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Students push for increased communication with the UC Office of the President

University of California President Mark Yudof will step down from his position this year.

By Naheed Rajwani

June 10, 2013 12:00 a.m.

The relationship between University of California President Mark Yudof and the student body has been tumultuous over the course of his term, which has led students to push for increased communication with senior level officials at the UC Office of the President.

Many people within the UC, including students and administrators, attribute the troubled relationship between student leaders and the UC Office of the President to the blow of severe state budget cuts.

Yudof took office in 2008, around the time when University leaders were starting conversations with each other and with state leaders about newly instituted budget cuts.

“I was very impressed with (Yudof’s) ability to come in and get ahead of the game,” said D’Artagnan Scorza who served as the UC student regent in 2008-2009. “He had already met with (stakeholders) before he came in – he was on it.”

Scorza said there did not seem to be many rifts in Yudof’s relationship with students at the time – students had not yet mobilized against the cuts.

Yudof met regularly with student leaders, just as UC presidents had done in the past. He supported recommendations that came out of a special committee on student and alumni affairs that was created by a previous student regent, Scorza said.

Yudof also helped establish the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, which provides tuition assistance for all eligible resident undergraduates who have low family incomes.

“I have a lot of respect for (Yudof). He did the job he could do from the space he was at,” Scorza said, referring to the University’s financial troubles. “Other student leaders may have had challenges, but I just didn’t have those experiences.”


‘Growing pains’

Students and the president’s office have not always been on the same page, which former Undergraduate Students Association Council president Jasmine Hill characterized as a byproduct of “growing pains” during tough financial times.

State funding declined by 27 percent between 2008 and 2012, while the number of UC students increased from about 226,000 to 239,000. In-state tuition nearly doubled in the same time period, from about $6,600 to $12,000.

Students said they felt the University did not do enough to keep tuition increases at a minimal, while University officials said they felt there was no other way to deal with sudden budget cuts.

Yudof meets with the University of California Student Association about three times a year and with a Council of Presidents, comprised of student government presidents across the system, about once a year, said Jerlena Griffin-Desta, executive director of student affairs at the UC Office of the President.

The president also met with student groups like the Muslim Student Association and the Afrikan Student Union after campus climate-related incidents, Griffin-Desta said.

But, many student leaders have said they do not think Yudof has done enough to bridge the gap between students and his office.

For instance, the University changed its logo last year, a change that caused backlash among many students and was eventually reversed.

Student leaders said the UC officials did not reach out to them to get their input on changes to the logo. Current USAC President John Joanino, who served on the UCSA board for two years, said the University’s attempt to change its logo without student input highlighted a lack of connection between students and the University leadership.

Some of the frustration students have might stem from the fact that Yudof was an administrator at the University of Texas and was not from the UC system – students weren’t familiar with him when he took office, said former student regent Alfredo Mireles.

UC Board of Regents meetings used to rotate at different campuses across the UC, but the board has mostly met at UC San Francisco in recent years.

In 2009, about 500 students protested outside Covel Commons after a regents committee approved a 32 percent student fee increase during a regents meeting on campus. Many of the regents were unable to leave the building because of the student protesters.

A regents meeting scheduled for November 2011 – around the same time Occupy-style movements sprang up on UC campuses – was canceled because of UC officials’ concerns that “rogue elements” would be present at the meeting along with nonviolent demonstrators.

Yudof does not usually visit individual campuses, partly because of security reasons – his visit could disrupt normal campus operations, Griffin-Desta said.

“Sometimes the presidency ignites a lot of passions in students and staff, that going out to campuses has caused a lot of disruptions of normal campus operations,” she said.


The road ahead

Despite the criticism, many student leaders said they have noticed increased conversation between students and the University’s senior leadership in the last few years.

Yudof started meeting with the Council of Presidents in 2010-2011 school year, when Hill was USAC president. Student leaders at the time came up with the idea to organize meetings between student body presidents and Yudof.

“It took a while to get the meeting because it needed some justification, which seemed a little ludicrous,” Hill said.

In the past two years, students and the UC Regents participated in joint lobby days to encourage state lawmakers to advocate for increased funding to the university.

The regents board is also in the process of adding two more students to regental committees, increasing the number of students on the committee from four to six, said Raquel Morales, the current UCSA president.

“I attribute (the increased collaboration) to the strength of UCSA and the systemwide student leadership that has done a lot to earn the respect of people in the state,” said Jonathan Stein, who served as the UC student regent this past year. “(The students) have proven themselves to be effective.”

Hill and Joanino said they would like the new University president take the initiative to engage with students by visiting campuses more often and by pushing the regents to hold their meetings at different UC campuses instead of just one.

“It’s a lot harder for students to hate an administrator if they know what that administrator looks like and realize that the administrator is a person. … The next president needs to be someone that students can connect with,” Stein said.

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