Photo courtesy of Jesse Cheng.
Photo courtesy of Jesse Cheng.
Photo courtesy of Jesse Cheng.
Photo courtesy of Jesse Cheng.

Jesse Cheng, a third-year Asian American studies major at UC Irvine, was nominated by the UC Board of Regents Special Committee as the candidate for the 2009-10 student regent delegate.

The committee met on May 20 in Santa Monica to nominate Cheng. Their choice was not public until the following Friday because of a protocol which mandates that the UC President and chairman of the board of regents be notified first.

On June 30, the Board of Regents will vote Cheng or one of two other student regent finalists into the office. Though the regents have voted in accordance with the Special Committee’s nomination in nearly every election, nothing is certain until that date.

As of July 1, the current student regent designate, Jesse Bernal, will become a voting member of the board and the new student regent designate will assume the responsibilities of that position.

Cheng’s résumé is laden with political experience. He has participated in several university organizations including serving as external chair for the Asian American Students Union at UCI, Academic Senate representative for the Council for Educational Policy, chair of the Student Fee Advisory Committee, an administrative intern for the College Cultural Center, and a summer intern for the UC Student Association.

If elected, Cheng will be the first undergraduate student regent in more than five years. As an undergraduate, the student regent nominee said, he will bring a new point of view to the board.

“Being an undergrad really affects what I bring to the table,” he said. “I want to be very cognizant that I bring all perspectives.”

The student regent nominee opened up to City on a Hill Press about his plans, aspirations and reservations serving as student regent designate.


Why did you want to be a student regent?

When I first applied, I applied because one of my mentors had told me to apply. It was kind of on a whim. As the interviews went on, you grow a more developed reason you want to become a UC regent. The decisions we make in the next few years are going to shape the model of the university for the next few decades and I want to be part of that. I want to preserve the quality of education we find here at the UC system.


What are your top priorities as a student regent?

There’s a lot to learn about the UC system. In my lifetime of experiences there is no way to understand the complexity of the University of California’s history. I don’t really have an agenda. I want to be able to have a broad perspective as a regent.


How will you represent the students at your school and the other UC campuses?

I cannot claim to represent every student in the UC system. I am not necessarily a representation of all the students in the UC system. What I do have is my perspective, my perspective as a UC student. Through that perspective, that’s how I say I serve the UC. I have a shared experience of many students. I would like to believe that I have shared values and shared beliefs.


What is the first step you’d take to solve the UC budget crises?

Maybe we need to think more broadly than fee hikes. How we address these cuts will affect our model for higher education for decades to come. Even if we increase tuition it’s not going to answer back.

The problem is very complex but I think we need to take a step back. They’re much more complex and nuanced than raising tuition. My issue for tuition increases is accessibility and affordability.

I don’t want the public to de-invest from the University of California. We need to be able to explain to the state that this is still a public institution for everybody and a vehicle for social mobility.


Are you nervous about the appointment?

Oh yeah. That’s why I’m being careful about what I’m saying now. Not that there’s a misrepresentation of what I’m saying. I just want to be cognizant of what I’m saying and how I’m saying it. Part of me is very hesitant about putting out something that I may later regret when I have more information or I have a new perspective.

I stand for what I stand for. I spoke [at the May 7 regents’ meeting] because I believe in accessibility and affordability. I know where my values stand. I know what I’d like to do and what I want to do. It’s a level I’ve never had to operate at before. I’d like to believe that my values won’t change when I get to that level, but maybe my information will.


Many people are talking about privatization and adopting a model like that used at the University of Michigan. Do you think that’s a good idea?

I’m really deeply invested in the idea of the UC as a public higher institution model. The idea of being a part of public higher education is really what has made the university so great. If the UC were to go private I think we’d lose something that really makes us special.


How do you think the state should reprioritize taxes and ballot initiatives to fund public education?

It’s a system that’s so much larger than whether we increase or decrease tuition. It says something about how drastic these cuts are, and how dire the budge situation in the state of California is, when the university is saying they can’t absorb all the cuts in one year.

The history of propositions build up to this time. Our solutions must be very fundamental and deep, and a solution will take just as long as the legislation has to get us to where we are now.


How do you plan to act as a liaison between the regents and the students?

A part of me really believes that they want to do the best for the students. They want to do the best for the University of California. That’s the role of the student regent — to bring the student perspective to the regents and bring the regents’ perspective back to the students. For me, it’s about understanding that these regents are here voluntarily. They want to do good by the university.