University of California Student Regent, Alfredo Mireles Jr., and Student Regent-designate, Jonathan Stein visited UC Irvine on Thursday, Feb. 2 as part of their 2012 Student Regent Recruitment Tour to encourage students to apply for the 2013-2014 term.
The tour is aimed at increasing the number of applicants for student regent, and raising awareness of the position in the general student population — two critical goals as state funding for higher education continues to dwindle, and future student regents will likely face mounting challenges to adequately represent their increasingly frustrated peers. Mireles and Stein are also utilizing the tour to promote a rally, planned for May 16 in Sacramento to protest Gov. Brown’s continued cuts to funding for higher education.
“There’s always been a pretty low number of applicants,” Mireles said of the student regent search. “The people who would be attracted to this position have many other options. It’s a two-year commitment … it was one year until the late ’90s. That’s a huge thing to ask [of a student].”
Mireles and Stein stressed the importance of reaching out to younger students during the tour. They noted that the two-year commitment, one year serving as student regent-designate and one as student regent, has made finding qualified applicants a challenge. Younger students typically do not have the experience and the connections to intercampus communities necessary for the student regent position, and third-year undergraduates are ineligible unless they elect to stay for a fifth year.
The result: only about 70 students applied during the previous selection process. Of those, many are unqualified for the position. Distressingly, there has not been a female student regent since Maria C. Ledesma, a graduate student from UCLA who served from 2006-07. Furthermore, the last female undergraduate student regent was Michelle Pannor, a senior from UC Berkeley who served from 1999-2000.
“There’s still a lot of students who don’t know what the student regent position is,” Mireles said. “This is an educational opportunity for us. I think a lot of people are interested in the position, and what the world of the UC Regents is like. We’ve been breaking down what it’s like on the board [of Regents].”
Actively and constructively engaging the student body presents a continuing challenge to the Regents. Student frustrations over rising tuition, growing class sizes, downsizing of programs and athletic programs has presented itself through student hostility toward the Regents that threatens to shut down dialogue between UC administrators and the University’s student body.
“The new normal is for Regents to get barricaded in meetings by protesters,” he said. “Our challenge is to find a way to harness the students’ anger, and use it to advance their causes. Ways to address that frustration are vexing at the moment. I already think that students have captured public attention.”
However, the Jan. 18-19 Regents meeting at UC Riverside brought some much needed hope to the entire UC community.
An alternative budget proposal made by Chris LoCascio, president of FixUC and editor-in-chief of UCR’s student newspaper, The Highlander, drew praise from UC President Mark Yudof.
“Everyone is really encouraged and inspired,” he said. “Students are taking their destiny into their own hands. At the Regents dinner I brought Chris LoCascio, as my guest. He got to make his case to all the Regents. They were receptive.”
Planning and preparation continues after Regents Chairwoman Sherry Lansing announced on Jan. 18 that the May meeting would be moved to Sacramento.
The Regents hope to fund busses for any students and faculty interested in attending the May 16 protest at the state Capitol, and are hoping for a large turnout.
“We’ll have the resources, the best of both worlds,” he said of the planned rally. “I’ve realized that students have real frustrations with the Regents. It’s fair for students to protest at the regent level, but sometimes we have to partner with people who we’re not in complete lockstep with. We have the same goals.
This rally — and it’s not the only rally — needs to be part of a strategic vision. At the UCSA [UC Student Association] board meeting we discussed that if we only have a rally, we’re not going to get what we want. I’m committed to it. We have to find sustainable ways to work together.”