By Timothy Kudo Daily Bruin Staff
Sitting at a booth in a Culver City restaurant, Justin Fong
speaks to the waiter in Chinese then pauses for a moment to
contemplate what he’s going to say about his appointment as the
2000-01 student regent.
"I’m probably one of the biggest fans of the UC, but also one of
its biggest critics," said Fong, a first-year UCLA graduate student
in public policy.
After going through one of the more controversial student regent
selection processes in recent years, in which members of the UC
Board of Regents decided to look at all nine finalists for the
position, rather than the three nominated by the University of
California Student Association, Fong, one of the original three
finalists forwarded by UCSA, was appointed on March 16.
After the Special Committee on the Selection of a Student Regent
changed the procedures, Elie Ilano, the chair of the UCSA, said the
regents violated their procedures and the law by going into closed
Michelle Pannor, the current student regent, who served on the
committee that selected Fong, said the controversy shouldn’t affect
how people view him.
"I think that this interview process was very unusual and it was
unfortunate the way it worked," Pannor said.
In addition to the controversy surrounding the procedure, some
media coverage has focused on the fact that Fong was arrested at a
regents meeting while protesting their decision to table a motion
to repeal the ban on affirmative action.
But, what he did then was just a part of what he’ll be doing as
a student regent, he said – representing students.
"Students felt they had to let their opinion be known," Fong
said of his earlier protesting. "Now, I hope the regents will
accept me for my opinions."
Fong will also have to work with students, administrators,
professors and the people of California as he tries to balance all
their needs in fulfilling his duty as a regent.
"I think part of the struggle is finding out where that friction
really is," he said. "It’s going to be a lot of listening, a lot of
time and a lot of effort."
Fong, who is from San Francisco, spent four years in China prior
to high school, an experience he said gave him a new perspective.
For high school, he came back to America and entered the public
education system – an experience that led to his becoming an
"When you go to public high schools, you see the environments
students are in," he said. "There are a lot of students who go to
public high school who are not going to get into Ivy League
"A lot of students aspire to go to the UC."
After high school, Fong attended Berkeley where he majored in
environmental science and began working on student initiated
outreach and the fight to save affirmative action.
Now that he is a student regent, he hopes to continue the work
he started as an undergraduate.
"The student regent position was just an extension of the work I
was doing," he said. "It was just the next level for me to get
Fong also has a big job ahead of him as the only student on the
26-member board of regents, Pannor said. He has all the voting
rights of a full-time regent.
As compensation he will not pay student fees for the duration of
his term and his travel expenses while on official business are
picked up by the university.
"Instead of being a student regent, you’re a UC regent who is a
student," he said.
As Fong prepares to take his office, the current student regent
had some advice to give him.
"It’s pretty hectic," Pannor said. "There’s a lot of information
to learn and the learning curve is pretty high."
"It can be kind of overwhelming because everyone wants to talk
to you and it can be quite nice because if you have ideas for what
you want to do, you can connect with people who are really involved
with the university," she continued.
Fong looks forward to joining the board at the first meeting he
will attend in May, which will take place at UCLA. Until Pannor’s
term as regent expires in July, Fong will be a regent-designate,
having all the privileges of a regent, minus voting rights.
"Ultimately, I will vote in what I think are the best interests
of the UC system," he said.