Brown appoints two new UC regents on eve of tuition debate

Two new regents can vote this week on controversial plan to raise UC tuition, which Brown opposes

Strengthening opposition to a UC regents vote this week on possible tuition increases, Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday appointed two new members to the university’s governing board, including Assembly Speaker Emeritus John A. Pérez.

Brown’s new appointees — Pérez, who is about to be termed out in his legislative seat, and Eloy Ortiz Oakley, superintendent and president of Long Beach City College — are expected to take their seats on the board at its meetings Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco. Most significantly, they will be able to vote on a controversial proposal to raise tuition, a plan that Brown and Pérez oppose.

Oakley could not be reached for comment on how he would vote. But if he and Pérez join Brown and others in voting against the tuition plan, the dissenting votes suddenly will be larger than previously expected, although they may not be enough to defeat the plan. 

UC President Janet Napolitano’s proposal would raise tuition, now about $12,200, by as much as 5% annually for the next five years, though the rise could be moderated or eliminated if state funding increases enough. Tuition has been frozen for the last three years.

The UC regents board is supposed to have 26 members, including 18 appointed by governors for 12-year terms. Brown has been slow to fill vacancies and at one point had as many as five empty seats last year. With these two appointments to the unpaid positions, one vacancy remains, officials said.

Under the rules, a regent can take his seat upon appointment and can hold it for a year pending confirmation by the state Senate. If the Senate does not act by the end of that year, the appointment ends.

In a statement Monday, Brown said that “John and Eloy bring a wealth of experience and an extraordinary capacity to dig into the complexities of our great university system. Their work has demonstrated a deep commitment to the students of California.”

Asked whether the governor timed the appointments to influence the tuition vote, a Brown administration spokesman said only that the governor’s statement explains why the two men were chosen.

Pérez, in a statement, urged the regents to withdraw the tuition plan.

“Not only does the fee hike fly in the face of our efforts to make college more affordable for middle-class students, but threatening a fee hike unless the Legislature increases the UC’s funding is tantamount to hostage taking and that is completely unacceptable,” he said. 

Pérez, who plans to attend the meeting, added that “the Legislature needs to continue to increase funding for the UC as the economy improves and our financial situation strengthens, but this proposal takes us in the wrong direction and the Board of Regents needs to withdraw it.”

Oakley is planning to be at the meeting as well, according to his office at Long Beach City College.

Bruce Varner, chairman of the Board of Regents, welcomed the two new appointees and said in a statement that discussions this week “will shape the future of the University of California for years to come.”

Napolitano said: “At a time when we are seeking to expand enrollment of California students and improve the process for students transferring from community colleges to UC, I’m very happy that we will benefit from the expertise and experiences of Speaker Pérez and President Eloy Ortiz. I look forward to working with them during the years ahead of us.”

Pérez, a Democrat, was first elected to the Assembly in 2008 and became speaker in 2010, the first openly gay man to hold the position. Pérez, who was speaker until May, was critical in the past of some UC spending habits. He was the author of the new Middle Class Scholarship, which provides some state aid to college students from families with incomes up to $150,000.

In the spring, he lost a close primary race for state controller and is now reportedly interested in running for lieutenant governor in 2018.

Oakley has been the head of Long Beach City College since 2007 and previously served in other positions at the community college and others throughout the state. He has been a strong voice in favor of educational proposals aimed at making it easier for students to graduate more quickly and transfer to four-year campuses. In one controversial experiment, legislation authorized six community colleges, including Long Beach, to charge higher tuition in summer and winter for some hard-to-obtain classes.

Both men had some first-hand experience of a UC education. Pérez attended UC Berkeley but did not earn a degree there, reportedly dropping out to take care of family and financial problems and then becoming a union organizer. Oakley earned both a bachelor's and a master's at UC Irvine.

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