Council Tables Measure Endorsing SCA 21

By Rio Bauce Special to the Planet
Thursday July 30, 2009 - 11:03:00 AM

Last Thursday, the Berkeley City Council tabled a measure supporting a bill in the state Legislature that would strip the University of California’s Board of Regents of a certain measure of autonomy.  

The bill, SCA 21, authored by state Senators Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) and Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield), would subject the UC system to laws and statutes passed by the state Legislature. Current laws are already in effect for the California State University system. 

Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguín, who sponsored the resolution, said the measure would send a message. 

“This bill would allow voters to have oversight over their public universities,” said Arreguín. “Given some of the closed-door compensation deals and the fact that many university workers are struggling to support themselves, we want to make sure that the university has some oversight. While I am a proud graduate of UC Berkeley and I do appreciate that the university may be concerned that this would take away some of their power, it will not harm the academic freedom or the functionality of the UC system for the students.” 

However, late Thursday night, Arreguín decided to table the measure after it was apparent that it would not pass. Councilmembers Linda Maio and Laurie Capitelli, as well as Mayor Tom Bates indicated that they did not support the resolution. Councilmembers Susan Wengraf and Kriss Worthington were absent during the vote.  

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak blasted the plan. 

“I don’t see how taking away the autonomy of the Board of Regents solves the problem,” said Wozniak. “Maybe if there was a good argument for the resolution made on the dais, I would support it. However, I don’t think that the executive pay raise scandals at the UC alone warrant a change of structure.” 

At one point during the night, Bates remarked that the UC system was “the worst employer in the state.” 

“However, the state is another out-of-control institution,” said Bates, whose wife, former Berkeley Mayor Loni Hancock, serves in the state Senate. 

During public comment, two union members and one teaching assistant from the university spoke in support of the proposal. Tanya Smith, Local 1 president, UPTE-CWA 9119, argued that members ofthe Board of Regents were more concerned about their salaries than about the welfare of the university. 

“It is very important when talking about the state crisis for the UC to do its part and not fill the pockets of its executives,” said Smith.  

Many UC Berkeley workers feel that this bill is important for their livelihood. 

“After two years of fighting against the university to get a contract, which would bring many workers out of poverty, we have still not been successful,” said a worker who is a single mom with three kids. “The university in the meantime has given executive pay raises and increased perks.” 

Blanca Misse, a UC Berkeley student and teacher assistant who attended the meeting, said that many high school students in Berkeley do not attend UC Berkeley because of fee increases. 

“Every day the university is getting more privatized,” said Misse. “I don’t know a single student that comes to UC Berkeley from Berkeley, because they are always increasing fees. The university belongs to the people of California who pay taxes.” 

However, Councilmember Laurie Capitelli said that, although he agrees that the university has problems, he doesn’t trust the state to do a better job. 

“I am very sympathetic to the union,” said Capitelli. “However, it is ironic that the state Legislature is approving a budget that is cutting education and will raise the tuition at UCs, among other bad things. The irony for me is that we suggest that the Legislature can run the UC better than the regents. I think it will open up Pandora’s box.” 

Adam Keigwin, Sen. Yee’s chief of staff, said that some of the councilmembers were incorrect in their assumption that the state would run or manage the Board of Regents. 

“They did not understand what the constitutional amendment was doing,” said Keigwin. “SCA 21 does not authorize the state to run the UC. It gives elected officials the same relationship they have with the CSU. Regents would still have the same authority. All it would change is that it would allow the people to decide whether the UC would be subject to all laws which pass the Assembly and the state Senate. It would end the era of the UC being above the law.” 

On July 10, UC President Mark G. Yudof sent a letter to the mayor and the City Council urging the council to not only oppose Arreguín’s resolution but also introduce a resolution to oppose SCA 21. 

In his letter, Yudof made claims that SCA 21 would complicate budget issues and also endanger academic freedom. 

“Not only is this legislation unnecessary, it would also impose costs that would exacerbate the fiscal crisis already facing UC and the state,” said Yudof. “SCA 21 could jeopardize the principle of academic freedom that underpins the university’s teaching and research missions.” 

Due to objections from UC and some state senators, SCA 21 is being held in the Rules Committee. Keigwin added that Yee’s office has received more than 6,000 letters in support of SCA 21 and only one letter in opposition from a group called Californians for an Independent UC, “started by family members and friends of the Board of Regents,” according to Keigwin.