Editorial: To Whom is the Governor Handing UC's Future?



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Since 1998, Haim Saban has donated $400,000 to Governor Gray Davis. This includes $50,000 just last month. Friday, Davis made Saban the newest member of the UC Board of Regents-the body charged with overseeing the future of UC.

Though the state's constitution dictates the university "be entirely independent of all political or sectarian influence and kept free therefrom in the appointment of its regents and in the administration of its affairs," this is an ideal, and the reality is anything but.

Tapping wealthy political donors for UC regents is nothing new. Regent John Moores, owner of the San Diego Padres, and his wife gave Davis $268,714 during his campaign in 1997-1998. Moores was appointed to the UC regents in 1999.

Regent Judith Hopkinson, a financier, and her firm donated $148,000 to Davis during his campaign. She was appointed the following year.

Regent and real estate magnate George Marcus gave $85,000 to Davis and was made a regent in 2000.

Friday's appointment of Saban is therefore exemplary of the trend. But with all the problems facing the university during Saban's term of the next 12 years, the trend begs examination.

The regents have almost always been selected based on political connections to the governor, as long as they form a board with adequate racial and gender diversity. Such diversity could be found in the higher education field instead of the wealthy political donor field, but many on the board have minimal or no background in higher education management and about half attended UC.

Though private sector regents can offer independent perspective and needed experience in financial affairs, the experience of education professionals is absolutely necessary to tackle such issues as the use of the SAT in admissions. Saban has some background in education, mainly as a benefactor to various programs, among them the University of Tel Aviv.

Saban will likely have an easy confirmation in the state senate, as he is a friend of Senate President Pro Tem John Burton. Saban gave $1,000 to the campaign to elect Burton's daughter San Francisco's public defender.

Saban, the 172nd richest man in America, is also a successful businessman, a trait that will no doubt be useful in the university's financially precarious future. UC is facing state budget cuts, increasing noise from employees who say they're underpaid, and the stampede of new students within the next 10 years dubbed Tidal Wave II.

Such an outlook will no doubt prescribe important decisions, and the people making those decisions ought to be the best people for the job, not the largest campaign donors or staunchest political allies of the governor.

Davis will be appointing two more regents in March. We urge he choose people for their value to the university, not their value to him.

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