By John Williams

“F**k the Regents!” was a popular phrase at the October 18, 2006 UC Regents protest. Though many students at UC Santa Cruz tend to agree with the sentiment, if not the vulgarity of this statement, it seems as though many students lack information to support these ideas. Who exactly are the Regents? What do they do? Why are some people so unhappy with them?

The University of California Board of Regents is the supreme governing body of the University of California. There are 26 voting members on the Board, 18 of whom are appointed directly by the governor for 12-year terms. Regents serve voluntarily, with no pay. There is one Student Regent who is appointed by the Regents themselves, though in 40 years of applicants, not one of them has been a UCSC student.

There are also four “ex-officio” Regents whose elected position in government includes a seat on the UC Board of Regents: Governor Schwarzenegger, Lieutenant Governor Garamendi, Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell. The Board also includes the President and Vice-President of the UC alumni association, Jefferson Coombs and Stephen Schreiner and, lastly, the UC President, Robert Dynes.

The Chairman of the Board Richard Blum’s name can often be heard in statements of protest from students. Governor Davis appointed Richard C. Blum to the Board of Regents in 2002 for a 12-year term that ends in 2014. Blum, who is married to U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is the Chairman of two financial corporations, Blum Capital Partners and Newbridge Capital. Through these companies, Blum had control of two contracting firms: Perrini and URS, which the University contracts for construction work and nuclear weapons oversight, respectively, at well-funded prices. . Starting in 2005, Blum began divesting his investment firms from URS, and he has since resigned from the URS Board, due to public outcry.

Both companies had worked with the University before Blum’s appointment but have since been rehired to perform continued services. URS was recently hired to construct a $200 million expansion to the Haas School Business at UC Berkeley.

Many who oppose the ideas of the Board of Regents feel that this type of relationship is commonplace for the Regents. Natasha Meyers-Cherry, a marine biology major from Merrill College, said, “I think its irresponsible of [the Regents] to have so much money available yet use so little of it for the benefit of the student body.”

The California Department of Finance website states that the predicted 2007/08 total budget of the University California exceeds $19,000,000.

Former Regent Willie Harman, in an interview with San Jose Mercury News in 1992, clarified the matter. “This is definitely a great club to belong to, because the majority of members travel in fairly high circles,” Harman said. “Through them, you tend to meet others in high financial, business, and society circles.”

The current Board of Regents includes a grand total of eight executives of varying financial and investment firms, three lawyers, two media executives, and leaders from entertainment, lobbying, and food services.

It is this type of atmosphere that makes people interested in changing the power structure concerning the Regents. According to the current California constitution, the Regents hold “full powers of organization and government over the University of California”. Because many feel that there is very little opportunity for legislative interference in the activities of the Regents.

Darwin Bond-Graham, a UCSC alumnus and an organizer at UC Santa Barbara said, “The Regents are a highly undemocratic and unaccountable group of mostly-wealthy individuals who, in a fairer world, would not actually be governing the UC.”

The UC-wide movement to “Democratize the Regents” is interested in changing this relationship. Currently it has separate branches at six different UCs, including UCSC, and is still expanding.

The movement to democratize the UC is connected with a number of other movements advocating specific change within Regents policy. Will Parrish, who works with the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and is a central organizer of the movement to end UC oversight of the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos Nuclear Labs.

“The University of California is contributing to the overall proliferation of nuclear weapons by conducting the research and overseeing the production of this nation’s newest weapons,” Parrish said. “It is this type of action that is endangering the security of the whole world.”

Further contention with the Board of Regents is particularly present at UCSC in terms of wage disparity for campus workers. Mark! Lopez, Student Union Assembly Organizing Director, feels this movement is representative of the overall problems with undemocratic practices on the Board of Regents.

“The university has earmarked $8.5 million for campus workers,” Lopez said, “but the UC President Dynes has not released the funds. He wants to use it as a further bargaining chip.”

Although Chancellor Blumenthal agrees with this description of events, the UC Office of the President (UCOP) categorically denies these statements.

In an e-mail to CHP, Paul Schwartz, a labor relations spokesperson for the UCOP, stated, “[This] information is inaccurate––there was no $8.5 million earmark for special salary increases in last year’s budget.”

Although all of these are ongoing struggles, there have been successful movements for change in the UC Regents policy. In March of last year, the UC Sudan Divestment Taskforce (UCSDT) was successful in pushing the Regents to end all investment with companies that did business with Sudan because they felt it was immoral to interact with a government that perpetrated acts of genocide.

Jason Miller, the Co-Chairman of UCSDT, told CHP, “In the end, people will do the right thing. It can take a lot of hard work, and it may be harder than you think, but change can happen.”

It is this kind of success that interests people like Maria Ledesma and Ben Allen, the Student Regents, in working with the Regents. Ledesma, the current Student Regent stressed the importance of her work.

“I may not like everything that happens on the Board,” she said. “And I may not have a lot of power as Student Regent, but I do have a voice, and that is important. It is important that students use their voice.”

Although it may not be as popular a view at UCSC, there are those who feel that governance of the Regents is perfectly acceptable. Trey Davis, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President, spoke to CHP about these issues.

“These appointments are made on the basis of a person’s experience and expertise that they bring to the board, their involvement in educational issues, and their record of and commitment to public service,” he said. “The Regents make an enormous commitment of time and energy to the University and serve without pay.”

Trey also discussed the issues of nuclear divestment and student power in relation to the Regents in an e-mail to CHP. “UC has the unique expertise and resources to manage these labs, and does so as a public service to the nation.”

How do you feel about paying tuition to a group that maintains an arsenal capable of destroying the world multiple times over?