By Michelle Locke
The Associated Press
SAN FRANCISCO – Starting next fall, it will take good grades and good health insurance to get into the University of California.
UC regents voted Thursday to make insurance a mandatory requirement, believed to be the first such requirement by a major U.S. university system.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, regents approved pay raises for top administrators and heard from a noisy contingent of students who briefly disrupted the meeting with their calls for a return of affirmative action admissions.
The insurance issue stemmed from concerns over the estimated 40 percent of undergraduates who have inadequate or no coverage. Twenty-five percent of the system’s annual dropouts are due to medical issues, with a significant portion due to insurance problems, a report found.
The requirement passed by voice vote with little debate, although Regent Judith Hopkinson registered her opposition. Hopkinson said she was worried the requirement would be a financial burden to some.
Students who don’t have their own insurance will be able to buy coverage from their campuses for between $400 and $500 a year. Financial assistance is available for needy students.
The measure was endorsed by the Associated Students of the University of California, but some students have said they think the requirement is too much.
“A lot of students are going to be worried by this because a lot of students can’t afford health insurance,” said Steve Davey, a commissioner in UCLA’s student government.
Davey, who has health insurance, said he understands administrators’ concerns about those who don’t, but considers the new requirement intrusive. “About seven or eight years ago Hillary Clinton tried the same thing on a national scale and people on both sides of the spectrum rejected that idea.”
Michael Drake, UC vice president for health affairs, said campuses will try to help students afford the coverage. But he said the costs of going without health insurance are far greater.
Health insurance is already mandatory for all graduate and international students at UC and for undergraduates at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz. Officials from those campuses said students have welcomed the coverage.
In other business, regents approved annual salary increases of between 3.5 percent and 4.3 percent for top administrators. The raise takes President Richard C. Atkinson’s pay from $337,300 to $349,100.
This year’s state budget provides an increase of about 3 percent for faculty. The staff employee rate is 3.5 percent, but that will be augmented by an extra $19 million. Staff making $40,000 or less will get an extra 2 percent and those making $40,000 to $80,000 will get an extra 1 percent.
Before taking the pay raise vote, regents heard from a number of speakers about affirmative action. The board voted in July 1995 to stop considering race or gender when evaluating applicants, a policy that was endorsed by the 1996 passage of Proposition 209, which dismantled most state affirmative action programs.
Some speakers Thursday urged regents to stick with their policy on the grounds that ultimately students are better off earning a place through academic merit alone.
But most of the speakers said affirmative action is necessary to compensate for inequalities in the public education system and to provide diversity on UC campuses.
Since the new policies took effect in fall 1998, the percentage of black, Hispanic and American Indian undergraduate enrolled at UC has dropped from 22 percent to 16 percent, even though high school graduation rates for those groups increased slightly.
Atkinson said Wednesday he will convene a meeting in December to evaluate new approaches to admissions in light of the experience of the past five years.
Vivian Scott, a new black student at UC Berkeley, said being on a campus where only 4.8 percent of the students are black is disconcerting. She said it is a myth to think that black and Hispanic high school students have the same opportunities as others.
“Institutional racism is real. It is not a figment of our imagination,” she said.
After the 35-minute public comment session ended, about three dozen students shouted for more time to speak. However, after a few minutes, they walked out, chanting “We’ll be back.”