Student Regent Claims Voice of Students Limited in UC

When the UC Regents voted last fall to increase student fees for the upcoming academic year, the only regent to vote against it was the one voting student regent. That begs the question: Do students really have a say in what goes on within the UC system?
Compared to other universities, UC student regent and UCLA graduate student Jodi Anderson, who voted against fee increases, believes that students have a stronger influence in the UC than in many other universities around the nation, although she admitted it may not be what some would think is enough influence.
‘Some public universities do not have a student on their board and some that do [have students on their boards] cannot necessarily vote,’ Anderson said. ‘We have student representation on the Board of Regents, and we actually have a vote. … The students do have a voice, but the voice might be more limited than some students would like.
UCI Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Manuel Gomez shared the same opinion.
‘The fact that the Regents has a student member on the board is excellent,’ Gomez said.
The UC is governed by the Regents, a 26-member board established under the state constitution. Among its 26 members are two student regents. Adam Rosenthal, a law student at UC Davis, is a student regent designate who serves as a nonvoting member until he becomes the student regent this July.
Anderson explained that although she was aware that the UC had already entered into a budget compact with Gov. Schwarzenegger that mandates fee increases for the next few academic years, and that the Regents’ vote to approve the fee increase was a formality, she still voted against it because it would provide less financial aid for students.
‘The main reason that I voted no on the budget proposal was because at the same time we continue to raise fees for the undergraduates we were not maintaining the same commitment to raising financial aid,’ Anderson said. ‘If we couldn’t commit to maintaining the same level of aid that we have had in the previous years, in spite of the fact that we have had a fee increase, I thought symbolically that was the wrong message to send to students and the people of California.’
Gomez sympathized with students.
‘No administration welcomes [an] increase in fees, but at the same time overall quality and excellence of the academic program needs to be sustained,’ Gomez said.
However, Anderson believes that if enough students come together, they may have an influence on their education.
‘The more students are able to organize and are able to work with one another, the stronger the statement they can make,’ Anderson said. ‘Like, for example, the issue of textbooks. [There’s] purchasing power there. The students can come together and say ‘we want a different system’ for that, and they can push for that and can have an impact.’
Gary Novack, vice president of the alumni associations of the UC and ex-officio UC Regent, said that the interests of all UC affiliates are represented through the Regents.
‘I believe that in the UC system all voices, whether student, faculty or staff, are heard,’ Novack said.
In addition, Novack noted that students have many avenues to reach the Regents.
‘Students come and speak at public sessions and are free to write letters to the Regents,’ Novack said.
Anderson agreed with Novack and said, ‘Student input is always important and I think that we have a number of existing mechanisms for that. And one of the challenges as a student is that we take advantage of those mechanisms.’
That challenge is apparent for several UCI students, including Dhruv Bhojwani, a second-year electrical engineering major, who feels he can’t get his voice heard.
‘I do not know who is representing the students. I do not know how accessible he or she is,’ Bhojwani said. ‘There are support groups and different student organizations but students are not aware. Maybe I am not aware and I am the only one oblivious to this.’
Grace Tai, a first-year economics major, believes that there should be more students on the Board of Regents.
‘One student in the Regents is a little low. We should have more student regents to gain respect from the adults in the board,’ Tai said. ‘I think our voice is heard, but a lot of students do not know where to go if they want their voice to be heard.’
Anderson also brought up the idea of having two voting student regents, one representing graduates and one for undergraduates.
‘I think that is an interesting idea that could be pursued,’ Anderson said. ‘That would obviously strengthen the student voice at the table,’ Anderson said.
UCOP spokesperson Trey Davis said that the idea of two voting student regents is not being considered at the moment.
‘The university has had one student regent position for 30 years. In recent years, the board has selected a student regent designate who also sits on the board during the year before their term starts,’ Davis explained. ‘The idea of having additional students on the board beyond these two posts is not being considered by the Regents.’
However, Davis opened up the possibility of having another regent to represent an often overlooked segment of the UC system.
‘In fact, the focus is now on adding a regent to represent UC staff, who currently have no official representation to the board,’ Trey said.
Recruitment for the 2006 to 2007 student regent is currently underway and interested UCI students can contact Marti Barmore in the Office of the Dean of Students at (949) 824-5181.
The first deadline to submit applications is on Feb. 24 and the Regents will select the student regent by the middle of July.