UC Regent Leaves Post At End of 12-Year Term

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Concluding a term on the UC Board of Regents that saw "rapid change," board Chair S. Sue Johnson steps down from her position tomorrow.

Over her 12-year term Johnson and other regents have faced difficult decisions concerning the university's budget, affirmative action and admissions procedures.

Despite conflicting opinions within the board, Johnson has led the regents with her "consensus-building" leadership style.

"She has been a very effective, elegant chairwoman-gentle but firm," says Regent John Davies. "She's not a tyrant. She seeks people's cooperation in reaching a goal."

Johnson attributes her success to her non-confrontational method.

"It makes for more open exchange-agreeing to disagree in a polite way-and it is important in building a sense of collegiality," she says. "I liken the camaraderie of the board to the Senate. You may not agree, but you must deal with each other with respect."

The most controversial decision by the board was the 1995 approval of the anti-affirmative-action resolutions SP-1 and SP-2, which eliminated racial preference from UC admissions and hiring standards. Johnson supported the action in 1995, and though continuing her stand against racial preference, participated in the unanimous decision to rescind the resolutions last May.

Passing SP-1 and SP-2 was a "courageous, bold and good move for the university," she says. "It took the admissions process back to self merit. To me it was very, very important to re-orient the process to merit."

She supported the reversal of SP-1 and SP-2 only as a symbolic gesture that demonstrated UC's openness to all groups of people, not as a return to affirmative action, Johnson says.

Johnson also voted against the board's adoption of comprehensive review in admissions last November. The revised admission policy, effective for next semester's incoming class, gave UC campuses more leeway in admitting applicants. It allows them to further consider extracurricular activities and unusual circumstance or hardship.

In the past, UC Berkeley accepted 50 percent of its students based on academics, and the other half through the comprehensive review policy.

"I'm very concerned about comprehensive review," Johnson says. "It could very well produce the finest students, but it could also lessen the emphasis on true academic achievement and place it instead on hard-luck stories. A good many Californians could interpret our action as a lowering of expectations."

In January, Johnson also voted against the adoption of AB 540, which exempted undocumented students who have attended California schools from paying the additional $11,000 out-of-state tuition. The board approved the action 17-5.

Johnson and other critics say the adopted tuition policy sidestepped a federal law that stipulates undocumented students are not eligible for post-secondary schooling benefits based on residency unless all U.S. citizens are similarly eligible.

"That was just illegal, what we did there. We have a law, and we were not respecting it," Johnson says.

In her years on the board, her ultimate goal has been committing to the quality of the university and keeping it on par with top institutions of higher education. UC is a "public ivy" that must maintain parity with its private counterparts, Johnson says, by being competitive for top faculty.

But with the state's current budget crisis, quality may be harder to maintain.

"It's an ongoing battle," she says.

"California is expensive, and recruiting professors requires more money."

With state support dwindling, UC must seek funding from other sources, including federal grants, contracts and private support. Johnson says that although UC has maintained quality despite diminishing support for higher education, funding remains a critical issue.

"The first part of the term, we were in recession. We said we wanted just to survive until 1995," she says. "After three or four years of strong budgets, I see us in a reduced budget cycle once again. UC will likely have to cut budgets and increase fees as we did in the early 1990s."

Between 1991 and 1995, the regents increased student fees from $1,624 to $3,799.

Johnson says she believes the regents will be forced to again deal with slimmer budgets for at least the next two years.

"I'm afraid it's going to impact student fees," she says. "If we don't raise them, something else will have to be sacrificed, and we may lose valuable faculty. As it is, our compensation lags behind comparable institutions."

Though the board must decide how to accommodate UC's growth with reduced resources, the most difficult problem for the regents will be maintaining board independence.

"The board must operate without interference from the Latino caucus or any group which seeks to use the university," Johnson says. "There are groups with legislative power who focus narrowly on one issue, and they are very eager to tell the university that (UC's) budget will be held hostage if their policies are not adopted."

Johnson has demonstrated a life-long commitment to UC, says UC Riverside's assistant vice chancellor of alumni and constituent relations Kyle Hoffman.

"It's easier if you believe in the impact of an organization to make a personal commitment to lead and support it as Sue has done," he says.

Graduating from Riverside in 1962, Johnson was a part of the campus when it was small and intimate and later made significant contributions to the school as a graduate, Hoffman says.

Johnson says she is proudest of working to keep the student-faculty ratio at the campuses low, bringing increased attention to affordable housing for faculty and students and co-chairing the graduate student report. The report, released earlier this year, found that UC should increase graduate student enrollment because of the possible future benefit of graduate students to the state.

Johnson has also served on the selection committee for almost every UC chancellor and president since joining the board. Earlier this week, she participated in discussions regarding the UC Riverside chancellor position.

Davies says her involvement in selections over the last 12 years has been Johnson's greatest contribution.

"The high quality of people selected for chancellor is a reflection of her efforts," he says. "It's one of the most important roles of the regents."

An active alumna and the inaugural recipient of the UC Riverside alumni award for university service, Johnson initially served a term as ex-officio alumni regent in 1988-99 when she was vice president of the University of California Alumni Association.

After a one-year hiatus from the board, Gov. George Deukmejian appointed her to a full term. For the last two years Johnson served as the board's chair.

The UC Riverside campus will honor Johnson for her service to UC and the Board of Regents at a reception Friday.


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