MERCED, CA— President Mark Yudof and UC Regents Chairman Russell Gould met face to face Monday with students concerned about recent incidents of intolerance at University of California campuses and pledged to focus attention systemwide on strategies to prevent such acts in the future.
"These are the worst incidents of racism I have seen on campuses in 20 years," Yudof told about 100 students who were staging a sit-in on the sidewalk in front of the UC Center Sacramento building on K Street. "I understand that students don't feel safe, they don't feel comfortable on their campuses."
Student and UC leaders were meeting at the center before setting out Monday for joint visits with legislators and Gov. Schwarzenegger to ask for budget support for the university and for Cal Grants, a financial aid program for low-income students. About 400 students had attended the annual UC Student Association leadership conference in Sacramento over the weekend, and some 200-300 students took part Monday in a rally and march at the Capitol.
Victor Sanchez, president of the systemwide UC Student Association, and other student leaders asked Yudof and the chancellors and regents assembled for the advocacy day to take action in response to a series of incidents that included a noose left in the UC San Diego campus library and anti-gay graffiti sprayed in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center at UC Davis over the weekend.
"The university is in danger of losing the trust of its students" given the spate of incidents, said Jesse Cheng, student regent-designate.
Cheng was among those students asking UC leaders to endorse a request they delivered to 120 legislative offices Monday for legislation that would declare across California's three systems of public higher education there is a "ZERO tolerance policy for acts of hate with intent to terrorize." The students' proposal would require students who commit such acts to be expelled and have their actions included in their permanent academic records.
"The sentiment of the bill I agree with," Yudof told students, adding that he would look at the proposal but did not want to put forth something that would not stand up to constitutional challenges in court. He also cautioned the students that due process had to be followed in determining disciplinary actions against students responsible for the campus incidents. He said he has asked the Irvine and San Diego chancellors to move quickly on those processes.
Calling the recent incidents a "black eye for the university," Yudof also said he would meet with student leaders next week to discuss strategies for addressing the racial incidents at UC San Diego and a Feb. 8 incident at UC Irvine where students heckled the Israeli ambassador to the United States at a public lecture on U.S.-Israeli relations. He said he was sensitive to the students' related concerns about the lack of underrepresented students on UC campuses and the need to bolster outreach programs to recruit and retain them.
Gould told students that the regents were deeply disturbed by the recent incidents of intolerance and he would allow extended open comment periods to air students' feelings during the March 23-25 regents' meeting at UCSF's Mission Bay campus. Gould last week also called for chancellors at affected campuses to provide a special report at the meeting on the incidents and the actions being taken to ensure that these types of confrontations do not occur in the future.
When the American Black Caucus holds its annual conference at UC Riverside later this month, Chancellor Tim White said there would be another opportunity to discuss strategies for UC to address the student concerns.
Before setting out on legislative visits, Gould asked students to stay focused on the issues they came to Sacramento Monday to air: support for UC's budget and students' financial aid.
Without state financial support, Yudof said, it is difficult to maintain recruitment and retention of underrepresented students. When state budget cuts force UC to limit freshman enrollment and financial aid is cut, he said, that affects access for all students, particularly low-income and underrepresented students.