UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry T. Yang | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

This story first appeared at the Daily Nexus.

Here are the most important takeaways from the University of California Board of Regents’ first meeting of 2022.

Chancellor’s Pay Raises

The University of California Board of Regents approved pay raises for all nine UC chancellors with undergraduate student bodies on Jan. 20, with one no vote, one abstention and 16 approvals. UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry T. Yang, who currently makes $451,362 per year, received a 28.4 percent raise and will now make $579,750 per year beginning in March of the 2022-23 academic year. 

“Nine of the ten UC chancellors have base salaries below the 50th percentile of the market for their positions. Of those nine, six have base salaries that are below the 25th percentile of the comparative market,” a discussion item outlining the proposed increase stated. 

The proposed increase would raise base salaries for all chancellors with salaries below the 50th percentile of the market for their position — with increases between 6 percent and 26 percent — and spend $800,432 in total.  

“To me, this was an issue of pay equity,” Regent Jonathan Sures said in the Jan. 19 Governance committee. “We have an obligation to pay our people well and we should pay our chancellors well.” 

The pay raise was first deliberated in the Governance committee, where committee members voted 6-4 to have the raises occur all at once, rather than in 2-3 increments over a 16-month period as originally listed, and voted 9-1 to approve the raises. 

“We are lucky enough to have some of the most diverse group of chancellors of any public university system … but we need to pay them fairly. This is the first step in doing that,” Sures continued.

The UC Regents vote to approve pay raises for nine UC chancellors. | Credit: Courtesy of UC Regents

Annual Report on Sustainable Practices

David Phillips, the UC Office of the President associate vice president of Energy and Sustainability, presented the UC’s annual sustainability report on Jan. 20 during the Regents’ review of the meeting. 

According to Phillips, 55 percent of the UC’s electricity comes from renewable or carbon-free sources and all campuses achieved the 2021 goal of “achieving 1990 energy levels” and decreased energy levels by 24 percent since 2019. 

However, Phillips acknowledged that a great deal of energy reduction was induced by the pandemic and from the lack of travel.

“We have a great deal of work to do in becoming carbon-neutral in our goal of being fossil-fuel free,” he said. “Most of our remaining gas emissions are from natural gas.”

Phillips also “validated” the concerns of several faculty, students and concerned family members who spoke at public comment about the UC’s continued carbon emissions, which totaled nearly 1 million tons per year despite the UC’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2025. 

Sarah Stockwell, an associate teaching professor of ecology, behavior and evolution at UC San Diego, encouraged the UC to take drastic action against climate change and use state legislature funds to support clean energy projects. 

“By exerting one million tons of CO2 each year, the UC is making things worse, not better,” she said. “Many [students] are starting to despair about the world they’re facing and they’re desperate for their university to be a part of the solution.” 

Phillips agreed with Stockwell and emphasized the UC’s commitment to the cause.

“We hear you and we welcome everyone’s support in the climate crisis,” Phillips said during the presentation and explained that continued carbon emissions come partially as a result of the UC’s investment in heat and power plants in the 1990s and lack of funding to de-transition. 

Phillips concluded the presentation by explaining that the committee would be asking for one-time emergency funding from the state of California to meet the university’s clean energy goals. 

The Omicron Impact 

During the Jan. 20 Regents board meeting, Dr. Carrie L. Byington, executive vice president and head of University of California Health, presented information on the omicron variant to the Regents. Currently, all UCs are online until the end of January due to rising cases across the state.

“We are in the midst of one of the most significant surges we have seen during the pandemic,” Byington said, noting that over 98.5 percent of COVID-19 isolates in the United States are now due to the omicron variant. 

Byington shared data on COVID-19 vaccination rates amongst the general population and UC students and faculty, noting that in every campus area, vaccination rates were far higher among UC affiliates. 

“Vaccine mandates work,” she said. “Vaccine hesitancy and vaccine misinformation is one of the most deadly issues we face right now.” 

Byington added that aside from global vaccination efforts, increased masking, better testing and data infrastructure, and increased childcare and sick leave would help save lives during the omicron surge. 

As the winter surge kept growing between December and January, all UCs switched to remote learning for the first two weeks; however, while a majority of UCs decided to continue remote learning through January, UC Santa Barbara decided to allow instructors to determine whether or not classes should be in-person or online. 

“Students deserve more than a two-week period to rearrange their lives. Slow decision-making and communication harms not only students but their families,” UC Student Association President and UCSB External Vice-President of Statewide Affairs Esmeralda Quintero-Cubillan said in an address to the Regents on Jan. 20 in regards to the transition. 

Quintero-Cubillan also informed Regents that at campuses without medical schools — like UCSB, UC Santa Cruz, UC Riverside and UC Merced — there is a shortage of medical resources to deal with the omicron variant at their campuses. 

“I routinely see standstill lines stretching along the block at our sole testing center at UCSB, with appointments often being booked weeks in advance,” they continued. “A UC student’s access to testing and vaccines should not depend on the location or prestige of their campus.”

Financial Aid

The Regents convened on Jan. 19 during the Academic and Student Affairs Committee to recap changes to financial aid in the UC system at the federal and state levels.

On the federal level, changes will be influenced by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) Simplification Act passed by Congress in December 2020. 

According to the discussion item, the biggest change is the Expected Family Contribution — an index number used in the FAFSA to calculate eligibility for financial aid by measuring parental contribution — will be replaced by the Student Aid Index (SAI). The measures function roughly the same, but the SAI will allow the index number to be below zero, meaning the UC can grant an additional $1,500 in financial aid to students, even if it exceeds the total cost of attendance.

As for changes on a statewide level, Cal Grants will change through the new Community College Entitlement Program, which will allow California Community College (CCC) students to qualify for a Cal Grant while attending a CCC, and bring the Cal Grant with them when transferring to a UC. 

Additionally, the Middle Class Scholarship program is receiving a proposed budget increase from $117 million to $642 million, with the goal of addressing the total cost of attendance for those who are not receiving tuition coverage at a UC or a California State University (CSU).

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Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program 

The Regents also discussed the current legal challenges impacting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and presented steps forward in the UC’s continual support of undocumented students in higher education.

The DACA program, first established in 2012, grants temporary protected status to youths who came to the United States as children without documentation. 

Since July 2021, the program has been effectively suspended following a federal court injunction that ruled DACA unlawful and prevented the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from processing new applications. 

Before the federal injunction, the DHS had begun to process DACA initial applications for the first time from the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center with the help of pro bono counsel. According to María Blanco, executive director of the UC Immigrant Legal Services Center, the UC submitted 230 initial applications, but only 37 were granted.

The remaining applications were never processed, according to Blanco. As a result, the use and availability of DACA across UC campuses have been diminishing.

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Brown advocated on behalf of undocumented students during the meeting. 

“We are running out of DACA students, but we still have undocumented students, and they are going to need support … We do have a moral obligation to these students, and they’ve been in limbo for quite a while here now,” Brown said.

Academic Equity 

In an effort to better support students with disabilities across the UCs, UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Stephen Sutton and UC Davis Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Pablo Reguerín are co-chairing the first-ever UC system-wide advisory workgroup to create a more inclusive community for students with disabilities. 

“Workgroup members will review existing policies and practice, and analyze data to gain a deeper understanding of the needs and experience of students with disabilities and make recommendations on policy and programmatic improvements to Provost Brown,” Sutton said. 

The workgroup will explore three broad areas: the academic culture, the overall campus climate and the physical infrastructure of each UC campus. 

“Our work will take into consideration the intersection of identities for students with disabilities and recognize the diversity of students with disabilities and their needs,” Sutton said. “Our work will require close collaboration with key stakeholders, including the academic senate, campus experts from disability student service centers and other units serving students.”

Sutton emphasized that the aim of this advisory workgroup is to work toward providing more “ethical experiences” for all students with disabilities within the UC. 

“Our goal is to move beyond ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance and to use that compliance as the floor, not the ceiling,” Sutton said.  

The committee also discussed the UC as a Hispanic and minority-serving institution. 

Five UC campuses —Irvine, Merced, Riverside, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz— have been officially designated Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), and the committee aimed to discuss what the designation should truly entail. 

“Determining whether a campus is considered Hispanic- and minority-serving should also encompass efforts to improve retention, accelerate graduation rates, and increase representation in post-baccalaureate pathways for Chicano(a)/Latino(a) and other students from underrepresented groups,” the discussion item read. 

Transfer Students 

The Regents evaluated its successes and shortcomings on Jan. 19 in serving its transfer student population, who are present across UC campuses at a ratio of one transfer per two incoming in-state first-years. 

The UC heavily relies on its community college to UC transfer pathway. Around 94 percent of transfer students enrolled at a UC come from a CCC, with roughly a 75 percent acceptance rate for these students.

Brown noted a steady increase in the number of transfer students who apply to, gain admittance to and enroll at UC institutions over the past five years. In addition, transfer students have a four-year graduation rate of 88 percent — an indication of their success, according to Brown.

“This is a promising trend, especially for UC’s equity goals, because transfer students are more likely to be the first in their family to attend college, come from historically underrepresented groups and receive Pell grants,” Brown said.

During the meeting, UCSC student Colm Fitzgerald urged the board to improve the representation of community college students from rural areas in California. 

“The UC system all but neglects colleges like San Joaquin Delta College. At a previous meeting of this body, as a member of the audience, I heard a frightening statistic. 40 percent of transfer students come from nine colleges — nine of 116 [CCC]. I would be shocked if San Joaquin Delta College was on that list,” Fitzgerald said. “This system must do a better job of targeting campuses like that of Delta so that students … who clearly are capable of success are not left behind.”

Regents Art Torres and Cecilia Estolano both responded in support of Fitzgerald’s recommendation.

“I was very moved by that presentation because I was a transfer student from East Los Angeles College to UC Santa Cruz in the old, medieval days of 1966. I’m disappointed that not much has changed since then given these new statements,” Torres said. “One of the things that Regent [Janet] Reilly and I are committed to is to reaching out to rural community colleges more so to see how we can recruit young people from those areas because they are underrepresented.”

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