The Lieutenant Governor and You: Budget, Benefits and a Bodybuilder

John Garamendi is the current lieutenant governor of the state of California, beginning his term on Jan. 8, 2007. In serving as California’s lieutenant governor, Garamendi also serves as an ex-officio member of the UC Regents. The following interview took place on April 3 and any references made to recent events should be taken from that perspective.

New University: You recently spoke at the “March in March: Rescue Education” event held in Sacramento, CA. How effective do you think the event was in addressing issues of tuition and how do you feel you contributed to the event?
John Garamendi: The event in my view was very successful. We had a large crowd, the [California State] Legislature noticed and rallies are an important and effective way of getting the message to the legislature. Has it changed anything? No, but it makes the legislature aware that the students are up and concerned. It needs to be coupled with letter writing campaigns, phone campaigns, e-mail campaigns and work in the district office of the various legislatures. We should go rally in front of the district office.

New U: Like you mentioned, because such events can only do so much, some universities are still having trouble allocating budget cuts. For instance at UC Irvine since 2006, the university has allowed students to enroll in summer session classes and only be required to pay for the first eight units of classes. However, now because of the budget issues, UCI can no longer offer such deals. What, if any, benefits do you see such offers having and what, if any, damage do you believe occurs when such offers are discontinued?
Garamendi: I do not know, whether they are good, bad or who’s harmed or whom they benefit because I don’t know the programs. I do know that the legislature and the governor are seriously starving the University of California and it’s gone on now for some 20 years.

In 1990, the day I left the California legislature, we funded the University of California students at $15,000 per student. Last year, it was less than $10,000 per student, a full one-third decline in support to the university on a per student basis. That’s a starvation diet for the university, and it will lead to a reduction in the number of students and a reduction in the quality of the educational experience. That is, in my view, a very serious and damaging thing to do.

New U: Do you think that these kinds of changes happening during summer are a sign of things to come, or do you think that this is more of an anomaly?
Garamendi: First of all, we do know that 2,300 qualified high school seniors will not enter the university for lack of space next year. That means that classes are unavailable. Professors are unavailable. Therefore, the problem that you cited with summer school is the inevitable result of the state under funding the university. I think it is wrong; I think it is counterproductive to the maintenance of a strong economy, and I believe that it will ultimately weaken the California economy.

New U: Within the UC Regents, you work with UC President Mark Yudof. Considering that this year has been Yudof’s first academic year as president, what has been your opinion of Yudof’s performance thus far as president and how capable do you believe Yudof is in utilizing space for the UC system as far as funding goes?
Garamendi: Mark Yudof has already shown himself to be a capable administrator and a strong president. The issues that he and the regents face are very difficult in that the money is disappearing [and] the state support is disappearing.

New U: Currently the way the regent body is set up is with a voting body of 26 members, and the makeup of the University of California regents only has one voting student and 25 voting members who are non-students. Do you think that the makeup will change eventually or do you think the makeup as it is now with only one student is productive?
Garamendi: The student regents, D’Artagnan [Scorza] at the moment and the previous student regents have been outstanding regents, very knowledgeable, articulate and prepared. They’ve done a terrific job. Some people have suggested that the regents be elected. That is a terrible idea in that it would result in single-issue regents lighting up on the board, some of which may be supportive of education, others of whom may be supportive of everybody having an assault weapon on campus. Those people that advocate the election of the regents, I think, are making a serious mistake.

New U: Do you think that the elections of regents will gain any ground?
Garamendi: I hope not because I know statewide elections and I know that they’re going to be single-issue candidates.

New U: How do you work with the student regent? Do you work with the student regent outside of regent meetings, or is the work that you do with the student regent mostly in the atmosphere of the UC regent meetings?
Garamendi: My staff and I work very closely with the student regent on a continuing basis between meetings and at the meetings and we’ve always had a very good, close working relationship.

New U: Apart from students, researchers also play a significant role in contributing to the UC community. What do you believe will be the greatest impact on UC researchers as a result of the state budget crisis?
Garamendi: Well, we’re already seeing the effect. We’ve been unable to fill all the graduate student spots that are desired for lack of money. So already we know that research is suffering, that the continued budget crisis and starvation of the university will continue to reduce research that is being done on the various campuses and that’s very troublesome for the current and future California economy.

New U: Recently UCI researchers earned the distinction of being approved to conduct the first embryonic stem cell treatment on humans, yet such scientific trials can be costly. How, if at all, do you believe that state budget issues have affected stem cell research?
Garamendi: The stem cell research at the University of California has been significantly augmented by the passage of the stem cell research proposition. I think about a billion and a half dollars [has been used] thus far for research facilities and projects on various campuses. Now that’s not specifically the state budget, but the state budget does pay back those bonds, which over time will directly benefit stem cell research.

Now I’m a very strong supporter of stem cell research and the general support for the university is helpful for all research including stem cell research. Most of the stem cell research that is being done is funded directly for the purposes of stem cell research by either the federal government or foundations.