Campus Beat Reporter
Students, faculty and staff rallied at the University of California Board of Regents meeting at the UC San Francisco Mission Bay campus on Jan. 20 and 21. Public speakers discussed issues of divestment, student housing, cuts to staff pensions and student regent Avi Oved’s proposal to create a student advisor position.
During public comment at the meetings, many student speakers pushed for divestment from Wells Fargo and fossil fuels. Some have said that public universities should invest their money and time into educating students rather than allegedly unethical causes.
Members of Fossil Free UC shared their beliefs on divestment. “There are some issues that speak to our reason, to our logic to figure out the best solution, and some that speak to our hearts, to our humanity, to what we know to be right,” Claire Morrison, a third year at UC Berkeley, said. “Fossil fuel divestment does both. Not only is it fiscally irresponsible to remain invested in a doomed industry that’s going to burst as we scrounge to keep our planet livable for humans, but it’s immoral. You have a choice between building resilient communities, protecting those most vulnerable in our society or contributing to the destruction of families, health and pollution of our precious resources.”
Students are calling to divest $425 million from the bank, noting that Wells Fargo invests a portion of its funds in private prisons. Activists have stated that they are mobilizing in recognition of their power and ability to change society. “The UC system’s $425 million investments in Wells Fargo is egregious, morally indefensible and quite frankly, disrespectful to its black students,” Nia Mitchell, a fourth year environmental studies major at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said. “For this reason, black student organizers refuse to take part in this complicity … We urge Wells Fargo to end their investment in the dehumanization of our communities, and for the UC Regents to act accordingly to their decision or prepare for black students’ relentless stride for justice. If not, we will make the UC system ungovernable.”
Last month, the UC announced that it would divest its holdings in the private prison industry, a result of work condemning its investments by major activist groups such as the Afrikan Black Coalition.
University of California Student Association President Kevin Sabo shared anecdotes gathered from 300 students surveyed about their living experiences in the UC.
“‘I can see the wires through my walls.’ ‘My shower wasn’t working for half of last quarter.’ ‘They packed so many people into my dorm that they couldn’t even fit desks,’” Sabo, a UC Berkeley student, read. “Housing isn’t their only struggle. This is what hungry students told me: ‘My primary food source my first year was from dumpsters or expired food.’ ‘I sit in my chair in agony while accepting the idea I won’t have dinner tonight.’ Someone else brought up an issue that we can do something about right now: ‘I couldn’t afford a meal plan, so I enrolled in EBT [Electronic Benefit Transfer]. But nowhere on campus accepts EBT.’”
For Paul Rodriguez, a UCSB alumnus and a current law student at UC Berkeley, housing insecurity was an issue he thought he had left behind when growing up in a low-income area of the San Francisco Bay Area.
“As you can imagine, no student is able to reach their full academic potential if they have no stable place to sleep, if they have no stable place to study and if they have no place to maintain their belongings,” Rodriguez said. “What we are requesting respectfully is that the UC leadership invest and investigate the gravity of the issue of homelessness and housing affordability, the way it’s impacting the quality of students’ lives and for the university to return to its core principles of access and affordability. This is an issue that we have to take action on today.”
UC President Janet Napolitano announced at the Jan. 20 meeting that the UC would enact a plan to add 14,000 beds to student housing by 2020. While the housing plans would match increasing enrollment at all the UCs, it may come too late for thousands of students who are set to join the system for the upcoming fall quarter.
Nurses, professors and lecturers from across the state spoke on the UC’s decision to cut funding to pensions. A UCOP task force established by the UC Office of the President recommended new retirement plans on Jan. 15 that would stabilize the UC’s retirement programs. The options cap the defined benefits of UC workers at certain salary limits.
As many noted during public comment, one of the biggest things that draw professionals to UC medical centers and professorships is the retirement plan system. Given that many medical practitioners with the centers are considering retiring soon, it could be difficult to recruit a new workforce if the UC’s retirement plan weakens.
“I came to UCLA over 30 years ago, and have stayed mostly because of the pension,” Fong Chu, a registered nurse who specializes in liver transplants in the operating room there, said. “I could have worked in any other hospital in the area, based on my expertise and experience, yet I chose to stay at UCLA. If the pension is weakened, UC will lose many skilled, experienced nurses and will have a difficult time recruiting the best of our profession.”
The Regents will vote on the proposal in March.
Despite concerns from some regents over the responsibilities of a student advisor, Oved’s proposal to create a student advisor to the regents passed the Committee on Governance on Jan. 21. The position is modeled after the staff advisor to the Board of Regents, and is designed as a two-year pilot program to voice student concerns.
The student advisor would not vote on matters, but will attend all open sessions of Regents meetings and participate in discussion at any point throughout, rather than being limited to public comment, which student speakers generally are.
“Being a regent to me is not just about students,” Regent Fred Ruiz said. “We have a very, very broad responsibility to take care of all the different components of [the] UC … My concern is when [students] speak to us and say, ‘We’re entitled to this extra position because we pay tuition.’ I get that message, and I feel like that’s the hammer they’re trying to use to influence us to make a decision that I think is a good decision, but that’s not the reason that we need your support. We’re in this together. This position will benefit all of us. I get a little bit concerned when I hear that kind of a comment and I don’t think it’s appropriate for the student regent to look at their role in that perspective.”
Oved, a student at UCLA, was enthusiastic about how this could expand student voices and improve relations between students and administration. “I do think that this step forward from the Regents is a step in good faith that I think will instill the confidence that students have in this board and in the Regents, which I think the Regents deserve,” he said.
The Board of Regents will convene again on Mar. 23 and 24.