The UC regents concluded their first board meeting of the year on Jan. 20 and 21 after announcing the addition of 14,000 beds by 2020 and a new student advisor position to the regents board. UC employees and students marched outside the meeting, held at UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus, to speak out against changes to pension and retirement plans and call for UC’s divestment from fossil fuels. Here’s more information about the three biggest topics from last week’s meeting.
Student Advisor Position
The 26 UC regents voted unanimously in favor of student regent Avi Oved’s proposal for a student advisor position on the Board of Regents on Jan 21. The position, intended to bring a diverse student perspective to the regents board, will begin its two-year pilot program on July 1, 2017.
“This is an excellent opportunity to meaningfully engage with students and welcome them into the conversation and strengthen the relationships that we are vastly improving on,” Oved said at the meeting. “It will allow the Board of Regents to function as a proactive board rather than a reactive board ,in that it will have more of an ability to siphon student issues and experience from a campus level to a regent level.”
The student advisor will be a non-voting member and cannot attend closed sessions. The position will be held by an undergraduate or graduate student, depending on the current student regent. For example, the first student advisor will be an undergraduate student because student regent-designate Marcella Ramirez is a graduate student.
“The lack of student representation and the capacity that we don’t have to address a lot of issues effectively has been an obstacle within my term,” Oved said at the meeting. “It’s certainly going to be an obstacle in the future and it’s been a festering problem for the last 40 student regents that came before me.”
Oved has worked on the student advisor proposal for nearly a year and originally intended the position to be a second voting member. He worked with the rest of the regents, the UC president and other students to draft the new proposal.
“I don’t want anyone to think that adding an advisor is the only student voice that we do hear and should hear because we have student observers on the committee, every meeting we hear from the leadership of the UCSA,” said UC President Janet Napolitano during the meeting. Napolitano noted that while she is not typically in favor of adding more people to the forum, she was swayed by Oved’s proposal and flexibility.
UC Community Protests
Protesters representing UC custodians and medical employees under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299 union gathered outside the UCSF conference center early Thursday morning to protest the new UC retirement benefit options for UC employees.
Around 40 protesters affiliated with the UC held signs and marched in a circle at the entrance, while other representatives speaking on behalf of the California Nurses Association representing UC nurses and medical technicians addressed the regents directly during public comment.
“The University of California deserves to have the best of the best, and that’s what this is about,” said AFSCME Local 3299 spokesperson Todd Stenhouse. “When it comes down to how to save a few bucks at the UC, there are a lot of other ways. Sticking to the workers that do the work, that treat the patients, that teach the students — as has always been the practice — is not the right approach.”
The UC task force recommended Napolitano offer two options for future employees — one “hybrid approach” that uses a defined contribution plan where the employer and employee make regular contributions to retirement funds, and one more traditional defined contribution plan.
Aside from AFSCME, UC Los Angeles, UC Berkeley and UCSC representatives from the Fossil Free UC coalition called for the university to divest from the top 200 fossil fuel companies, which include Mitsubishi, Exxonmobil and other companies reliant on fossil fuels. The group was allotted five minutes to voice their concerns, where a student from each campus spoke, followed by statement in unison where they demanded that “the UC divest from fossil fuels or release a public statement to explain why they will not.” After the public comment period, the group staged a mock debate to draw attention to their concerns.
“It went really well for us. That’s the first time that UCSC has got to stand in solidarity with the other campuses represented,” said Margaux Schindler, UCSC’s student coordinator of UC Fossil Free. “While we feel like we should have gotten more time, we handled it really well and everyone spoke beautifully, and that last moment of solidarity to have all of our voices together in a mic check was something that we were all looking forward to.”
In the wake of the 6,500 undergraduate student enrollment increase next year, Napolitano announced that the UC would add 14,000 total beds to all 10 campuses by 2020 on the Jan. 20 regents meeting.
“In the course of this enrollment push, I have been listening carefully to our chancellors, our faculty, our staff and our students about the challenges that accompany this endeavor,” Napolitano said in her opening comments. “One challenge is to sustain the academic excellence that makes us the nation’s preeminent public research university.”
With rising housing prices in Santa Cruz and housing shortages for students on and off campus, UCSC Student Success Steering Committee (SSSC) has begun brainstorming options for accommodating more students.
“One really important thing to note about this new housing initiative is that the goal is to increase ‘beds.’ That does not necessarily mean developing more housing, nor does it mean making it more affordable,” said Student Union Assembly President and SSSC committee member Julie Foster in an email. “We are going to see even more doubles turned into triples, triples into quads, and lounges into rooms. More ‘beds’ comes at a price, and that price will be a lack of student spaces.”
While Foster appreciates the effort the UC Office of the President is making to address the issue, she said she hoped they would bear in mind the importance of quality housing to student success.
“Cramming us into more small triples and taking away our student lounge spaces to accommodate housing is not fair to us,” Foster said. “We are the UC, and we should be better than that.”
Contributing reporting by Connor Jang