Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest budget proposal calls for withholding $50 million from the University of California until the UC improves its financial accountability and admits more community college transfers. It’s his way of pushing for change despite the UC’s constitutional independence.
But the governor has a far more effective tool to overhaul the UC that he has yet to take full advantage of: He could reshape the Board of Regents by filling its four current vacancies.
“I think it would be a game-changer if the governor filled the remaining four vacancies with people who were ready to roll up their sleeves and try to approach their love of the university through improving it – not just through defending what it is at the moment,” says Regent and former Assembly Speaker John Pérez, whom Brown appointed in 2014.
And when asked after Thursday’s board meeting if he’d like to see the governor appoint four regents to the four vacancies that would hold the president’s office more accountable, Regent and current Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon replied, “Absolutely.”
The anger and frustration from the state Capitol toward the University of California is bipartisan. A state audit last month blasted the president’s office for a lack of financial transparency, just weeks after UC regents voted to raise tuition. Lawmakers have also pushed the UC to admit more in-state students and cut costs in the president’s office.
UC President Janet Napolitano has said the university accepts all 33 audit recommendations to her office and is moving to implement them.
“Absolutely, we want to ensure there’s greater accountability,” says Board Chair Monica Lozano. “But that can’t be the only criteria. (The UC) is a very complex institution.”
The governor appoints 18 of the 26 board members. The others are elected officials, the UC president, two alumni and a student.
Lozano says regents already exercise strong oversight of the president’s office, and are taking more action in light of the audit’s findings. But, she adds, there’s good reason for the UC’s constitutional independence – and the audit shouldn’t lead to an overreaction.
“It’s difficult to look at a snapshot of what is a very complex set of factors and think that because of this one moment, you have to move the spectrum to a particular end,” Lozano says.
Brown’s office declined to say when he would fill the vacancies.
“We take the time we need to find the best people to serve,“ says the governor's Deputy Press Secretary, Deborah Hoffman. “This is even more important when you are appointing someone to a 12-year term.“