Monday, February 27

UC Board of Regents should be held accountable to students, faculty


UC Regents should be democratized to respond to student and faculty criticism

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Laura Meyer


Back in November, the word on everybody’s lips was “˜regent’. “The regents are raising our fees!” “The regents don’t care for students!” “The regents changed the date to avoid students and protests!” There was a lot of talk about what they were doing, but barely any talk about who the members of the UC Board of Regents are. Who are they? How did they become regents? And who told them they could run the University of California, and all of its 220,000 students?

The reality about the regents is that the governor of California appoints the majority, arbitrarily, to 12-year terms, without factoring in the opinion of faculty, staff, alumni or students ““ as it should be done. The regents are currently unaccountable to the very people they are supposed to be supporting through four years of college: students. The fact that the governor chooses who gets to be on the Board of Regents insulates them and their decisions, however unpopular, from student and faculty opinions. If someone has the ability to make decisions for somebody else, without repercussions from that person, they have the freedom to do anything they want ““ literally. This is and always will be a dangerous way to run an administration.

The UC undoubtedly has earned its place as the best public school system in the country, so it appears the appointing system works. But there has to be a way to hold regents accountable to students and faculty. The governor could submit regent nominees to be approved by a university-wide referendum, at which point they could also be vetted by our student governments, people who were actually elected to represent the universities. Or, students and faculty could have the power to impeach regents they find substandard. Right now, the regents are protected from backlash by their set terms and appointments. The board should be democratized, in the interest of the entire University.

Democracy has a highly consistent track record in this country because we select our leaders ourselves ““ no one imposes them on us without our consent. In this way, elected government officials are held accountable to the people who chose them. If found unsatisfactory, they can be recalled (as Gov. Gray Davis was), and they can be voted out at the end of their terms (like former President George H.W. Bush).

This is your Board of Regents crash course: Back in 1878, appointing regents as opposed to electing them democratically seemed like a very good idea. The California Constitution explicitly states that ensuring that the university stays independent from the vagaries and hair-pin turns of politics is the intention behind appointing regents to the board (found in Article IX, Section 9 for those curious to know the rules). Appointments typically act as buffers, shielding board members from the winds of political change, and theoretically, allowing them to make decisions independently. Unlike elected officials, appointees don’t have to pander to constituents to keep their positions.

Out of 26 regents total, 18 are appointed by the current governor of California, one is a one-year-term student delegate, and seven are ex-officio regents by virtue of their elected positions in the California government or status as alumni. These seven are the governor, the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the assembly, superintendent of public instruction, the president and vice president of the Alumni Association of UC and the University of California president. They all stay on the board based on their terms in office.

The fact that the majority of regents are appointed to the board opens up a barrel of worms. Part of the problem with appointed positions is that the people who nominate regents grant these positions as gifts for campaign donations or for years of public service. Even though there is no salary for being a regent, the positions shouldn’t be treated as hobbies. Former Regent John G. Davies was appointed after he told Gov. Pete Wilson (for whom he was personal attorney) that being a regent “was something I would really like to do.” Accountability is not entirely present among the regents, both because of their appointments and their lack of in-depth information on university concerns. According to a report on the regents by The California Higher Education Policy Center several years ago, “The regents are part-timers who often cannot know enough about complicated university policy issues to make intelligent decisions.” As the regents only meet once every two months, for two days, they only have a limited time to delve into complicated issues all together.

Finally, there is the fact that students and faculty have almost no say in what the regents decide to do. Students are basically limited to standing up and giving brief speeches that the regents might consider in their discussions on certain issues, and faculty members are represented by two non-voting faculty regents. Back in November, the only thing we students could do to voice our displeasure with the regents and the fee hikes, was literally to voice our displeasure through protesting and demonstrating. Democratize the regents; students and faculty should have more influence on the system. We can’t afford to be without the power to control our own fates.

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