overall budget on the partnerships with sustainable businesses, and the regents’ goal is to reach 25% by 2023. Williams noted that collaboration between health and academic sectors will help to increase procurement of businesses.

“UC is uniquely capable of positively impacting the growth and development of small and diverse businesses across the state,” Williams said at the meeting.

Regent Richard Sherman spoke on behalf of the investment committee regarding its discussion items, which were addressed at its Tuesday meeting.

The regents reviewed second quarter performance for the fiscal year 2021-22, as well as all of the products of that fiscal year, according to Sherman.

“(We were) just shy of $175 billion at the end of last calendar year,” Sherman said at the meeting.

He added that the university’s investments were broken down into the general endowment pool at $20 billion, the retirement plan at $95 billion, the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan at $1.6 billion and working capital at $22.6 billion.

The meeting concluded with resolutions to honor regents Cecilia Estolano and the late Richard Blum, both UC Berkeley alumni, presented by Regent Eloy Ortiz Oakley and Regent Janet Reilly, respectively.

“(Blum) bled Berkeley blue,” said President Joe Biden in a statement mentioned by Reilly during the meeting. “He was fiercely loyal to his alma mater, the University of California.”

Contact Anoushka Jasuja and Zoe Kessler at [email protected].