Sunday, August 18

Submission: State should prioritize students, reinvest in higher education

Editor’s Note: A truncated version of this submission was first published by The Sacramento Bee. It has been edited for Daily Bruin style and reprinted below.

The political battle being waged between the state government and our university is warping the University of California. It is corroding its very mission. In times of hardship, speaking truth is essential. Speaking truth to power, however difficult, is imperative.

As the incoming student regent of the University of California, I am obligated to speak the truth no matter how ugly a picture the words paint. Today, the truth is bleak. The UC Board of Regents struggles to oversee a fiscally starved institution in urgent need of state support. No longer should the state incite political warfare and disrupt classrooms and our campuses. The truth is that the UC needs help. At present, we are not getting it.

To tackle the University’s ever-increasing financial problems, we need to assess the bigger picture. California funds its prisons at nine times the level it funds the students of the UC. According to the California Budget Project, the state expected to spend more than $62,000 on each prison inmate in 2014-2015 compared to the projected $7,090 for each student at the University. Gov. Jerry Brown has been pulled inexorably into the politics of the prison industrial complex. It falls on his shoulders to lead in these troubled times, to push back the tide of ever-growing investment in the prison system, and to reinvest in higher education. Perhaps Victor Hugo said it best, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”

Brown’s proposed solutions to the UC’s funding shortfall do not properly address the needs of our institution, and as a consequence, the state of California as a whole. The governor would have the UC enroll more students while simultaneously decreasing resources and shortchanging the educational process to get as many students out of the University as quickly as possible. Those so-called “remedial measures” that are presently on the table – such as reducing time-to-degree to three years and increasing online course offerings – are dangerously reckless, with long-term consequences that have not been properly assessed. Measures such as these lower the quality of a University of California education and run completely contrary to the spirit and mission of this world-class research university. It is time for Gov. Brown to demonstrate to his state’s students – his constituents – that he stands with us.

This University is not a factory or a corporation lusting for profit. It is first and foremost an institution of higher education and learning. The aforementioned proposals advanced by the state illustrate the failure to understand these simple truths.

When speaking truth to power, I cannot neglect my venerable colleagues on the Board of Regents. You, my fellow regents, wield tremendous political power. I call upon those of you who hold and seek public offices in the state of California to reclaim your agency, to put your personal politics to the side, and to act as befits your position. In times of hardship, the University needs its leaders. And we need them to lead.

Excellent education, groundbreaking research, and overall affordability are being placed at risk for political gain, campaign contributions, and favorable polling numbers.

I cannot in good conscience sit idly by while our university starves. My student peers are being forced to bear the brunt of financial pressure that the state has the capacity to lift from their shoulders.

I am committed to speaking the truth as I see it, from my desk in the classroom to my chair in the boardroom. I cannot ignore the facts about the state’s fraught relationship with its university. These problems will not cease to exist simply because they are being ignored. Action must be taken. As student regent, I will do everything in my capacity to hold our University accountable to my peers.

It falls to the state to make amends for almost two decades of fiscal neglect and strengthen the University in its time of need. I call upon Gov. Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assembly speaker Toni G. Atkins, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, and the regents of the University of California to reassess their priorities and rededicate themselves to the students.

Oved is a fourth-year economics student and takes office as UC student regent July 1.

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