|Not so much at the Regents|
Nanette Asimov, Dec. 28, 2018, San Francisco Chronicle
University of California student leaders said Friday they will fight a plan to scrap UC’s student-adviser program, an experiment in its second year that allows a student to join in regents meetings and try to influence policy — but not vote.
Only two other students participate fully in the meetings and can interact with the university’s top decision makers at the table and behind the scenes: the student regent, who votes, and the student regent-designate, who doesn’t.
On Friday, student leaders who were scattered around the state on holiday break said they were forced to respond to an unexpected letter from a regents committee, including student Regent Devon Graves, recommending that the regents vote in January to eliminate the student adviser beginning next fall. The letter also implied that student leaders across UC are on board with that plan.
“All of the student leaders I’ve talked to are very opposed to this change, and feel that it was very misleading for the letter to characterize us as supporting” the proposal, said philosophy student Michael Skiles, student body president at UCLA and graduate chairman of the UC Council of Student Body Presidents.
He and other student leaders met by phone Friday and agreed to urge the regents not only to keep the student advocate, but also to clarify and improve the job.
“The role was recognized as unique and valuable to students, and we agreed that there could be more done to develop and strengthen the position,” said Edward Huang, a UC Berkeley senior studying applied mathematics who is this year’s student adviser to the regents.
The debate raises questions about how much influence students should have in running UC, and how any expansion should be achieved.
The regents oversee the autonomous $30 billion university of 10 campuses, 238,000 students, five hospitals and three national laboratories.
For years, students have said they want more control over decisions that affect them: tuition, housing and meals, for example. Students have also said they want a second voting student regent — a change that would require amending the state Constitution.
Outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown “was a hard ‘no’” on that, said Caroline Siegel-Singh, a junior at UC San Diego and president of the statewide UC Student Association.
The compromise in 2016 was a pilot program creating a non-voting student advocate to participate with the regents — without being a regent — to get around the seemingly unscalable wall of the Constitution. The idea came from then-student Regent Avi Oved, now a law student at UCLA.
With 26 regents, influencing UC policy is less dependent on a single vote than it is on “building relationships with the regents and being consistently present,” Oved said Friday. “A lot of times, the work is done before an item gets to the regents” for a vote.
The idea also expanded student representation: If the student regent was a graduate student, as Graves is this year, then the student advocate would be an undergraduate, and vice versa.
Graves, a UCLA doctoral student in higher education, said he favors eliminating the advocate because few students applied for the post, and because it doesn’t have the strong support from UC headquarters that the student regents do: tuition waivers and help from the regents’ staff, for example. He also pointed to 11 other student roles: Some can make presentations to the regents, others can eat lunch with them, and others can sit in on committees.
Yet Graves, who participated in the phone meeting with student leaders, said he supports the students’ decision to fight for the student advocate.
“I think the regents will hear out the students’ concerns and try to rectify and implement something that everyone is happy with,” he said. At the same time, he said, the push for a second student regent isn’t dead. Brown may not have supported the idea, “but we have an opportunity with the new governor to see where he lies on that issue.”
Siegel-Singh, the student association president, agreed. “I think he’ll be a lot easier to work with than Jerry Brown,” she said.
As lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom has been a regent for years, known for student-friendly votes against tuition hikes. As governor, he’ll become the regents’ president.