UC regents hold meeting, disrupted by protesters

The presentation of a system-wide diversity report, analysis of alternative revenue sources and an evaluation of Governor Brown’s proposed budget were among the most significant topics reviewed by the UC regents during their meetings at UC Riverside. Although UC officials emphasized that tuition-related decisions would not be reviewed during the two-day series of meetings, the issue was nonetheless brought forward during lively periods of public comment. Thursday’s public comment period was especially notable due to the actions of nearly 20 students who held a sit-in event during the meeting, consequently forcing the regents to temporarily move to a different room.

Wednesday’s meeting was largely centered on the findings of the diversity report and administrative changes to the UC’s handling of student health programs. The meeting began with opening remarks from Chairwoman Sherry Lansing. Lansing revealed that the regents are set to convene in Sacramento on May 17 as part of a rally to garner legislative support for the university. “UC is the best investment in California’s economic future that our state leaders can make. So it’s up to all of us to remind them of that…We need to tell the governor and the legislature that they must make UC support a first term priority,” stated Chairwoman Lansing, who urged the UC community to join the rally.

The second item on the agenda was an introduction by UC President Mark Yudof. Yudof offered special recognition to the “Fix UC” proposal that was developed by 13 UC Riverside students. The proposal, headed by Chris LoCascio, seeks to abolish the current tuition system and instead enable UC graduates to pay 5 percent of their income for 20 years. “I am extremely impressed with this proposal because it is home-grown, it’s developed by students and philosophically I find myself very much in accord with [the proposal],” said Yudof, who then announced that his staff would be working to thoroughly evaluate the proposal. Yudof also provided an update on the task force that is currently investigating the UC Davis protest incidents, stating that the group would release their report in a few weeks.

Wednesday’s public comment period featured numerous individuals, including Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge, who pressed the regents to secure funding for UC Riverside’s medical school. The opening of the medical school, which was originally scheduled for fall of 2012, has been delayed due to the facility’s inability to receive accreditation—stemming from the lack of sufficient funding.  Speakers decried the doctor-patient ratio in the Inland Empire, which UC Riverside’s Medical school seeks to improve exponentially. “We need the school of medicine. It’s not just a healthcare issue, it’s a social justice issue,” stated Cindy Roth, president and CEO of the Greater Riverside Chamber of Commerce.

The UC regents and campus chancellors then shifted their attention to a review of the annual accountability sub-report on diversity. The report revealed low enrollment rates of minority groups in graduate professional programs and among ladder-rank faculty.

During a discussion of campus climate, the regents reviewed both state-led and university-led initiatives. Governor Brown’s proposed increase of GPA requirements for Cal Grant recipients was specifically singled out as a source of regent disapproval. UC Regent Bonnie Reiss lamented on the governor’s proposal and noted that such a change would hurt diversity on campus by posing an additional obstacle to minorities and individuals of low-income backgrounds.  Another regent noted that the passage of the California Dream Act, which will enable undocumented students to receive private and public aid, was a “great win for UC” in terms of increasing access to a more diverse student body.

Meanwhile, UC Vice Provost and Executive Vice President Lawrence Pitts announced some positive improvements in regard to gender diversity. According to Pitts, the number of female faculty members has steadily increased over the past decade.  UC chancellors then addressed the board with accounts of their own campus climate and steps being taken to promote student diversity.  UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry Yang noted that his home campus had recently become eligible to attain the status as a Hispanic-serving institution, potentially joining the ranks of UC Merced and UC Riverside.  Other chancellors discussed programs unique to their campuses and reviewed increased application rates from underrepresented students.
The regents thoroughly discussed and subsequently approved the transfer of jurisdiction of campus health programs to the Committee on Health Services. UC Student Regent Alfredo Mireles, Jr. urged his fellow committee members to place special emphasis on student input in shaping the nature of campus health programs. The action was prompted by recent findings regarding campus health centers. The findings offered a poor portrait of the quality of health centers, many of which had credential deficiencies and lacked a uniform healthcare information system.

An approval of a $15 million transfer from the Faculty Housing Reserve Fund to address budget shortfalls, the controversial firing of a tenured UC Riverside professor and a discussion to replace the current payroll system were among the other noteworthy events of Wednesday’s meeting.
The routine nature of Wednesday’s meeting, however, did not transfer to Thursday. After hearing the heated speeches of several dozen students, the board of regents attempted to end the public comment at the 63rd registered speaker. However, the regents conceded additional time when other registered speakers interrupted and insisted that they be heard.

At one point, a student from UC Santa Barbara scolded Chairwoman Lansing for not looking at him while he was addressing the board.  The subject matter of student speeches included criticisms of tuition increases and salary increases for top UC officials.  When Chairwoman Lansing officially declared an end to the public comment period, students began their own “mic check” in order to demand that the regents provide a public meeting where students could voice their opinions without strict time limits.

Several police encircled the group of protesters who had proceeded to link arms while sitting down. The regents then left the room and returned nearly an hour later after the protesters had left on their own accord. During their general assembly, the protesters had continued to voice their demands—salary cuts to highest paid officials, restoration of lost faculty positions, more access to classes—and later met with UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy White who provided refreshments. White, however, expressed his disapproval of the protester actions during his weekly Friday email, stating, “Their actions, while making a point to disrupt and while remaining nonviolent, nonetheless prevented others from listening to the discussion by denying public access to the remainder of the meeting.”

UC Riverside student Grady Phillips was among the students involved with the sit-in during the regents meeting. In an interview with the Highlander, Phillips explained that the sit-in succeeded in its attempt to open up the regents meeting to students and promote campus dialogue. Phillips expressed his dismay with the restrictions on public comment; individual speakers were usually allotted a maximum time of one and a half minutes, although the overall limit for public comment—20 minutes—was extended after protesters continued to press for additional time.

As alluded to by Chairwoman Lansing and President Yudof during Wednesday’s meeting, the content of Thursday’s meeting was focused on revenue alternatives and cost-saving procedures. The discussions following the return of the regents into their meeting room began with an overview of the UC’s technology licensing program.  Regents discussed options such as reducing barriers to start-up companies, investing in UC technology transfer offices and general efforts at promoting successful inventions. Since 1980, the UC has gained $2.1 billion in revenue from successful inventions, including Hepatitis-B vaccines, growth hormones and even new citrus varieties.

Another major source of UC support comes from philanthropy. The UC received $1.6 billion in support from June 2010 to June 2011, with nearly $35 million being given to UC Riverside. Under the leadership of Chancellor White, UC Riverside’s private donations have increased by nearly 48 percent in the past two years. The Committee on Educational Policy then reviewed efforts being aimed at continuing this trend by means of e-advocacy and email, personal advocacy, collaboration with partners and federal advocacy.

Business decisions regarding non-undergraduate facilities of the university, including UC San Francisco  (UCSF) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), were also discussed during the meetings. On Wednesday, UC Regent Norman Pattiz introduced the new director of the LLNL, Parney Albright. UC San Francisco Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann was able to discuss the unique needs of her campus on Thursday. The chancellor stated that it was time to re-examine the financial and governance relationship between the UC and UCSF.

The UCSF campus is unique in that it receives the lowest percentage of revenue from (1 percent) and generates approximately 80 percent of revenue from its clinical and research endeavors. Although Desmond-Hellman did not delve into the specific details of her plan, the concept alone was enough for one regent to deem it “pretty radical.” The meeting concluded with a board meeting and approval of meeting minutes from the previous regents meeting in November.

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