Controversial investments. A worsening housing crisis. Rapidly approaching climate deadlines.
These were just a few of the topics weighing on the minds of speakers lined up to make public comments at the University of California (UC) Board of Regents’ most recent meeting.
The UC Board of Regents, the governing body of the UC system, convened from Jan. 17 to 19 at UCLA in a series of meetings live streamed and recorded for public viewing.
The Regents discussed plans to increase access to the UC through enrollment growth, and shared updates on system-wide goals for sustainability and academic excellence. However, speakers at the meeting criticized the UC for actions they perceive as antithetical to its progressive claims.
“It’s morally unjust for the UC to put our education and our livelihoods on hold for political expediency,” said UCLA student Jeffry Muñoz during public comments, calling on the UC to adopt the Opportunity for All Campaign and allow undocumented students to hold on-campus jobs. Muñoz’s anguish was echoed by many other student speakers advocating for a range of issues at the meetings.
Speakers condemned the UC’s problematic investments. Students living in high-cost areas similar to Santa Cruz expressed concern about the possible effects of enrollment growth on housing and student services. Incremental sustainability progress did little to bridge the gap between the current UC and its systemwide goals.
Public Comments Call For Divestments
Multiple attendees spoke out against the UC’s usage of controversial investment management company Blackrock. Blackrock has a significant stake in U.S. war contract companies such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
Some who made public comments were representatives from UC Divest, a coalition that advocates for the UC to remove itself from any war-profiteering investments.
“The UC must put people over profits,” said UC Divest Coalition representative Asiya Junisbai during Jan. 18’s Finance Strategies public comment session. “The UC regents must divest from Blackrock, the world’s largest investor in weapons manufacturing.”
The Board of Regents declined City on a Hill Press’ request for comment on UC Divest Coalition’s stance.
Multiple speakers also urged the Regents to divest from the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Project, which would build what the UC calls “the world’s most powerful” telescope on sacred indigenous land in Mauna Kea, Hawai’i. Land protectors have been fighting against the project since it was announced in 2009.
“You see these kia’i protectors getting up to address the Regents with these puny one-minute comments they’re allotted, and they’re giving these incredibly passionate 1-minute orations and moving people to tears … I think [speakers’ comments] have touched the Regents, but the UC Regents are a pretty unaccountable group of people,” said Will Parrish, a member of UCSC Mauna Kea Protectors, an anti-TMT advocacy network.
In the three years since Parrish attended a similar mobilization at a Regents meeting, the UC has made no meaningful progress towards divestment from the TMT.
“Every time, it’s like, ‘okay, we’re listening’, and then they go back to their meeting,” said Rachel Huang, another Mauna Kea Protectors member.
Regents Prepare For Enrollment Growth
Another topic that garnered major attention was the Multi-Year Compact between Governor Gavin Newsom and the UC.
The compact will increase access to the UC system by increasing annual undergraduate and graduate enrollment. According to UCSC’s most recent Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), UCSC is planning for enrollment growth of up to 28,000 students by 2040.
Currently, UCSC has 19,500 students enrolled, with around 9,000 living on campus. With the LRDP, UCSC intends to house 19,500 students on campus in up to four new residential colleges. However, UCSC has not agreed to any legally binding agreements that would tie enrollment growth with housing capacity.
Considering Santa Cruz’s current housing crisis, students have raised concerns about the campus’ ability to host more students.
Isabela Olano, a second–year currently living on campus, experienced a great deal of stress when trying to find accommodations after her freshman year.
”I was really panicked last year […] I wasn’t sure if I had a place to live until a couple weeks before school started,” Olano told CHP. “I just don’t see how they can bring in more students.”
According to Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management Michelle Whittingham, UCSC administration is aware of the potential issues that could arise from an increased enrollment rate.
“There is a team that is currently working on reviewing all aspects of capacity, which includes classroom capacity, housing capacity and curricular capacity,” said Whittingham.
The only additional on-campus housing project actively being constructed is the Kresge Renewal Project, which will add 990 beds to campus. This project, however, is not expansive enough to support the planned increases in enrollment. UCSC is also looking into a joint housing project with Cabrillo College.
Sustainability and Climate Change
The Regents also discussed the UC’s most recent sustainability report.
The report included each UC campus’s STARS rating, a sustainability rating awarded to colleges and universities by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). The AASHE gave three UC campuses (Berkeley, Irvine, and Merced) the highest rating, Platinum. The remaining six campuses, UCSC included, fall under the Gold STARS rating.
One area that UCSC has struggled with over the pandemic is landfill waste diversion. According to UCSC’s 2022 Sustainability Report, progress in this area has been “minimal”. According to the UCSC Student Environmental Center, UCSC is in the bottom 3 UCs for waste diversion.
“[Zero waste] is a tall order […] Having consistent waste infrastructure across campus, waste sorting confusion, and participation from all UCSC community members are the largest challenges to achieving our diversion goal,” said UCSC Sustainability Office’s Program Manager Derek Martin.
The UC Office of the President defines zero waste as meeting or exceeding 95% of diversion of municipal solid waste. According to UCSC’s most recent annual sustainability report, UCSC diverted only 47% of waste from landfills in 2021, 43% below its 2020 goals of 90% waste diversion.
As for emissions, recent data from 2021 puts UCSC’s Scope 1 emissions (emissions from sources directly controlled and owned by the university) at 26,858 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. According to the UC Regents’ sustainability goals, UCSC would have to lower these emissions to zero by 2025.
Parrish, the Mauna Kea Protectors member, believes that activists shouldn’t mistake influencing the Board of Regents as the only way to influence change in the UC.
“We need to make our own campuses as organized as possible and use the leverage available at our own campus to the greatest effect possible,” Parrish said.