Sexual Assault Prevention, Fossil Free UC Protests Dominate Discussion at UC Regents Day 1


Giuseppe Ricapito
IV Beat Reporter

On Wednesday, May 14, at the Sacramento Convention Hall, University of California Regents and Officers convened their final meeting of the school year to discuss a community college Transfer Initiative, incidents of on-campus sexual assault, and the future of biomanufacturing for the state economy. But overshadowing the litigious dialogue of the meeting was the presence of students and campus activists, who brought up a number of issues the Regents were either unwilling or, because of time restraints, unable to address.

The Sacramento Convention Center was staffed with a regiment of police officers and UC Davis security teams by early morning, nearly an hour before the Regent Meeting’s 8:30 a.m. start time.

Before the meeting commenced, a crowd of demonstrators from Fossil Free UC (FFUC) organized a protest out front of the Convention Hall. They presented placards and a Doomsday Clock that read “Divest Now!” at the 11:00 mark before the inevitable “Climate Chaos” positioned at midnight.

UC Davis student Sayla Elsbree-Kraft, an coordinator for FFUC, was one of the organization’s many speakers during their eight-minute allocated speaking time at the upcoming Public Comment session. During the protest, she spoke out on the immediate necessity for the Regents to take their investments out of the fossil fuel industry, citing their failed compliance with an agreed March timeline of action.

“Climate change is a growing issue,” she said, “and we have very little time left to make these choices that will lead us in the right direction.”

While she spoke, the chants of fossil fuel divesters resonated behind her—“Stop Extraction! Regents Take Action!”—a sentiment that, in a condensed form, realizes the sentiments of FUCC. With over 20 people signed up to speak on the issue, FFUC members urged for the appointment of a task force to investigate divestment and related the pressing duty of the UC Regents to take a firm stance against the dangers of global climate change.

Throughout the Public Comment Session, speakers admonished the management of the Regents and University administrators, commended plans for a new UC Berkeley campus at Richmond Bay, and proffered personal perspectives on issues they claim have been overlooked by the University at large.

Over 70 people signed up to comment, so the period was initially extended from 20 to 30 minutes. But even at its conclusion, the people still had much more to say. An impromptu chant for fossil fuel divestment developed into a demand for an extended public comment period. The Regents initially condemned the outburst but eventually granted an additional 10 minutes to the running total.

The heaviest moment of the public comment came when UC Berkeley first-year and National Organization for Women member Lindsay Maurer spoke out–through visible tears–on her experience as a rape survivor and victim of sexual assault.

“Due to these traumatic incidents, I’ve had to take incompletes on all my of classes this semester. I don’t feel safe on campus and this impacts my education,” she said. Condemning the university for its incapacity in curbing sexual assaults, Maurer demanded, “a meeting and a personal apology from Chancellor Dirks for failing to foster a safe campus environment.”

Other commenters touched on a wide diversity of topics. One urged the Regents to promote better programs for graduate students to engage employment opportunities, and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 3299 (AFSCME) Executive Board member and UC Berkeley custodian Maricruz Manzanarez called for a more thorough Regent response to the death of UC worker Damon Frick, who died in early April after an equipment malfunction.

Ian Saxton, who claimed to have two degrees from the UC system, made a general rebuke of the Regents.

“I’m here speaking to the people, not to the Regents,” Saxton began. He rattled off a long list of UC corruption claims, including “collusion with the military academic surveillance complex…freedom of speech repression…and police brutality.”

Most of the speakers commending the work of the UC Regents touched on the proposition for research facilities at a Richmond Bay Campus. Though a few attested to the potential professional opportunities offered by the project, many speakers related their excitement and gratitude for employment and development of a predominately low-income, minority community.

Another project in the Berkeley area—the proposed development of 10-acres of the Gill Tract Farm into a Sprouts grocery store and other retail property—garnered much more controversy. Many speakers noted that the site has long been bastion of developing urban agriculture, and its supplanting by a corporate produce enterprise is antithetical to its history as an organic food source and a practical educational tool.

University unions also made their presence known, with AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger articulating her vision of future cooperation with the UC Regents following contentious, but now agreed-upon, contract negotiations for UC patient care workers.

“So recognizing that we will never agree on everything, the question is how can we ensure more constructive dialogue in the future?” she said. While first noting the obligation for the two parties to focus on shared interests, such as adequate state funding for UC and the prevention of tuition hikes, she also asserted the necessity for the groups to keep each other accountable.

“We must agree that these are higher priorities than risky investments, skyrocketing management payroll, and oversized executive entitlements,” she said.

After Public Comment, Regent George Kieffer, a UCSB alumnus who visited campus earlier this year, lamented the lack of awareness that campuses had about Regent visits. Citing the importance of “coordination with the students and administration,” Regent Kieffer noted that “a recognition that we’re on campus is as important as being on campus.”

Another UCSB alumni, Chairman of the Board Bruce Varner, also made introductory comments, illuminating the attendees on some of the UC’s future financial arrangements.

“I want to make it clear that we are very grateful for the increase in UC funding from the governor, he said. “We have agreed there will be no tuition increases this next year and we are going to work hard with the state to make sure that continues for the following year.”

Per the schedule, UC President Janet Napolitano extended opening remarks, removing herself from the head of the Board table and taking a seat at the presentation dais facing the Regents.

President Napolitano first referenced Maurer’s earlier comment, signaling that the effort to curb campus sexual assaults was “a concern I share, it’s a commitment to action I fully support.”

Relating that the UC system had been in compliance with federal guidelines on addressing campus sexual assaults even before it was published, she reinforced “ongoing efforts to foster the ethos of respect, inclusion, and civility at the University of California.”

“UC does this, we will do more,” President Napolitano repeated three times. “So our work on this front is not complete. I think curbing sexual assault on campuses is a challenge that requires all hands on deck, from students to staff to faculty to all of us in leadership.”

The University of California President’s Award for Outstanding Student Leadership was then awarded to the Student Wellness Commissions “7,000 in Solidarity in Campaign,” whose UC Los Angeles student leader Savannah Badalich communicated support for campus rape education, survivor advocacy, and an intolerance for acts of sexual violence.

“I hope that we don’t just seize this opportunity to help survivors because of the national attention on this issue,” she said. “I really hope you Regents, student Regents, Chancellors, Presidents, and President Napolitano make this a long-term initiative.”

The President’s Leadership award was also issued to Auxana Rodriguez-Torres, a Colombian political asylee who completed three-years of medical education in her home country before gaining admission to the University system and coordinating the UC Davis Pre-Medical and Pre-Health Professional National Conference. Both Rodriguez-Torres and Badalich received standing ovations from the crowd for their contributions.

President Napolitano also touched on the evolving technological and scientific exchange between the UC system and Mexico’s El Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Technologia (CONACYT).

“This initiative aims to help expose ourselves, our students, to the cultural experiences and resources they will need to lead the world,” she said. “At the same time it aims to enrich further the relationship between California and Mexico.”

Her further affirmations—attesting to the role of the UC as a research institution, and the promotion of greater “synergy” between all layers of the system—were mirrored by the next opening speaker, Chair of the Academic Senate Bill Jacob.

Arguing against criticisms of the California Master Plan for Higher Education (specifically citing the University of Pennsylvania report, “From Master Plan to Mediocrity: Higher Education Performance and Policy in California”), Jacob reinforced the University’s research role and attested to its continuing scholastic success.

“Rather than more rapid throughout that risks undermining the academic quality the UC represents, we need infrastructure investment and investment in the full educational enterprise,” he said.

The Presidential Transfer Initiative, an effort to “enhance community college student transfer to the University of California” and to expand university diversity, was the flagship item of Day 1. Labeled a “major priority” by President Napolitano, her appointed Transfer Action Team argued that a more comprehensive UC-California Community College (CCC) pipeline would promote opportunity for economically diverse students and encourage academic excellence.

The Transfer Action Team noted that currently 50 percent of transfers currently come from 19 of California’s 121 community colleges, and President Napolitano said 29 percent of University attendees are transfer students. With these facts in hand, the Transfer Action Team’s recommendations included improving outreach to CCC campuses, streamlining “transfer-oriented curriculum pathways” and providing new students with a “Transfer Success Kit” to guarantee access to housing, orientation, and mentoring.

An anecdotal speech from UC Berkeley graduate Frankie Guzman, originally an East Oxnard resident who spent six years under the domain of the California Youth Authority (a system of correction and rehabilitation prisons for juvenile offenders) before attending community college, demonstrated a success story for the transfer structure.

“Because of my education, I am now in a position of great privilege,” said Guzman, now a children’s rights attorney and graduate of the UCLA School of Law. “I hope to be able to continue to advocate not only for equal opportunities, but for increased access. And I think that the plan laid out today by the Transfer team does just that.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown, who has been a transfer student himself, posed a question to the Regents—“I want to go right at that issue and ask that we really think through here, what is the role of the freshman and sophomore year, where should that take place?”

The central intent of the initiative, to increase the proportion of transfer students on UC campuses, was complicated by the admission that in order to concurrently match the growing demand for freshman enrollment, more assistance would be required from the state government. Without this financial support, a few of the Regents voiced, the University ran the risk of displacing freshman admissions.

“We have to balance the competing demands of diversity, excellence and available revenue,” said Brown. “And that is something, I have to say, we have a long way to go.”

Student Regent Cinthia Flores also related her support for the transfer plan, but tempered her optimism with unease about the lack of course consistency that confirms a student’s eligibility.

“I think this is a great initiative,” she began. “My only statement or concern is that it seems that there are there’s a very big deficit in the community college students that are enrolled and those that are transfer ready.”

The following presentation, on the role of the Department of Energy (DOE) Laboratories relationship to biomanufacturing and the California bioeconomy, stipulated some of the very same environmental concerns voiced by FFUC earlier in the day.

Regent Norman Pattiz, chairman for the Oversight of the DOE laboratories, had mixed feelings about the staging of the FFUC demonstration, but also attested to the importance of their message, noting “I don’t think there is a bigger problem facing humanity than climate change.”

“I think they have a little work to do on their method of presentation and maybe the exact approach that they’re talking about may be a little narrow in its focus,” he said. “This is a valid demonstration, this is a valid cause to be interested in. And I would encourage us to find ways within the university community and certainly work is being done in the labs to deal with these types of problems that are monumental in scope.”

To conclude the day, the Board adopted a Long Range Development Plan and Physical Design Framework for the forthcoming Richmond Bay Campus, and approved of amendments to the UC Santa Barbara Long Range Development Plan after a presentation from UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang.

Extensive discussions brought Day 1 of the UC Regents Meeting to a late conclusion, but even as the Regents and Public Guests vacated the Convention Center, there was no dismantling to be done. The attendees would be back the next morning, to continue where the dialogue left off.