Charging that the UC Board of Regents is dominated by political insiders with no public accountability, a coalition of UC students, staff members and professors are launching a ballot initiative drive today to require that nine of the 18 members now appointed by the governor be chosen in statewide elections instead.
The group also seeks to reduce regents' terms from 12 years to four, with a three-term limit.
Coalition members cited a 1991 study by a UC Berkeley professor who examined financial disclosure forms and found that 14 of the 18 appointed regents--most named during the George Deukmejian Administration--made contributions to Deukmejian's political campaign before their selection. The report also found that the average regent is a member of four corporate boards and is worth $700,000.
That profile puts regents out of touch with the typical California student who is struggling to get through school with annual fee increases of at least $500 in recent years, said Kevin Mireles, 26, who is studying Latin American studies at UCLA and is active in the campaign.
"This is becoming an elite institution," Mireles said. "I work too many hours and see too many people who can't afford to attend school here, and at the same time, the regents are approving multimillion-dollar retirement packages for the outgoing chancellor. It pisses me off."
Mireles was referring to the $857,000 severance package that the regents approved for former UC system President David P. Gardner when he resigned in 1992. The same year, the regents also raised annual student fees $605. Fees were raised again this year $630, boosting annual costs for California students to $3,674.
The group hopes to galvanize public opinion so it can obtain the 600,000 signatures needed to get the measure on the November, 1994, ballot.
A spokesman for UC system President Jack W. Peltason disputed the coalition's charges and said the institution opposes any change in the selection process for regents, who must be confirmed by the state Senate after being appointed by the governor. The UC system also opposes several pending state bills that seek to revise the way regents are appointed.
"There's already a process in place that allows for input and checks and balances," said UC spokesman Mike Alva, who noted that under current procedures a hearing must be held before a regent is confirmed.
The regents "are accountable and they are responsible," Alva said. "They're not out of touch. Just because they have to take an action to raise fees doesn't mean they want to do that. They're very much concerned."
Alva said the Board of Regents has taken dramatic steps in the last year to allow more public scrutiny and review of expenses, including limiting executives' compensation. Supporters of the current system say the regents face a complex task in running a university system whose prestige can be counted in its Nobel Prizes, research grants and demand for admissions.
But Charles Schwartz, a professor emeritus of physics at UC Berkeley and longtime gadfly of the university system who conducted the critical study of the regents, said electing the board would help ensure that it reflects the "economic, social and cultural diversity of the state, including ethnic minorities and women."
Schwartz said the appointment process dates to the early 1900s, when education was reserved for the elite. Although the state's philosophy about access to higher education and its demographics have changed, Schwartz said, the governing system has not.
Several states--including Colorado, Michigan and Illinois--require public university regents to be elected. But regents are still appointed in most states, and the issue has experts nationwide divided about what type of university governing system is best.
The proposed initiative would create a system in which nine regents would be elected in state elections and nine would be appointed by campus councils and confirmed by the state Assembly.
Seven regents are ex-officio members--including the governor, lieutenant governor, Assembly Speaker, state superintendent of public instruction, the UC system president and the president and vice president of the statewide alumni association. With the student representative, the number of regents is 26.
Among the bills to revise the regent selection process is one by Assemblywoman Marguerite Archie-Hudson (D-Los Angeles) that would split the 18 appointments three ways, with the governor, Speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Rules Committee each responsible for picking six members. The selections would be subject to approval by an independent council for eight-year terms.