Sen. Ricardo Lara wants it to be easier for state lawmakers to pressure the University of California Board of Regents. His proposed constitutional amendment, SCA1, passed out of the Senate Education Committee this month and, with enough stirring of the pot, could end up on the ballot.
For Californians, this should not be welcome news.
Lara, a Bell Gardens Democrat, has had issues with the UC since President Janet Napolitano had the temerity to threaten a tuition hike if the state didn’t increase university funding. In 2014, he proposed stripping UC’s historic autonomy from lawmakers; last year, as a favor to his labor friends, he tried to strong-arm the university into turning outsourced workers into legions of pricier full-time employees.
It’s not news that the regents, who are mostly gubernatorial appointees, tend to be richer, whiter and more politically connected than most Californians. Every so often, some lawmaker annoyed with their patrician-ness – or covetous of the campaign cash a politician can extract from a wannabe regent – will take umbrage. And the Legislature’s Latino caucus, a rising force, has had the UC in its crosshairs, calling for more in-state enrollment, more flagship campus Latino admissions and generally less sass from Napolitano.
But the constitution made the UC politically independent precisely to shield the public university from such wheeling and dealing. The regents’ terms are, by design, longer than those of the governors who appoint them so that politicians can’t manipulate things like admissions and hiring and academic freedom.
Lara’s proposal, which would require approval from a supermajority in each house and a majority of voters, would cut regents’ terms from 12 years to four. This will make UC more “accountable,” he says, noting that governing boards of other state universities, including Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin and the Cal States, all have shorter terms, albeit more in the six-to-eight-year range.
But Lara is fixing something that ain’t broke. The Legislature’s purse strings give it plenty of influence over higher education, and the Senate approves the governor’s appointees. The issues that bother Lara and others aren’t the regents’ fault; if anything, they’re more about college preparedness and K-12 education.
Starting a bruising and divisive fight with the UC at its center will tarnish the brand and punish California students. The best and brightest should all get a fair shot, but muscling the regents is not only beneath Lara, it’s a terrible idea.