Last year, Jesse Cheng walked by an application open on a computer screen to be student regent-designate 30 minutes before it was due. He thought, why not?
Now Cheng works with the UC Regents as the student regent-designate, preparing to serve as the board’s only student with voting powers next year. He attends the mandated six board meetings and gets his tuition and fees waived for his fourth year at UC Irvine.
With all of the university’s economic problems, Cheng applied knowing the university needed all the help it could get.
“I’d like to offer everything I have to the university in terms of advocacy and connecting with students,” Cheng said.
In his visit to the UC Davis campus last Friday, Cheng met with various administrators and students. Among those he met with included a group of approximately seven students who gathered to discuss the future of student activism.
“He was a very interesting person because he was with the students 100 percent,” said Sergio Blanco, a junior political science major who met with Cheng on Friday. “It seemed like we were really on the same page. And the fact that he took time to set up that meeting shows that he’s on our side.”
Cheng wants to fight for accessibility, affordability and diversity in the university, but acknowledges that it will be tough unless more people join the fight for more resources.
“I’m always impressed with the quality of our student regents, and very pleased to serve with Jesse on the board,” said UC President Mark Yudof in a public statement about the selection of Cheng.
Since there is so much discussion between the two students before every regent vote, the student regent’s vote is largely influenced by the student regent-designate, Cheng said.
Since becoming a regent, Cheng’s view of the university system has greatly changed.
“It feels like my brain is splitting open,” he said. “You’re forced to take on facts you never knew or don’t want to know.”
Cheng believes he and the current student regent, Jesse Bernal, maintain a significant role in the regents’ decision-making. Students have never been so influential, he said.
According to Cheng, the student protests of September, November and December have caused big decision makers to think about the students more. They would wonder if their decision might make a group of students show up on their doorsteps, Cheng said.
While Cheng didn’t necessarily enjoy seeing the protests unfold, he acknowledged that they were important.
“I’d like to see more student activism,” he said. “Make noise. Make action. Just don’t damage property and don’t hurt people.”
Up until the incident at the UC Berkeley chancellor’s house in December, when eight were arrested for vandalism and attempted arson on the occupied building, student protestors had a lot of credibility, he said.
“I think in 2009 we had the right to express our anger, pain and hurt,” he said. “This is 2010. We need to think about how to move forward and move out of that resentment and towards progress.”
Cheng doesn’t find the regents to blame for the university’s current crises.
“If the regents were really such bad managers, we would have found out a long time ago,” he said.
He maintains that many things have contributed to the situation, and it is not just the regents’ or the state’s fault.
“I love demonizing Sacramento a little bit … but when I’m honest with myself, I can’t say that,” he said. “That body of legislature did make a lot of decisions that led us up to this point. In some ways it’s the voters of California made decisions that led us to this point.”
Applications to be the next student regent-designate are due Feb. 18 to the chancellor’s office. No experience is necessary, and the job is especially great for those interested in politics, policymaking, healthcare or investments, he said.
LAUREN STEUSSY contributed to reporting. JANELLE BITKER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.