The UC Board of Regents reconvened Thursday to discuss UC Berkeley’s library closures, UC investment assets and access to healthcare.
The meetings began with a public comment period where students and faculty across all UC campuses highlighted concerns over access to affordable medicine, protections for trans and queer students and the expansion of climate protections policies for all UCs.
However, the most prominent voices during the public comment period came from students and faculty from UC Berkeley, urging the regents to take immediate action to prevent the closure of the George and Mary Foster Anthropology Library, which is slated to merge with the Main Gardner Stacks Library by January 2024.
“Closing the anthropology library sends a message of inverted priorities and poses a posture antithetical to the values of public education,” said Shelby Medina, a doctoral student of anthropology at UC Berkeley.
Many echoed frustrations over the library closure being due to an alleged lack of funding, claiming that funds to sports and administration budgets have not been slashed to the degree the library budgets have.
After the closing of public comments, UC Student Association President Alex Niles briefly spoke on housing problems facing students across the UC.
Next, Committee Chair Richard Sherman called to convene the Investments Committee, passing the buck to Jagdeep Bachher, Chief Investment Officer and Vice President of Investments.
Bachher opened up discussion on where the UC stands with regards to its investment assets.
“We are not asset managers; we are risk managers,” Baccher said. “Before we seek a return we want to understand the risks to best invest the capital of the university.”
Citing how the nature of risk has evolved over the course of the pandemic, Bachher noted a 20% annualized return in private equity investments over the past thirty years. These returns allowed for UC Investments to concentrate on companies “in the UC ecosystem,” such as UC-related technology companies, Baccher added.
Another main investment strategy for the UC has been in real estate, particularly property near and around UC campuses, according to Bachher.
Over the past eight years, Bachher’s team has invested in eight assets accounting for $1.2 billion in gross asset value, purely as investments to ensure a return for pensioners and those in the UC endowment.
Bachher added that a future priority for the investment team is to form a UC-based real estate team in order to avoid the 20% fees that private firms levy on returns. Instead, with an in-house team, the UC could charge a 10% fee for its investors, which it may then reinvest to “advantage our customers,” Baccher said.
The Investment Committee closed with the fourth annual report on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility within UC Investments from Arthur Guimaraes, an Associate Chief Investment Officer for the University of California system. Guimaraes announced a focus on investing in “diverse-owned” firms — or those with greater than 25% diverse staff members — which has created a 120% increase in Latine majority-owned businesses in the UC’s portfolio.
Generally, the number of majority diverse-owned partners has increased 79% since 2019, according to Guimaraes. This committee meeting ended with a note that the UC Investments team remains male-dominated, as well as ideas for furthering the Toigo Fellowship, a sponsored investment club providing a space for students that are women and people of color to develop investment skills and business-based career opportunities.
Following the Investment Committee, the Compliance and Audit Committee met briefly to approve the External Audit Plan for the year. The plan, which aims to audit the university’s compliance with certain federal requirements and provide opinions on university financial statements, was approved without discussion or question.
The Public Engagement and Development Committee also met to discuss ongoing community engagement programs, community access to COVID-19 protection, federal funding budgets, transfer program requirements and student outreach across the UC system.
The first outreach program discussed was Unidos en Salud, which works to mitigate disparities in access to low-barrier healthcare to Latines and other excluded communities. This program works with access to all healthcare, but also focuses on COVID-19 protection, including testing and vaccines.
“A key part is to disseminate information to the community, public health science, and the media and you will notice I put community first,” explained Diane Havlir, USF professor and faculty lead for Unidos en Salud. “Every time that we had new data, we immediately shared it with the community and the public health. we did not – science can go at a glacial pace – and publications, we did not wait for that process. We immediately shared data.”
Illustrating the work Community Construction Outreach does in bolstering local hiring on UC construction projects, Benita Benavides, assistant director for UCSF Community Construction Outreach Program explained that access to construction work is crucial because of its “low barrier to entry.”
At the meeting, the Board of Regents discussed requirements for associate’s degrees for transfers and the TAG program, with UC President Michael Drake advocating simplifying the transfer process without abandoning historically excluded groups and students at colleges with low transfer rates.
In order to improve student outreach and equity, student observer to the Public Engagement and Development Committee Selene Aradon advocated for increased funding for disability services, basic needs, housing and Cal Grant.
“It is vital that there is an increase in funds provided, services, and basic needs. Students should not have to attend school worried about food, housing, or whether they will see the appropriate accommodations that will allow them to participate in their classes and succeed,” Aradon explained.
The two-day meeting of the Board of Regents concluded with an open board summary and report approval on all that was discussed and recommended by each committee.
Natasha Kaye, Kat Shok, Vani Suresh, Laurel Spear and Lauren Mandel contributed to this article.