Everybody within arm’s reach of college knows about the issues surrounding the looming increase of UC tuition. The administration is trying its best to make everybody happy and still keep the UC in the black while students face the increase with varying levels of outrage and annoyance, having to pay off whatever they take out in loans.
This inevitable conflict of interests between students and the UC came to a head recently at the UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco, where protesters entered the meeting and took off their clothing, revealing undergarments that displayed the phrase “Student Debt.” In response, UC President Janet Napolitano decided to encourage the regents to break for lunch, stating that the regents needn’t “listen to this crap.”
Both sides of this interaction between regents and students have garnered mistrust, causing continuous debates as to whether the protests are going too far with the actions at the regents meeting, and whether Napolitano’s comments point toward her fallibility as a leader, or whether she just doesn’t care for the concerns of the students who depend on her to affect positive change. With this mistrust, it is unnecessary to examine the actual events of the recent regents meeting, because the real issue is that the communication between students and UC administrators has broken down.
On the side of students, it should be no stretch to say we feel as though we are not being heard. Though Napolitano and the regents postponed the tuition rise for summer in the face of Governor Jerry Brown’s budget gambit, it is still very much on the table, leading many students to feel as though she is ignoring their concerns in an effort to continue her standoff with the governor. It is in response to this perceived lack of caring (as there very well may be a sympathetic ear among the regents, if not one that has no immediate recourse to support the student protestors), that the Berkeley students felt the need to put on such a bombastic display of protest within the regents meeting itself.
It must also be noted, however, that the regents are showing that they are reaching the end of their collective rope with the student protests and displays, whether they are justified or not. The very fact that a trained politician like Napolitano would break in public like she did shows the level of her frustration at the situation. Additionally, it shows that while the protestors are managing to get the attention of UC administrators, the attention they are garnering is that of an annoyed parent, just hoping that the bad behavior will stop if ignored for long enough.
Something must be changed on the very core from which the student body of the UC has access to the eyes, ears and minds of the UC regents, keeping communications alive and preventing further frustration on both sides of the equation.
While there is already a student regent who exists to act as a bridge between the bigwigs and the student body, this person is elected from a group of candidates by the regents themselves, which could lead to conflicts of interest when they consider the contrasting desires of men and women in charge of running an institution as large as the UC, and the interests of the student body who patronize it. To mitigate this conflict, the very process of regent selection must change, making it one of popular vote.
If the student regent candidates are initially chosen by the student body itself, then allowing the regents to pick from that pool, it could help to ensure that the elected individual has the interests of the students in mind, and owes no necessary allegiance to the regents themselves. Additionally, since this student would then be conducting themselves as a part of the professional setting instead of trying to be heard as an outsider, this could garner a degree of appreciation from the regents too.
It is this change from the inside as opposed to a potentially disruptive outside force that will reach the regents’ minds. However, to make any meaningful change from within, the system itself must be amended to give more power over to the voices of the students.
Creating a series of meetings that includes representatives from all of the campuses of the UC and the regents could help put forth in a succinct and formal setting the regular concerns that students have. If done on a regular basis, it could allay many of the fears that led to the protests at regents’ meetings, showing that the regents are receptive to student concerns when put in the right setting, and given an atmosphere of politicality that they are accustomed to.
While both sides are beginning to wear thin at the edges, it is active and continuous levels of communication that will keep regents and students away from each others’ throats. This communication must come in a form that the regents feel comfortable responding to, however, and if students don’t concede to this point, then the administration is likely to begin disregarding them altogether. The best solution is to give students a better mouthpiece for their concerns, allowing them access to the regents in such a way where they will not only be heard, but listened to.