Regents Decide, Students Suffer

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, it seems that a new round of fee increases will follow last year’s 32 percent hike. We won’t know until next month, when the Regents prepare for their annual November meeting, but UC Budget Director Patrick Lenz has suggested that the fee increase will “range anywhere from zero to 20 percent.”

It seems that the UC has learned from its past mistakes. Last school year, students were aware of the proposed 32 percent hike over the summer, leading to statewide walk-outs on the first day of class. And last November, students protesting the hike outside the Regents meeting at UCLA were tazed, beaten and arrested by UC police, including some of UC Irvine’s finest.

But this year is different. So far, there has been complete silence about proposed fee increases, although some rumors suggest 10 or 20 percent hikes — which would mean a 65 to 75 percent increase over the past year and a half. Most telling, though, is that the Regents meeting, like all others over the past year, will likely be held during the middle of the week at the rarely used Mission Bay campus of UC San Francisco, where there are no undergraduates and few graduate students. Why are the Regents afraid of students attending meetings where such important votes are taken?

The truth is, most of the Regents are unqualified to draft education policy, and they enjoy the lack of oversight in the area they do know: investment and finance.

Many of us who protested last year suspected that the budget crisis was caused by a gross mismanagement of funds, and a recent Sacramento News & Review exposé has revealed immense conflicts of interest among the Regents concerning UC’s investment portfolio. Regent Richard Blum — Senator Diane Feinstein’s husband — has pushed $6.7 billion of UC’s $60 billion investment holdings into risky private equity investments. To make matters worse, millions of dollars were invested in Blum Capital and TPG Capital, of which Blum is the Principal Executive and a major owner. Other significant investments were made in capital holding companies in which other Regents own shares.

But the real issue is that, by the UC Treasurer’s own figures, the UC lost $3.14 billion in private equity investments proposed by Blum over just a few years. Yes, $3.14 billion, at a time when the UC was facing a $1 billion budget gap and the prospect of a $5 billion shortfall by 2014, when student fees are headed toward $12,000 per year with no end in sight. For a financial expert like Blum, who has made billions from investing, it is shocking that he could accidentally lose so much money. And this says nothing about all of the construction-induced debt, which the UC obtained by promising fee increases as collateral (as UC Santa Cruz professor Bob Meister has discovered). In fact, Blum received profits from some of these construction contracts as well! Blum even owns several online education companies, so it should be of little surprise that the UC is pursuing online programs.

So the next time an administrator says that there’s no more money for SAAS, multicultural requirements, raises for TAs, or increases in financial aid, we know that the money is there; it’s simply being mismanaged – if not stolen – by the Regents.

We’ve caught the Regents with their hands in our cookie jars, and we’re being forced to take out student loans to buy them new cookies. We need Regents who understand and respect education and aren’t using us to enrich themselves and their friends. There is no permanent solution to be found in raising fees, cutting wages or lobbying the legislature for more funds. The only way to restore funds and make the UC great again is to fire the current Regents and replace them with a new Board, chosen by students, faculty and staff, and will be accountable to the needs of the UC community.

John Bruning is a graduate student in sociology. He can be reached at jbruning@uci.edu.