This Q&A was originally posted on City on a Hill Press and can be found at this link: Q&A: Student Regent Jesse Bernal and Student Regent Designate Jesse Cheng
Arianna Puopolo – City on a Hill Press Co-Editor in Chief
Ben Gevercer – City on a Hill Press Reporter
Sarah Naugle – City on a Hill Press Reporter
City on a Hill Press joined student regent and UCSB graduate Jesse Bernal and student regent designate Jesse Cheng, a fourth-year at UC Irvine, at the regents’ meeting Jan. 20 to discuss the future of the state and university, as well as the appointment process for the next student regent. The Jesses are a team and they complement each other well. Many of their responses may seem fragmented because of one interrupting the other, to add to or modify the other’s response.
CHP: Are you feeling optimistic about the budget in light of the governor’s new proposal?
Cheng: [Optimistic] has a lot of positive connotation to it. There’s not a positive connotation to the governor’s budget.
Bernal: I’d say ‘less disappointed’ is more accurate.
CHP: Do you think the Governor’s request for $6 billion is feasible?
Bernal: It was smart strategically for the state to tie it to the federal government, because then you can divert the pointing of the fingers to someone else. It doesn’t really benefit us. It makes things a little more shaky … at least the current budget is in the right direction and it’s sending a more positive message than we have had in the past. Education should be a priority. It’s a different message, especially in such a tight budget year, to say that we’re still important.
CHP: How do you feel about the idea of cutting from prisons and moving toward privatization?
Cheng: That’s not our field. That’s not our fight. We have nothing against corrections. We have nothing against rehabilitation. It’s the idea that we’re going to recognize higher education as a priority above prisons. For a good future of California you would want to fund more people to a university than to the prison system. That’s what the constitutional amendment kind of symbolizes —
Bernal: —The governor pitting education against corrections is questionable. Any increase or lack in funding for higher education is something I support—
Cheng: I support any increase in funding for the higher education system.
CHP: In the past, student regents have worked from a sort of platform. Do you two have a platform?
Bernal: The interesting thing about this year is that our agenda has kind of been set for us. The commission on the future has kind of taken up our lives. The cool thing is that some of the goals we had are being talked about. The commission is actually working on some things with AB-540.
Here, our meeting was interrupted by a UCOP staff member who called Bernal away. His presence was required in the conference room.
CHP: Would you say that student action in the past has influenced what the regents are discussing and putting on the table right now?
Cheng: Yeah. With recent student actions — and a variety of student actions, I don’t just want to focus on the radical ones — have made student activism part of the political equation. When you discuss something now you’re going to think, ‘How are students going to react to this?’ Or, ‘How can we mobilize students toward this direction?’ Before we weren’t really factored in as part of Sacramento advocacy. Now we’re really in tune there. What you heard in there was a bunch of regents saying ‘Yeah, we recognize you as a force, we would like to be a part of that force, we would like to work together, we can’t do this without you.’ That’s really critical and that’s something that wasn’t necessarily there before the actions in November.
CHP: Do you think the presence of students at the regents’ meetings, whether they’re taking action or not, affects the votes or influences decision-making and the discussions that are held?
Cheng: It influences decision-making and the rhetoric that’s going around the table. I don’t know if any votes change in that last minute, but it sets up foundations to consider for the future.
One of the big things that really hurt in November is that there were no students in the room when the fee increase vote actually happened … because the students got kicked out right beforehand. That really hurt us because it’s a different thing to vote — maybe you’re still going to vote for a fee increase, but it’s very different to see the students you’re voting a fee increase on. That emotional resonance is different.
Today there weren’t really students out there on the table. That’s a really significant thing, that nobody’s out there. The fact that there’s no students out there doesn’t look good for us.
I wish more students would just randomly show up at these things. It would be healthy for the regents.
You were there in November, but where were you in the regent meeting before or the regent meeting before that? When the furlough meeting came up, there were only five students in the crowd. The furlough vote was something that really had long-term effects on the student population. And we need to speak out about all those impacts — not just the fee increases. All the ones that affect faculty and thus affect us … continued long-term student involvement.
If you come out to one meeting it’s not necessarily going to change that discussion, but if you come out to all the meetings of that year, the regents are going to take notice. It changes the frame of our debate.
CHP: A lot of students really feel that the regents are the enemy. In what ways are they not?
Cheng: We talk about where they are now. But we don’t talk about where they came from. They’re here for a reason. We might see them as an outside entity, but they see us as very integral to who they are and their lives. They might not have as much interaction with the students as we want them to or as they need to, but that doesn’t mean the passion isn’t there … the students interacting with the regents and getting the regents to interact with them more [means] that we’re going to see that growth come out and more of that humanity come out.
They’re not getting paid. And that’s because maybe they have millions on the side anyway. These are clean-cut operations. The highest-paid regents at the University of California are me and Jesse Bernal because we get part of our tuition reimbursed for doing this work. I got a salary increase because we raised fees.
CHP: How are you balancing your undergraduate education with being student regent?
Cheng: I’m going to do a positive spin on this, because we’re doing a recruitment tour and I want people to apply. It’s actually very possible to balance. Professors are really understanding, especially if they know what you’re working for. You’re going out there and you’re fighting for access and affordability and quality of education. Part of it is about balancing. This is one of the most amazing educational opportunities I’ve ever had. The education you get doing this is different than anything else you’ll experience at the UC, so it’s almost worth putting in all the time and effort to balance it.
CHP: What qualities are you looking for in the next student regent?
Cheng: Collaboration. The ability to work in teams. This has to be a close pair. You have to be able to learn quickly. You have to adapt extremely quickly. You have to be able to think from multiple perspectives. And it’s really mentally exhausting, so you have to have that stamina to do that day-in and day-out.
Every student regent brings very different traits to the table. You have to speak very eloquently. You have to be passionate. If you’re very passionate about fighting for student issues and fighting for the University of California, then this is where you should be. This isn’t worth what you’re going to get on your resume. You have to have passion.
Student regent designate Jesse Cheng will visit UCSC on his recruitment tour next Friday, Jan. 5. Students interested in applying to be the next student regent or having the opportunity to speak with your UCOP student representative may join Cheng at the Bay Tree Conference Room Redwood Lounge from 2 to 3:30 p.m.