Public Comment

The UC Board of Regents: The Public Be Damned

Harry Brill
Thursday June 20, 2019 - 03:50:00 PM

To give you a sense of the members who serve on the U.C. Board of Regents, which is the ruling body of the UC system, take a look at the recent activities of Senator Feinstein's spouse, Richard Blum, who was reappointed to the Board in 2014 to a 12 year term. Blum was quite happy to accept a contract with the federal government to sell 56 buildings that house a post office. As the many protests made clear, the post offices are highly valued by the public . But this was not among Blum's concerns. For Blum, it is mainly about making lots of money. 


The UC Board is made up of 26 voting members, many of whom, like Blum, are business oriented appointments and corporate lawyers. Since faculty and students make up a majority of the UC population, shouldn't they be adequately represented? Yes, but they are not. Two faculty members serve on the Board but they cannot vote. And just one student is permitted to serve for two years and can vote only during the second year. Since students make up the vast majority of the campus population, one student vote every other year is not much of a concession. Clearly, the Board is highly undemocratic. 


The Board of Regents has recently made a major decision. The consequences will be good for the real estate industry but a disaster for students and the Berkeley public in general. The Regents agreed to increase student enrollment for UC Berkeley 30 percent to 44,735 by 2022-23. Of course, some students will benefit because they have been accepted by the school of their choice. 


But as the city of Berkeley realizes, this decision is worrisome. It has just sued UC Berkeley for not paying sufficient attention to the adverse consequences of this decision. It will increase homelessness and will be harmful to the environment. Both pollution and congestion, which is already a problem, will certainly become worse. 


Moreover, the quality of education will suffer as well. To accommodate the increase in the student body requires a larger budget. So the University decided to reduce its staff by 500, and every department has been told to reduce their budgets by 10 percent. As a result, the class size in many courses will be larger. 


Why then has the Board of Regents agreed to allow such a large increase in student admissions? The explanation is straight forward. The Board members care far more about the real estate industry than it does about the interests of students and the public generally. Real Estate developers want to build more profitable residential high rises. Obviously, to succeed the realtors must have available plenty of tenants. Thanks to the Board of Regents, the tenants will come mainly from the growing student body. 


Yep, this is cynical stuff. But that's what happens when democracy is sacrificed on behalf of those who have special interests.