|Et les regents, c'est Jerry|
Follow the law, Gov. Brown
San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Board, 6-12-17
The regents board for the University of California has “full powers of organization and governance” over California’s most prized public university system.
Yet the board, which consists of 26 members, has recently been in the spotlight for its lack of transparency and a string of controversial decisions.
Now it turns out that even the process by which the regents themselves are chosen has a tremendous transparency problem.
According to California’s Constitution, Gov. Jerry Brown “shall consult an advisory committee” of 12 people in “the selection of the regents.” That advisory committee consists of six members of the public, two elected officials from the Legislature, a UC student, a faculty member, an alumnus and the regents chair.
As three different institutions (the governor, the Legislature, and UC’s faculty and student body) are responsible for appointing people to the committee, the idea is to get a wide range of opinions on the best people to serve on the critical regents board.
A wide range of opinions is good for decision making and good for the diverse people of California. That’s a big part of the reason California voters approved the advisory committee in 1974. Even then, there were concerns about making the UC Board of Regents more accountable to the public.
But it seems the governor isn’t following this provision of the state Constitution.
Six advisory committee members whom The Chronicle were able to reach said they haven’t been consulted in the selection of any of the governor’s regents.
Instead, they were told who the new regents would be shortly before the governor’s public announcement.
The governor’s office said he “welcomes input” from the committee before issuing the public announcements.
Brown may not be alone in ignoring this state constitutional provision.
According to our interviews with previous advisory committee members, previous governors also failed to consult with them on regent selections. Some previous members said the committee had failed to meet during their tenures and questioned whether it had ever met at all.
This oversight failure has had a negative outcome on the regents board. The 18 appointed regents fit a specific profile: wealthy executives, financiers or attorneys.
Considering this narrow milieu, some of their recent tone-deaf decisions, like charging the university thousands of dollars for pricey parties and dinners, make more sense. But it’s inappropriate behavior in a state with high poverty rates and a struggling middle class. These are precisely the kinds of reasons why voters want more public accountability — as they decided in 1974.
Most importantly, California’s Constitution is not a list of suggestions for our elected leaders. In a society subject to the rule of law, its provisions must be followed. The state’s courts may have to correct this, and we urge them to look into it.