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Op-ed: Regents quietly, unjustly cut student advisor position last minute

By Chris Alviri

February 6, 2019 10:38 pm

The students of the University of California were conned out of a seat at the leadership table last month.

Three weeks ago, the UC Board of Regents voted on a proposal to extend the student advisor pilot program it had created two years prior after student calls for more representation in the University’s decision-making body. Without telling the public beforehand, the regents altered the motion to instead remove any option to keep the student advisor.

In other words, voting for or against the motion would remove the student adviser position.

Changing the motion drastically at the last minute meant students didn’t have time to respond. As Regent Charlene Zettel noted, the agenda item stated the regents were voting on a proposal to keep the position, and to amend it so significantly meant administrators severely misled the public. The regents, however, approved the proposal anyways – a shockingly deceptive and untransparent decision.

By terminating the student advisor position, the regents are preventing students from participating in University governance and limiting the diversity of the student voice. This decision sets a dangerous precedent of unilateral decision-making by the regents when it comes to student participation on the Board of Regents.

The student advisor position was created in order to provide the regents with a more comprehensive student perspective. The advisor is a member of multiple regent committees, has official UC staff, can freely speak at any open regent committee meetings and gets the contact information of and personal meetings with the regents.

The position is a means to provide more diversity to the decision-making table, since the advisor is selected specifically from student populations not represented by the student regent – if the student regent is an undergraduate, for example, the advisor would be a graduate. While the advisor position is designed to represent student interests, the student regent does not have a “representative lens,” as Devon Graves, the UC student regent, put it, or the obligation to student representation that the advisor does.

The advisor advocates for students by building relationships and having frequent discussions with key decision-makers, including the regents and legislators, and thus has the power to directly influence policies like tuition prices and sexual harassment policies. To put this into perspective, the last advisor had a major hand in establishing an instrumental branch of the UC Advocacy Network, a student lobbying effort to fund the UC, that subsequently helped prevent a tuition hike.

Losing the advisor means we students lose one of the most powerful channels to fight for our interests and be represented in UC leadership.

More troubling, though, was the way the regents came to the decision to terminate the position. Regent Sherry Lansing implied her decision to sunset the student advisor seat was because Graves supported the move. But the regents should have listened to the perspectives of many students instead of having a private discussion with Graves alone.

The regents did not even consult the student advisor, Edward Huang. Had they done so, they would have realized how other student groups, such as the UC Council of Student Body Presidents and the UC Graduate and Professional Council, clearly wanted to retain the position.

Most importantly, the meetings leading up to the regents’ decision were held in private. The UC Student Association, an advocacy body composed of UC campus student leaders, met in a closed session only a couple days before the regents’ vote to end the position, and barred Huang from the discussion, despite stating it supported keeping the advisor position. This decision was not UCSA’s to privately make: The organization collects fees from undergraduates on UC campuses, and should have consulted students, especially Huang.

Removing the student advisor also does not benefit students. The regents agreed to offer students more UCSA Student Advocates to the Regents, or StARs, and student observers in exchange for the student advisor. These positions don’t have much power, as the StARs can only give short public comments during meetings, and are allowed in the room where regents eat lunch during the meeting, which the regents can leave at any time. Observers are similar, but they give their short statements at committee meetings instead.

StARs also must fill out a separate application for each meeting and are usually represented by different students each time, making it difficult to build relationships and develop clout among administrators. Neither of these positions can engage in discussion during the meetings. The regents’ discussion last month implied many did not even know the names of the StARs or student observers.

So, UCSA traded a seat at the highest board of power to increase nameless positions it is already struggling to fill that have virtually the same access that any member of the public has. The student population will continue to lack representation at the highest levels of the University because Graves and UCSA fed into the false narrative that student representation cannot be increased without sacrificing what little representation we have.

Major decisions regarding student representation must be transparent. Having the ability to privately amend and vote on altered agendas that significantly contradict what was publicly advertised removes the public’s ability to remain vigilant and hold the regents accountable. Curtailing students’ abilities to share their viewpoints – especially in public spaces like UCSA – results in short-sighted and skewed decisions.

Most importantly, granting regents the power to change motions at the last minute and add nontopical things at random without telling the public in advance is dangerous.

We need a revote and rules to safeguard against this.

Alviri is a fourth-year history student at UC Berkeley.

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