Governor Jerry Brown nominated four new members to the UC Board of Regents last Monday, ignoring calls for San Joaquin Valley representation from UC Merced students and former Regent Fred Ruiz.
Brown announced his nominees following months of community efforts to include representation from the San Joaquin Valley, which spans the Fresno, Merced, and Stanislaus counties in Central California. The 26-member Board of Regents governs the UC system.
The governor appointed California Department of Finance Director Michael Cohen, Dunleer Strategies CEO Richard H. Leib, Estolano LeSar Advisors CEO Cecilia V. Estolano, and SEIU United Long Term Care Workers Union President Laphonza Butler.
In a submission to The Sacramento Bee, Ruiz, who served as the sole Regent from the San Joaquin Valley before his retirement last year, writes that the Valley is underrepresented in higher education and often cannot access the same opportunities other regions in California have access to.
UC Merced is the newest addition to the UC system, established in 2005, and lacks many of the resources that other campuses have. 70 percent of students at UC Merced are first generation college students and many are from low-income families.
“Students who grow up immersed in the Valley’s dominant world of agriculture—as I was when I started a food processing business with my father in 1964—bring a perspective to the UC Board that one just can’t get in urban centers such as Los Angeles and San Francisco,” Ruiz said.
In April, Associated Students of UC Merced (ASUCM) passed a resolution in support of a San Joaquin Valley Regent, but the ASUCM President vetoed it, saying that it should be a campus-wide effort instead of an ASUCM effort.
“The climate the students at UC Merced are facing demands a voice in the UC Board of Regents,” ASUCM External Vice President Lindsey Huizar told The Triton in response to the new appointments. “Without this representation, the student body and UC Merced continue to be overlooked and dismissed.”
Huizar notes that there are more prisons than schools surrounding Merced, making it difficult to access mental health services, since UC Merced shares resources with the community and the nearby prisons. UC Merced is approximately five miles outside the city of Merced, so it has no representation in the city.
“By appointing a UC Regent from the Valley, the governor would not just check a demographic or geographic box,” Ruiz said. “He would signal that in our vast, diverse state, it is possible for the next generation of academic and economic leaders to succeed regardless of where they are from.”
Ethan Coston is an Assistant News Editor for The Triton. You can follow him @Ethan4Books