Who are the UC Regents?

For a variety of reasons, it’s a timely question to ask. Hundreds of students from throughout the UC system, including from UCSB, will pour into UC Berkeley to protest at the Regents meeting there on Wednesday and Thursday. In addition, UC officials were recently exposed in the San Francisco Chronicle for corruption at the highest levels, having given out enough money in perks and bonuses to top-level employees in the past year ($871 million) to cover all the unprecedented student fee increases since 2003.

One answer is that 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. But we’ll come back to that.

The Regents are essentially the board of directors of the UC system. They have complete control over the UC, with its annual budget of nearly $16 billion, 208,000 students, 120,000 faculty and staff and 10 campuses. They also currently manage – albeit in the fashion of an absentee landlord – the nation’s two primary nuclear weapons research and design facilities, the Los Alamos (LANL) and Lawrence Livermore (LLNL) National Laboratories.

Of the 26 members of the Board of Regents, 18 are appointed by the governor for 12-year terms. There is one student regent (selected by the other regents) along with seven “ex-officio” regents, including California’s governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the assembly, superintendent of public instruction and the president and vice president of the UC Alumni Association.

Because most regents are appointed by the governor, they are invariably members of California’s economic elite. Often, their appointments are largely political kickbacks for huge contributions to gubernatorial campaigns. For example, Regent John C. Moore (net worth: $750 million) contributed $232,751 to the Gray Davis campaign between 1997 and 1999, prior to his appointment by Davis in the latter year.

Throughout the Board of Regents’ existence, the regents have consistently ignored the will and interests of the UC’s students and faculty. A case in point is the regents’ long-time management of the LANL and LLNL – every nuclear weapon in the US arsenal was designed by a UC employee. In 1990, the UC Academic Senate conducted a survey in which 63.3 percent of over 4,000 respondents said they favored severance of the UC’s management of the labs. Every student government at every UC likewise voted in favor of resolutions calling for severance.

The regents ignored these votes, instead voting 13-3 at their September 1990 meeting to continue to manage the labs. There could hardly be a clearer illustration that the Board of Regents is completely unaccountable to the students and faculty it purports to govern. Not much has changed in the last 15 years.

The students protesting at the regents meeting this week have a wide variety of grievances. These include the latest round of student fee increases, the lack of dignity and fair wages accorded to campus employees, the lack of ethnic diversity at UC campuses, the threat of nuclear holocaust enabled in part by the UC’s management of the nation’s primary nuclear weapons research and design laboratories and the UC Regents’ investments in companies that help bolster the Sudanese dictatorship.

While these complaints are very diverse, many have a similar root: namely, a lack of democracy in UC decision-making. To put it another way: When was the last time you were asked to provide any meaningful input for any important decisions concerning the institution you’re paying tens of thousands of dollars to be a part of?

We believe that if students, faculty and staff actually had a fair say as to what goes on at their university, UC workers would make a decent wage, the UC would divest from Sudan and the UC would only sponsor science research for the public good, rather than design WMDs for our so-called “national interest.” And those millions of dollars that UC officials diverted into perks and bonuses would have been used correctly to keep higher education affordable for the students of California.

Chelsea Collonge is a fourth-year UC Berkeley student and coordinator of the student group Fiat Pax. Will Parrish is a UC Santa Cruz graduate and coordinator of the UC Nuclear Free campaign (www.ucnuclearfree.org). Both will be present at UC Regents meeting this week.