Leave the Powerless UC Regents Alone

Here's a headscratcher.

Wednesday's scheduled meeting of the University of California Board of Regents was canceled because of undisclosed reports that protestors would show up with violent intentions.

So what's the puzzle?

It's not the mysterious intelligence. And it's not the decision to cancel a public meeting for security.

No, what's puzzling is: Why would anyone waste their time getting angry with the board of regents?

Only the poorly informed would think there was anything to be gained by protesting -- violently or non-violently --at a regents meeting.

As anyone who understands California's budget system knows, the regents have no ability to do anything about the rapid decline in state support for the University of California.

The regents don't have the power to raise taxes; that requires a two thirds vote of the legislature.

The regents don't have the power to convince the legislature to take spending from other programs; the state constitution and initiative law guarantees spending for a variety of programs but not the University of California.

Those guarantees are squeezing out general fund money that would go to higher education. The regents' job is the thankless task of managing the decline of the system, by making cuts or raising fees in response to declining state support.

Nevertheless, a group called Refund California had planned protests to demand the regents support tax increases.

That's a fair request to make, but not one that's likely to bear fruit given the difficulty of passing tax increases in the budget system. Tax increases are also unlikely to do much for the university -- since other programs have constitutional protections that effectively give them a higher claim on new revenues than the university.

All of which offers a pretty good explanation for why it was right to cancel the regents meeting.

If there were credible threats against the meeting, there was cause for worry. After all, you'd have to be crazy to make a target of the regents.

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