Mike Dunbar

Why doesn’t Valley have a seat at UC table?

Gavin Newsom, center right, speaks with students alongside UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland last October. At the time, he was a candidate for governor; now he owns that title and will have an opportunity to appoint new members to the UC Board of Regents, starting with two in 2020. He must not forget the Valley when the time comes.
Gavin Newsom, center right, speaks with students alongside UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland last October. At the time, he was a candidate for governor; now he owns that title and will have an opportunity to appoint new members to the UC Board of Regents, starting with two in 2020. He must not forget the Valley when the time comes. tmiller@mercedsun-star.com

The San Joaquin Valley is a big place, with eight counties, 4.2 million people and California’s fifth, 13th and 18th largest cities. One in 10 Californians lives in our Valley.

The University of California Board of Regents is a big board, with 26 total members, two faculty representatives and three advisors. It includes the governor, the lieutenant governor and the state superintendent of education. Of the 18 appointed representatives, six are from Los Angeles, one each from Pasadena, Riverside, Orange County and Pacific Palisades. There are four from Sacramento and two more from San Francisco.

But there is not one representative – not one – from the entire San Joaquin Valley.

The Los Angeles Basin, with its 19 million people, has one representative for every 1.9 million residents. We’ve got no one representing all 4.2 million of us.

So it bothered us more than a little when outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown made a last-second appointment of yet another Angeleno to the board of regents. A movie-industry guy.

Why does this lack of representation matter?

Let Odessa Johnson, one of the last two people from the San Joaquin Valley to serve as a regent, answer that.

“It’s very important that we have our voices heard for students in this area,” said the former Modesto City Schools trustee and longtime educator. “When I was on the board I spoke with everybody, but I paid special attention to students coming from Modesto, Stockton, Kern County, Merced and all the others Valley areas.”

When UC Merced was coalescing around the vision of Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, Johnson was her biggest ally on the board. Together, they steered the new UC campus into reality.

“I put so many miles on my car before Merced was ever opened,” recalled Johnson. “When Carol was first appointed we started working together, and I was with her until she could no longer be chancellor.”

Every trip from Merced to Sacramento included a stop in Modesto for Tomlinson-Keasey. “She would tell me what I needed to advocate for with the board.”

That’s what our region lacks now, and has since 2016 when Fresno’s Fred Ruiz left the board. His pleas to be replaced by a Valley resident were ignored.

“We have UC Merced students and we have UC Davis students here in the Valley, and we have students at every UC campus who need to be advocated for,” said Johnson. “They come a place that isn’t urban or coastal; their needs are different.”

And how should we remedy this situation? “It needs to be on the new governor’s mind that we are expecting a regent from the Valley,” said Johnson. Naturally, Johnson is not alone in noticing the slight.

Assemblyman Adam Gray of Merced had considered it an “unintentional prejudice,” but after last week’s appointment of yet another Southern Californian his patience disappeared.

“Despite nine different opportunities to correct this lapse, Governor (Jerry) Brown has failed to act,” said Gray. “It’s downright offensive that despite hosting a UC campus in Merced, the governor refuses to allow a San Joaquin Valley resident on the board.”

Like Johnson, Gray believes Newsom will rectify the situation. We hope so. There is no shortage of incredibly motivated, highly intelligent, visionary leaders in our Valley. Some are even UC alums.

Two seats open up in 2020 then two more in 2021. Hopefully, Gov. Newsom will show someone from our Valley to their seat at this important table.

Mike Dunbar is the editor of the Opinion Pages. Reach him at 209-578-2325.

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