When it comes to student representation, quality always trumps quantity.
Especially when it comes to the University of California.
The UC Board of Regents will vote this week on whether to terminate the position of student adviser to the regents. The regents created the position in 2016 following a push for more undergraduate student representation. The position was meant to make recommendations to the board on relevant student issues, particularly in committees where the student regent and student regent-designate do not serve.
The catch: The position isn’t designated any voting power, and doesn’t have access to closed-session regents meetings.
The position was and still is a bad deal for students. A representative with no voting power in a body that makes decisions by vote is nothing but a lame duck. And for two years, regents have patted themselves on the back for having three student representatives – one student regent and two non-voting de facto advisers – on their 26-person board.
The student adviser position was little more than a symbolic dog bone. The regents should scrap the position and do what they should have done years ago: allocate resources to initiate the process of adding another student regent – a process that could involve passing a state ballot proposition.
Instating two voting student regents is the bare minimum the regents can do to truly increase shared governance of the University. Adding another seat at the table is the only way the board can demonstrate its commitment to student interests and representation.
Moreover, student representation is crucial for a body — affected by political, business and industry influence — that votes on our most critical issues, including tuition and healthcare. Figurehead positions do little, especially when it comes to the few voices students are already afforded on the Board of Regents.
We saw as much these past two years. Student advisers to the regents have made little difference on the board. Rafi Sands, a former UCLA undergraduate student and first-ever student adviser, could do little to convince regents to sway votes on tuition increases or capital projects. In fact, Sands received heavy criticism from students for not providing any comment about a tuition hike during a March 2018 open-session committee meeting – a frustratingly understandable consequence of having a student representative with no voting power.
The short, one-year term of the adviser is also to blame, since new members can’t be expected to shape the position’s relationship with the rest of the board each year. Add in that students have only one vote on the regents, and it’s no wonder student interests are minor considerations in the board’s discussions.
Certainly, the UC Student Association – a systemwide organization that advocates on behalf of student needs – has vied for having the student adviser position. After all, it was a way to get traction with an administration comprised of some of the most powerful figures in California.
But having a board that is privy to dialogue isn’t the same as having a board that acts on such dialogue. Sure, adding another voting student member to the board would require an expensive, full-fledged campaign for a ballot proposition, but a student adviser shouldn’t be the cop-out for more equitable shared governance.
The student adviser position was an interesting experiment in student representation on the Board of Regents. The results are in, though: an adviser isn’t a regent.
The sooner the UC realizes that, the better.