Yesterday’s University of California Board of Regents meeting began with a Public Comment session featuring students and workers addressing the rights of union workers and undocumented students, as well as a proposal for a tuition freeze for the 2014 to 2015 school year, made by newly elected UC President Janet Napolitano.
During the public comment period, students such as UC Berkeley alumni Justin Cheong — an organizer for the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN, — said Napolitano’s election by the Board of Regents has caused a great deal of distress and feelings of fear amongst undocumented students within the UC system.
“You have deported over 2 million undocumented immigrants in this community. I am an alum of UC Berkeley and I am undocumented,” Cheong said, directly addressing Napolitano before shifting his attention to the rest of the Board.
“UC Regents, you have made a terrible mistake by appointing Janet Napolitano.”
According to David Douglass, another organizer from BAMN, Napolitano’s election has been “an insult” to students who believe that her election works against the University’s dedication to “celebrating diversity, integration, affirmative action and immigrant rights.” As former Secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano played a role in developing deportation programs such as Secure Communities, which investigated and deported mostly non-criminal undocumented immigrants.
“She has no legitimacy leading the largest institution of public higher education in the world — a place for democracy, critical thinking, academic integrity,” Douglass said.
Kathryn Lybarger, President of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 — a UC patient and care service workers union — also spoke at Public Comment. According to Lybarger, the University administration has been participatory in efforts to intimidate and coerce union workers and have neglected the issue of safe staffing at UC medical centers.
“The university remains tone-deaf at the bargaining table to our top concern, which is safety, and continues to try to intimidate our members in the workplace when they speak up for safety,” Lybarger said. “Let’s be clear: UC has a safety problem.”
UC San Francisco Medical Center diagnostics stenographer Tim Thrush said he personally experienced “bullying” at his workplace, and as he addressed the Board, he accused them of making UC employees like himself the “face” of their “illegal campaign to intimidate and coerce workers.”
“Last May, my supervisor cornered me in our supply closet, locked the door and very aggressively began to interrogate me about whether or not I was going to support patient safety in regards to our strike,” Thrush said.
After other Public Comment speakers addressed issues such as graduate student health insurance costs, access to campus resources for disabled students, academic and professional opportunities for undocumented students and tuition costs for international students, Napolitano gave her first opening remarks as UC President, presenting for the first time at a Regents meeting.
During her speech, she discussed “travel notes” of her trips to research facilities at UC Riverside, Davis and Berkeley, as well as at community colleges in Davis and Oakland, where she talked to low-income first-generation students whose families cannot afford tuition costs. Napolitano said these trips have fueled her desire to continue helping campuses providing services for “undocumented students, graduate student recruitment and post-doc fellowships.”
“In every campus visit … I have been struck by the palpable appetite for change, for exploring new pathways,” Napolitano said. “For moving the University of California forward … for finding better ways to serve students … to advance research … to enhance the academic excellence this enterprise demands and deserves.”
Napolitano also announced a proposal to freeze tuition for the 2014 to 2015 academic school year by embarking on an Efficiency Review initiative that will identify all savings and cost avoidances and look to other revenue possibilities for UC funding — such a grants, public-private partnerships, joint ventures and philanthropy.
“Yes, there will be challenges. The State of California must do its part. The University needs additional funding for UC’s Retirement Plan and enrollment growth,” Napolitano said. “At the same time, we must do everything we can to reduce the costs of our operation.”
After addressing the University’s need to support UC researchers with top-notch graduate students and world-class facilities, Napolitano called for the UC to be a zero net energy consumer by 2025, meaning that all energy projected to be used by the University will be created and used as clean energy by 2025.
“We have the cutting-edge science and the scientists and researchers — who are engaged in the science from an array of angles — every day in their labs, ready to go.”
At one point in the meeting, university officials addressed the issue of funding doctoral programs in the UC, debating whether or not the University should fund costly doctoral programs to ensure the UC remains competitive against doctoral programs at private universities like Harvard and MIT. Regents also discussed updates at Department of Energy laboratories as well as the set criteria for selecting a new Chief Investment Officer, who would manage a portfolio of investments totaling $82.3 billion.
UC Student Association President Kareem Aref, a third-year UC Riverside student, spoke after the Committee of the Whole, addressing a comment Napolitano said during her Presidential remark, in which she stated the “the waters are getting clearer” and “that we been through a stormy season and that we’re moving into clear waters.” He noted that, in spite of these mostly positive remarks, the Board should continue working with students to cut costs and improve the UC system as a whole and not look to temporary tuition freezes as a complete, long-term solution.
“I want to make sure that it’s not taken as this being a time to relax,” Aref said. “This is now a time for us to … work together to make sure the UC is getting better and to start pushing these initiatives, making sure that … we see increased revenue and increased sources of funding for the UC.”
Photo Courtesy of lecture.ucsf.edu
A version of this article appeared on page 3 of the Thursday, November 14, 2013 print edition of the Daily Nexus.