UC President Drake remarks to the UC Board of Regents

Mar. 15, 2023

UC President Michael V. Drake delivered the following remarks at a meeting of the UC Board of Regents on March 15, 2023. 

Thank you very much Chair Leib, appreciate your remarks.

We have a packed agenda ahead of us today, I’d like to focus on some of the University’s highest priorities. Among these is student support and the many ways in which the University seeks to improve the UC experience for our students. Today, the Board will receive a presentation about the University’s Basic Needs Annual Report as well as an overview of the University’s efforts around student housing.

As you will hear during the Basic Needs item, this work continues to evolve rapidly as student needs and expectations have grown and changed. The state has provided ongoing funding in this area, for which we are very grateful. The pandemic and growing inflation and labor costs are also contributing factors.

Affordable housing has been a particularly difficult problem, as you will hear today in a separate item later. This challenge isn’t unique to the University; many Californians – and many Americans broadly – have had trouble finding affordable housing. Our students are no different.

The University is actively pursuing every possible opportunity to add student beds across the system and has been doing for several years now, and we will continue to do so. Unfortunately, we are operating in a challenging environment. In addition to confronting growing labor and construction costs, we had a disappointing setback last month when the California appeals court ruled against the UC Berkeley campus on a project that would bring more affordable student and community housing to People’s Park in Berkeley.

Most of you are familiar with this case; I will simply say that we intend to support the Berkeley campus as they appeal this decision. We also remain committed to working with Governor Newsom, the state legislature, and local leaders to find solutions that protect the environment, respect our campus neighbors, and provide housing options for our students. I want to acknowledge the efforts of the governor and several state legislators who are working to address related issues with the California Environmental Quality Act, also known as CEQA, and to try to quickly and efficiently add sorely-needed housing in communities across California.

Addressing these basic needs is ongoing work for all of us as higher education leaders, and the University remains deeply committed to supporting students of all backgrounds as they pursue their degrees. We have made many positive strides in many areas, but none of us are resting so long as we have students who lack food, housing, and other basic resources. Although the need is great – and continues to grow – I am proud of the relentless efforts of leadership and staff to support our students so they can thrive academically and personally. I am also grateful to our students, who brought forward their concerns. I look forward to hearing today’s updates and to discussing a path forward with the Board.

Similarly, our work continues to support students academically and to foster equity and excellence across our campuses.

Today in the Academic and Student Affairs Committee, the Board will hear more about the University’s efforts to improve our systemwide reporting on equity gaps. By gaining new insights from UC and CSU campuses, we hope to improve existing reporting and expand support for UC campuses to help more students graduate on time and accelerate our progress toward the University’s goals.

The Committee will also hear an update on the University’s Student Academic Preparation and Educational Partnerships, or SAPEP. Thanks to a major reinvestment in the state’s 2022-2023 budget, the University is currently expanding our portfolio of programs supporting prospective freshman and transfer students, particularly those who are first-generation, from low-income or underrepresented communities, or who come from underserved regions of the state. We’re deeply grateful for these investments and the doors of opportunity that they will open for students across California.

In addition, later today, the Board will hear about our continued effort to encourage and support community college transfer students at the University of California.

We are proud that about a third of UC students began their academic journey at a community college – these students thrive at the University of California. We’ve taken important steps in recent years to streamline the transfer process, and I look forward to partnering with the California Community Colleges’ new chancellor, Sonya Christian, on these efforts when she assumes her role.

Meanwhile, we are continuing to work with the UAW, campus leadership, and the Academic Senate on the implementation of new labor contracts for our Academic Student Employees, Graduate Student Researchers, Postdoctoral Scholars, and Academic Researchers. We are pleased to have reached these agreements with UAW in December – under the terms of the new contracts, these workers will be among the best supported in public higher education anywhere in the country. 

Of course, some aspects of the contracts are unprecedented and will take time and collaboration to implement thoughtfully. We are actively engaged in this process now with our campuses, union leaders, and our faculty – we are still in the early implementation phase.

A lot has been said about this topic in the media, so I’d like to clarify a few points. First, no UC graduate student employees need be laid off as a result of these contracts. Second, the University intends to meet its commitment to grow graduate student enrollment in accordance with our compact with the Governor, which calls for 2,500 new graduate students by 2026-2027. Campus departments still need to balance their budgets, of course – a process they engage in every fiscal year. Many factors play a part in this process, and in some cases, it may result in departments reducing costs in a variety of ways, in other cases, departments may grow.

I appreciate that this has been a complex process for many of our campus stakeholders. Thank you for all that you do and for continuing to partner with us in supporting our graduate student employees and upholding the University’s mission.

Finally, I would like to highlight a few other pieces of news that reflect the University’s deep commitment to research, innovation, and patient care.

Earlier this month, the University announced $15 million in grants to support UC researchers in developing scalable climate solutions. These awards are just one piece of the historic $185 million partnership between the University and the state of California that was passed last year to tackle the climate crisis. Later this year, the University will award an additional $80 million in grants to build on this bold cross-disciplinary work across the state.

And last month, 17 early-career faculty members representing six UC campuses were selected as 2023 Sloan Research fellows. This fellowship is one of the most distinguished awards available to young researchers in scientific and technical fields. UC faculty accounted for more than 13 percent of the new awardees this year — more than any other public university. This achievement reflects the remarkable talent being nurtured every day at the University of California.

So congratulations to everyone on these wonderful milestones. As always, I am deeply grateful for the expertise and guidance of the Board as we work to advance the University’s mission of teaching, research, and public service – and to make these kinds of successes possible.

Chair Leib, that concludes my remarks.