In times of controversy, rules, precedents and procedures exist to help navigate the murky waters of emotion and debate. That point was particularly apparent in the contested nomination, and subsequent confirmation, of Avi Oved as the University of California’s next student regent-designate.
At the core of the controversy is a single question: Does Oved’s outspoken pro-Israel stance or, perhaps more to the point, his ties with pro-Israel lobbying groups make him an unfit candidate for the position?
While the UC Regents correctly said no, the debate now falls on whether Oved should be able to serve on every committee – as student regent-designates normally do – or whether he should choose not to sit on the Committee on Investments, which oversees the University’s investment performance and which would ostensibly oversee a move to divest from any company.
The answer to that question is yes.
Sadia Saifuddin, this year’s student regent and the lone dissenting vote in Oved’s confirmation, faced similar criticism upon her nomination last year. After she was nominated, the UC Regents received approximately 14,000 emails opposing the appointment. Saifuddin, for her part, has been an outspoken proponent of divestment, penning a supporting op-ed in the Daily Californian.
This puts her at ideological odds with Oved, but both students-turned-politicians are equally passionate and outspoken about their respective beliefs. And Saifuddin, with her polarizing views, has been allowed to operate with the full powers granted to a student regent.
This action has set the precedent that a student’s stance on a controversial, emotional topic does not bar them from fulfilling their role as a public official to its fullest capacity. Public officials can be, and in fact should be, open about their beliefs with respect to controversial issues, and being outspoken does not disqualify anyone from holding public office.
Many have disagreed, citing Oved’s campaign donations from outside pro-Israel sources as a conflict of interest. The Board of Regents, however, has determined that those concerns are unfounded and chosen to go forward with Oved’s appointment despite the accusations.
But Oved should see that confirmation as a mandate, not an exoneration. It’s his responsibility to represent all students at the University, which means beginning dialogue with all students, even those that vehemently oppose him.
The nature of the Oved-Saifuddin comparison leaves only one tenable solution: No restriction should be placed on Oved’s normally administered powers as student regent.