The Race Winds Down: UC Student Regent 2010-2011

By the end of this month, the UC Board of Regents will officially appoint the student regent for the 2010-2011 year. Although it is unknown for sure who will get the appointment, two UC Irvine students have advanced to the final three considered candidates.

Jesse Cheng, a third-year Asian-American studies major and Carrie Carmody, a doctoral student in the department of psychology and social behavior, have surpassed the competition. Along with Miguel Lopez, a UCLA doctoral student in higher education and organizational change, they comprise what the UC system has whittled down as possible student regents.

Last month, the Regents’ Special Committee to Select a Student Regent nominated Cheng as its candidate for the position. However, the final appointment of the UC student regent designate will not take place until July 1.

According to D’Artagnan Scorza, the incumbent student regent, the only technical prerequisite for becoming a UC student regent is being a UC student. Yet, he stressed that to actually get the position, a contender would have to be made of some sturdy stuff.

“Really, what it takes in terms of qualifications is an individual who is willing to be open-minded, connect to students on a local level and on a system-wide level, and also someone who is willing to share a perspective and stand up on behalf of students,” Scorza said.

Scorza mentioned that the number of applicants for student regent changes each year. Yet by the time the selection process boils down to its concluding rounds, the UC Regents are left with only solid candidates.

Both Cheng and Carmody have worked in some fashion or another with the UC Regents prior to running for the position, whether it was making pubic comments or participating in conference calls.

“Because we are only on there for two years, it’s important that whoever becomes the student regent … has to become a regent from their very first day,” Scorza said.

To find someone that stands as an example to Scorza’s logic one need look no further than Jesse Bernal, the incoming student regent of the 2008-2009 year.

According to Velma Montoya, who was appointed to serve a 12-year term as a UC Regent in 1994, “[Bernal] wasn’t even on the board, but he was making public comments [that] were thoughtful, and so when he was selected it occurred to me that, that was a good vehicle he used. Through the public comment route [he got] himself known and trusted by some of the regents,” Montoya said.

Although Montoya will not work as a regent during Bernal’s tenure she is well aware of him.

To be prepared, prospective regents have to be motivated and come to the table with their own ideas, which are qualities that Cheng and Carmody share.

For Cheng, he believes that the UC system may be at a turning point, in which he would like to have a role.

“People like to say ‘UC is at a crossroads,’ and I want to be there when the UC has to make that decision at the crossroads. I want to help establish the direction that UC wants to go,” Cheng said.

Carmody has similar feelings and believes that the time for education to change has extended beyond the UC system.

“All of higher education really needs to evaluate what the role of higher education is going to be in the 21st century … The UC system is posed to be a leader in those discussions … I would like to be part of the conversation,” Carmody said.

Looking at these approaches, one may note that both have prepared to expand their visions beyond the scope of UCI. Yet, this in turn raises the question: Is it important that these students are from UCI?

With no student regent serving from UCI since Jenny Doh’s term in 1990-1991, it may be unexpected that two strong contenders would both hit the scene in the same year. Carmody attributes this to a drive to enhance leadership on campus.

“There’s been a large push to increase the leadership quality of students on our campus and I think that is reflected in the fact that we do have two finalists this year,” Carmody said.

Cheng expressed that which campus a student regent may come from only has a limited impact. Yet, in referencing the top-notch candidates for the position, he believes that it is a testament to the UC system as a whole.

“I wouldn’t like to think that [UCI] is the reason that Carry and I are here … [but] it speaks to the quality of education for the entire UC system that they can produce students like this,” Cheng said.

Indeed, regardless of the UC campus they attended, both Cheng and Carmody were likely to rack up some credentials. Evidence of this is apparent in the numerous leadership positions they have held. Cheng has played an active role in ASUCI, and was recently elected to the position of executive vice president, while Carmody is the president of the Associated Graduate Students at UCI.

Yet, it would be unreasonable to state that perspective does not play a role in the position of student regent. Although whether or not the extent an individual campus may have on changing someone’s perspective is questionable, the point of view of a student regent is central to understanding how he or she will serve in that position.

According to Montoya, who is a representative with over a decade of experience serving as a regent, the contributions of student regents are immensely valuable. Their efforts stem from their backgrounds, and their backgrounds equally shape a student regent’s tenure.

“If you come from a campus with a lot of graduate programs like UC San Francisco you’re going to have … different contributions than say someone from a small, new campus like UC Merced,” Montoya said.

With the UC system currently being shaken by budget issues, having someone capable in the right position could make all the difference. Regardless of his or her background, the UC community will be able to begin assessing on July 1 whether such a capable person has stepped up.