For the first time since 1993, the University of California Board of Regents held a meeting in Sacramento, rather than a specific UC campus. With the threat of further budget cuts and a budget deficit looming, regents hoped to join forces with students on a united front to lobby legislators on UC issues. Four UCR students joined Chancellor White in Sacramento to speak with local state representatives and make their case for the University of California.
UCR’s student representation came from the Highlander Lobby Corps, a volunteer-based group ran by the Legislative Liaison and overseen by the External Affairs Office of ASUCR.
The organization focuses on lobbying efforts and making sure student voices are heard by government representatives. The students pushed four core issues in Sacramento: protection of Cal Grants, no further cuts to the UC, a buyout of a tuition increase for next year and support for the governor’s tax measure in November. The students also expressed that they don’t want public education to be paid for at the expense of necessary social services.
Among the legislators the students met with were Senator Bob Dutton, Senator Bill Emerson, Senator Joel Anderson and Senator Bob Huff.
The lobbying effort was further bolstered by the participation of chancellors and regents. In addition to Chancellor White, Regents William De La Peña and Bruce Varner also joined the students in their meetings with the senators. Although the presence of university leadership helped get the attention of legislators, it was the students who took the lead in making the UC’s case for more funding. Each student assumed a different role in the lobby visit, fulfilling duties like facilitating the meeting, note taking and sharing a personal testimonial.
“They organized meetings with legislators across all the campuses. It was very powerful. Two or three students, plus a regent, plus a chancellor, would walk into a legislator’s office…and that created an image, a command and a respect in the legislator’s office that they didn’t normally get. Coming together delivered a very powerful message,” said Chancellor White in an interview with the Highlander.
The students even had an opportunity to meet Governor Jerry Brown, who has been noticeably absent from UC-related events since he took office in 2010. With the release of his revised budget and a larger-than-expected budget deficit, his budgetary decisions were a hot topic of debate.
“I think the general consensus for the students here from the separate UC campuses is that this has been an amazing first step. Not having to fight against the regents, but fight with the regents. I think it was very effective. We actually spoke to the senators instead of staffers; that’s something that the regents allowed us to do. And we got to hear their perspective and not just many angry students’ perspective,” said UCR student and Highlander Lobby Corps member Johanna Sanchez. “It was a really wonderful experience and I enjoyed it.”
Last week’s lobbying trip marks the second significant effort by UC students this year. The first, which took place in March, consisted of students from across California’s public higher education systems congregating on the Capitol steps, then participating in lobbying visits as arranged by UCSA.
“Our students are holding these guys accountable. They’re being enormously respectful, professional and polite, but penetrating at the same time,” said Chancellor White.