At its virtual meeting Wednesday, the UC Board of Regents passed the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, 2021-22 budget, discussed student mental health needs, heard updates on open access agreements for research and explored ways to support campus innovation and entrepreneurship.
UC President Michael Drake’s opening remarks focused on the UC system’s journey to equality, information security and the emergence from the pandemic as a “light at the end of the tunnel.” During the open session, public commenters expressed their concern over housing, including the destruction of People’s Park and 1921 Walnut St.
During the Finance and Capital Strategies Committee meeting, the regents extensively discussed the Fiscal Year 2021-22 Budget for UCOP before the item was approved with the addition of $50,000 of matching funds for a foster youth award.
“We are cautiously optimistic, and feel hopeful about restoring full campus operations and bringing students back in person in the fall,” Drake said at the committee meeting. “California is on its way to recovery, and the university has much to contribute to that process.”
The 2021-22 budget will be larger than the previous fiscal year’s budget, Drake added. The proposed 2021-22 budget is $960.6 million, a $98.6 million increase from the 2020-21 fiscal year, according to the executive summary for the action item.
During discussion of the budget, committee members brought up issues of cybersecurity and the budget evaluation process. Drake said that, while UCOP is still waiting on additional cybersecurity information, he believes the proposed 2021-22 budget will not be sufficient to support cybersecurity efforts and that additional funding will need to be allocated.
UC Board of Regents Chair John Pérez critiqued the budget evaluation process during the meeting, arguing that more information should be shared with the board as a whole rather than in private briefings to strengthen the decision-making process around the budget.
The Finance and Capital Strategies Committee also saw discussion of UC Berkeley and UC Riverside’s 2021 Long Range Development Plans, or LRDPs.
“The Berkeley campus currently houses the lowest percentage of students in on-campus housing in the system, in a region with one of the tightest housing markets in the country,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ at the meeting. “The 2021 LRDP incorporates our housing initiative with the most ambitious housing program in campus history.”
During the discussion period, Student Regent-designate Alexis Zaragoza raised the issue of community and student concerns regarding the impacts of the Walnut Street development. Christ countered by asserting that UC Berkeley has extensively compensated the prior tenants of 1921 Walnut St., adding that it is an “extraordinary” project.
UC Berkeley’s 2021 LRDP will appear before the regents meet again in July as an action item for approval.
Student mental health was the main focus of the Public Engagement and Development Committee meeting. Stress, anxiety, sleep difficulties and depression were the highest-ranking factors impacting student academic performance, according to a 2019 UC-wide survey cited by Genie Kim, director of Student Mental Health and Wellbeing for UCOP, at the meeting.
In light of the ongoing student mental health crisis, Regent Eloy Ortiz Oakley asserted that the UC system needs to examine its role as a highly competitive academic institution in contributing to the problem.
“It’s not just a question of more resources,” Ortiz Oakley said at the meeting. “It’s a question of reimagining the way that we organize ourselves and the expectations that we have of students.”
UC Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Brown provided updates on the Eligibility in Local Context, or ELC, program and open access research publication agreements.
The ELC program is a race-neutral program that aims to admit a broad range of diverse students from California, according to Brown. He added that the program guarantees admissions of UC-qualified students from the top 9% of participating high schools.
“The ELC program at least begins to look at the local context of the school itself,” Brown said at the meeting. “ELC is a critical tool for the university to increase and broaden the (socioeconomic) and geographic diversity of our undergrad student body.”
Han Mi Yoon-Wu, UCOP executive director of undergraduate admissions, noted that even more selective schools, such as UCLA, are admitting ELC students at a higher rate of 26% than the overall admission rate of 12-14%, showing how campuses are accommodating ELC students as a priority.
Brown then congratulated the regents on open access agreements, specifically the university’s recent agreement with Elsevier.
“UC publishes approximately 10% of the scholarship emanating from the United States and takes seriously its obligation to share the fruits of that research with all who can benefit from it,” Brown said at the meeting.
Brown also addressed international students’ concerns about challenges in obtaining visas during the meeting, despite the topic not being included in the agenda. He noted that all students with an F-1 visa will automatically be considered for national interest exemptions to travel.
The UC system will also accept internationally approved vaccines authorized by the World Health Organization and will offer vaccination opportunities to those who arrive on campus unvaccinated.
Later, the regents’ Governance Committee recommended the approval of a special committee focused on bolstering innovation and entrepreneurship while limiting bureaucratic obstacles. The committee will largely focus on supporting student and faculty success at the campus level and revising outdated policies.
Funding is an issue of equity, Regent Richard Leib added, stating that many communities need the extra help in order to succeed.
Another key focus of the committee will be to pursue Internet Protocol, or IP, protections. The committee will explore options such as utilizing litigation funding firms to enforce existing contract rights.
“We want to be the masters of our own fate. We should control IP and use it so we don’t have to raise tuition (while being able to) invest in student housing and mental health services,” said Regent Sherry Lansing at the meeting.
The final approval of the special committee will be subject to a full vote by the regents next week.