one hundred empty chairs filled the board room of the regents meeting on Jan 20. Photo by Kathryn Power.
One hundred empty chairs filled the board room of the regents meeting on Jan 20. Photo by Kathryn Power.

The UC Board of Regents, the 26-member governing body of the UC system, met yesterday to discuss issues of the newly proposed budget. The regents, who meet six times each year at different campuses, specifically addressed the state’s possible increase in higher education funding. Student presence was markedly low compared to the last regents’ meeting, but UCSC’s Student Union Assembly external vice chair has high hopes for attendance at a March 1 rally in Sacramento.

Budget Woes Continue, Despite Partial Funding Restoration

Despite Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent commitment to higher education, the University of California’s budget woes still lingered in discussions at the Jan. 20 Board of Regents meeting at UCSF Mission Bay. Regents and those in attendance questioned whether the promised funds would make a serious dent in their UC cash-strapped balance books.

Comparing the governor’s recent proposal to last year’s, student regent Jesse Bernal said, “I wouldn’t say that I’m optimistic, but I’m less disappointed than last year.”

On Jan. 8 the governor gave a surprising jolt to the UC in his proposed 2010-11 budget. The UC received a $224.5 million increase from last year, a restoration of $370 million from previous cuts and $51.3 million for enrollment growth. Last year, the State of California removed $813 million in funds for the UC.

Patrick Lenz, UC vice president of the budget, applauded the new focus on higher education in a presentation to the regents.

“We really welcome the investment in the state dedication to higher education,” Lenz said, while pointing out that higher education’s boost in funds was an anomaly in the governor’s prospective budget of “fairly Draconian proposals.”

The proposed increase in state funding, along with the recent fee increases, still leaves the University of California in a $237 million fiscal shortfall.

The regents expressed appreciation for the governor’s recognition of higher education, but skepticism of his policy recommendations.

“[This is] a budget you can’t believe in,” Regent Richard Blum said. “I don’t think half of this stuff is going to come true.”

UCSC’s Student Union Assembly (SUA) external vice chair (EVC) Victor Sanchez said in a speech to the Regents that the SUA will lobby to prioritize higher education in the state’s budget. He spelled out five issues they would push: a $1 billion increase for higher education in 2010-11 budget; support for Assembly Bill 656 (oil severance tax for oil companies); the maintenance of the core of the UC Master Plan; keeping Cal Grants intact; and supporting higher education by reducing prison spending.

He announced that the University of California Student Association (UCSA) calls for the month of March to be the “March for Higher Education,” and is planning to rally at the state capital in Sacramento to kick off the month.

“I ask that the board truly consider joining us in some way, shape or form March 1 as we begin to shine accountability toward Sacramento,” Sanchez said. “Collaboration is a must if we are to be successful.”

Student Presence Lacking, but Unions Make an Appearance

Student presence was stark at the regents’ meeting yesterday. Only two students were in the audience, both of whom were “whiteliners,” funded to attend the meeting through advocacy group the UC Student Association. Whiteliners are granted access to the separate seating area and the regents throughout the day. The 100-seat section for public observation sat vacant except for a couple of security guards throughout the day.

“It is disappointing … to go from the last meeting, where we were so represented, to this. It is depressing,” said Malerie Michael, third-year UC Irvine student and whiteliner. “We are not continuing our voice and are just present when something is going to directly affect us.”

No vote was held during the meeting, but Board of Regents chairman Russell Gould said student presence is always important.

“Students are a legitimate voice,” Gould said. “[Students] are there as a consumer, and we are seeing if our product is fulfilling your needs.”

The low student turnout could be attributed to the bad weather, but might also have to do with the inconvenient location and UCSF’s status as a university of only graduate students.

“It is very isolated and slightly underdeveloped, there are also no undergraduate students, and this makes rallying and protesting a lot harder to mobilize,” said Calvin Sung, chair of the UCSA Council on Student Fees, and another UCI white lighter.

This is significant because the majority of meetings are scheduled at UCSF.

A number of individuals from various unions, most predominantly American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), made their appearance during the the public comment section of the agenda in the morning.

They protested briefly and as they left, union members inflated balloons embossed with the message ‘Keep California’s promises and UC for everyone.’

The protesters left milk cartons with labels advertising “missing” regents, playing on the practice of placing missing children on the side of milk cartons. The missing regents were those who according to AFSCME do not adequately make themselves available for public discussion. They had to leave the milk cartons in the hallway for fear that the objects could be used as projectiles.

UC police officers had only positive things to say about the protesters.

“Today was peaceful, and they were cooperative,” said UCSF Police Sergeant Jim Lunnen. “They acted very professionally.”

While action at the meeting yesterday was minimal, SUA EVC Sanchez describes the trend of actions since the beginning of the year.

“If you look at September up to now, you see an escalation of mobilization,” Sanchez said.

Such actions have grabbed the regents’ attention.

“What has happened with recent student actions has made student activism part of the equation,” student regent Jesse Cheng said. “Regents are now saying ‘we recognize your force, and want to be part of it.’”

As of press time, the anticipated pinnacle of student action will be the march on the Capitol, to take place March 1. Across all 10 UC campuses, various student organizations are mobilizing to gather in protest of current trends and in hope of more funding for higher education.

Sanchez said he expects to see thousands in attendance, but is doubtful that the regents will make an appearance.

One regent is unsure of whether he will march with the students, but nevertheless asserts the necessity of such action.

“I don’t know,” said Gould, regarding whether he will be in attendance on March 1. “[Students and regents] have a lot of common ground, and we need to wake up Sacramento.”

Chancellor George Blumenthal echoes the sentiment and expresses his support of the planned march on the Capitol:

“I think it’s fantastic that students are going to Sacramento to make a case for funding for higher education.”