On May 24, a UC Board of Regents special committee nominated UC San Francisco graduate student Alfredo Mireles, as student regent for 2011-2012.
If confirmed by the full board of regents at its July 13 to 15 meeting, Mireles will serve as student regent designate next year. He will be a nonvoting participant of the board, shadowing next year’s student regent Jesse Cheng, a junior Asian American studies major at UC Irvine. The Aggie interviewed Mireles on May 27 to inquire about the issues he plans to address as student regent and his motivations to serve.
How has your educational and service background affected your decision to serve as student regent?
We’ll start with education. I’ve been an undergraduate, a professional student and a graduate student. When I go speak to different campus groups, I can empathize with the issues that they’re having because I’ve lived that same life. I’m also the first in my family to graduate from a four-year university. That brings those specific issues where I’ll be able to understand that community’s needs. As far as my service background, I was pretty active on my campus doing service work for the students at UCSF. I’ve also worked at two UC affiliated hospitals as well as a fair amount of volunteer work. Ultimately it shows that I’m willing to help different communities, work on different projects, try to be as broadminded as possible and try to help with student concerns.
Does that background influence the issues you hope to tackle as student regent?
Somewhat. One of the main issues I want to tackle as student regent is improving campus climate, making sure students of all backgrounds feel comfortable at all UC campuses. For instance at UC Davis I know the LGBT center was vandalized a few months ago. Finding ways to combat that intolerance and making sure when you step on a UC campus you feel welcome and invited is one my major concerns. Secondly, student fees. I’ve talked to [ASUCD president] Jack Zwald and [ASUCD vice president] Previn Witana and other Davis students and UC students. I can’t think of another issue that unites students more than trying to keep fees down. The third thing is that I’d like to continue to work on health policy, that’s something I’ve been able to do at the capitol as well as in graduate school, and to a lesser extent in hospitals I’ve worked at. The University of California is doing some pretty amazing and innovative health policy and I look forward to working on that and being a policy maker as a regent
And how would you plan to address those particular issues?
The first issue would be: How do we improve campus climate? I know that regent [Eddie] Island is leading an ad-hoc committee on campus climate. I’d love to work with that committee and see what we can do. I’d like to work together with the other regents to find strategies to improve campus climate.
As far as fees go I think there are two things we really need to do: increase state support as well as look to individual students taking more ownership over their financial circumstances. By increasing state support, I think the only way we can do that is to bring in new revenues to the state. For instance, I support an oil severance tax, Prop 13 reform and having a vehicle license fee put back to Gray Davis level areas. If one of those policies were implemented, we could get billions more in state coffers. If all, it would be a windfall. And ideally we’d have that money and a significant portion allocated to higher education so we wouldn’t have to have these tremendous fee increases every year like we’ve seen in the last couple years – especially last year.
And when I talked about student staking ownership over their financial circumstances, I want to be clear when I say that I don’t think it’s not largely that state’s responsibility to help subsidize UC students. What I mean is to get into a UC nowadays you have to be an exemplary student. From what I found there are hundreds of scholarships that award millions of dollars to students nationwide, statewide, individuals, people from different backgrounds and majoring in specific majors. And if students are able to figure out the scholarships they would be competitive in and focus on trying to win them like they do with their school work, students would a) get a financial reward which is the best and most immediate success and b) improve how one feels about themselves and give more self confidence and c) be a perfect resume builder. From what I found, success begets success. If you win one scholarship you’re more likely to win the next one.
With my third goal, personally working on health policy, UC is already doing amazing work on this. I want to be a person that helps implement federal health care reform. University of California is going to be major player in its implementation in California for instance. I like what we’re doing in Southern Los Angeles, working with the county of Los Angeles to reestablish Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital. I think that it’s good for the community, it serves an underserved population, and I believe it also gives more training grounds for health science clinical students. I also think it helps the UC become more relevant to a population that isn’t as well served by the UC as maybe some other communities are.
According to a UC press release you said you would work to “strengthen UC’s educational quality,” could you elaborate on what you mean by that?
I think that one privilege we have as UC students is that when we identify that we’re University of California graduates, we get respect. When I lived on the east coast in nursing school, the cache that being a University of California graduate had was pretty obvious. So ensuring that future generations of students can have that same quality education that can also get their foot in the door into graduate school and other jobs is something that is important and we need to work on. And on the conceptual level it would come to empowering individual campuses to make decisions that they view best for their campuses. But I want to bring a focus to making sure quality isn’t lost in the discussion when we’re talking about what we need to do for our university.
As the student regent, how would you try to solicit student opinion?
I’m committed to coming to each campus at minimum once a quarter. I have an already existing set of relationships of campus leaders from the last two years. I was thinking, however, with the turnover in campus leadership every year, its incumbent upon me to reach out not only to school presidents but people who work in other student issues areas, like people who work with environmental issues and people who work with diversity issues on campus. Meeting local leaders campus wide, hearing their concerns, trying to simplify that to broad perspectives and generalize student positions will be something I’ll take very seriously. I’ll be an open and accessible student regent and I’m really looking forward to meeting all the great people we have that are currently in school at UC.
Although it’s kind of hard to tell now, how would you expect your term to be different than from the current student regent Jesse Bernal?
Let me start with how I think it will be the same. For instance, the work of the student regent was largely decided by events outside of regent Bernal’s control. He was able to have a broader agenda but he was forced to deal with the massive fee increases and to push back and advocate against them. And he was also forced to deal with the awful things that happened system-wide. And because the economy continues to be a challenge, and I don’t know if we’ve healed all wounds from the intolerance we saw at campus. I could see myself being placed in those same circumstances, where what I do is going to be determined by what’s happening at the individual campuses. The thing that separates me is my health science background. UCSF hasn’t had a student regent in close to 20 years. I think I’m the 37th student regent selected. There’s never been somebody from a health science professional background, so as far as UCSF goes, we have a lot of strength and our own issues and concerns. And that’ll be part of what I bring to the position. Obviously it wouldn’t be exclusively what I do, but understanding the specific concerns of health science students will probably be one of the major things that separates me from past student regents.
LESLIE TSAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.