San Diego businessman Rich Leib knew that serving as chair of the University of California Board of Regents was going to be a challenge. But things were trickier than he imagined when he took the gavel last week.
In his first meeting as chair, Leib, 65, had to participate by Zoom rather than join his colleagues at a meeting in San Francisco. He was recovering from COVID-19. And the meeting got prickly when Gov. Gavin Newsom dropped by to express his concerns about the way UCLA is leaving the Pac-12 conference for the Big Ten in sports.
All of this comes as Regents are trying to figure out how to deal with crushing enrollment demand and housing shortages at many campuses, including UC San Diego, where about 1,140 students were on waiting lists for campus dorms and apartments last week.
In interviews with the Union-Tribune, Leib said he favors the idea of having UCSD establish a sizable satellite campus in Chula Vista, and that an educational partnership was worth discussing with Southwestern College, also in Chula Vista. He further said it is worth exploring whether UCSD could create some type of partnership with San Diego State University at the satellite campus SDSU is developing in Mission Valley.
Leib (pronounced Leeb) also made a provocative remark about UC enrollment, saying that the system might be able to add as many as 33,000 students by 2030. The working goal has been to increase the number by 20,000.
Q: The University of California system added 107,000 students over the past 20 years. But supply still isn’t meeting demand. Each year, thousands of eligible students don’t find the spot they want, or any at all, at the system’s campuses. Do you grasp the anxiety that this causes for prospective students?
A: I totally get it. I went to UC Santa Barbara in the 1970s when all you needed was a 3.3 grade point average. Today, the high school GPAs of most freshman in the UC are about 4.0. I recently met with a group of students from Canyon Crest Academy in San Diego who had done phenomenally well academically. But they either did not get into the UC, or into the UC campus they wanted.
I don’t have a problem with someone not getting the campus of their choice; the UC has nine excellent undergraduate campuses. But we’re not admitting a lot of eligible students, and that’s a major issue for me.
Q: What’s the main problem?
A: Capacity is a huge issue. Our state has grown tremendously over the last 50 years. But we have opened only one UC campus — Merced — in all that time . We haven’t had the kind of money that Gov. Pat Brown had when he opened three UC campuses in the 1960s. Fortunately, Gov. Newsom has been very generous to the University of California over the last couple of years in terms of the budget. And it looks like we’ll get a 5 percent budget increase over each of the next five years.
Q: The Regents have said they would like to increase undergraduate enrollment by about 6,200 this fall and by 20,000 overall by 2030. That’s not written in stone. How much do you think enrollment will grow?
A: We’re looking at going beyond that and possibly adding as many as 33,000 students by 2030. I think it is doable. The result would essentially establish a new UC campus without actually building one.
We are looking at a lot of different ideas to increase capacity, including adding supplemental online classes, increasing summer school attendance, and offering classes at later times of the day to accommodate students who have to work.
Also, some UCs need to expand beyond their current physical campuses. UCLA is looking to add satellite campuses with specialized programs in Simi Valley and San Pedro. UC Santa Cruz might be able to have a presence in Watsonville or Gilroy. UC San Diego may be able to expand into South County. We also need to look at possibly sharing resources with Cal State University campuses and the California Community Colleges.
And there are some real opportunities involving private colleges that are unable to survive in the current economic downturn. We might be able to get one-time money to purchase these facilities and open them up as satellite campuses.
Q: UCSD is already inching south. It recently opened an events and community center in downtown San Diego. The school is about to buy an apartment complex two blocks away, and may add another. Do you think the university could expand to a place like Chula Vista in a big way?
A: Speaking for myself, I’d be all for it if UCSD could expand to Chula Vista in a meaningful way. South San Diego has been totally ignored. We need to take advantage of the recent expansion of the Blue Line light rail system, which allows you to go from Otay Mesa to UCSD in about a half-hour. If UCSD had space down there — if it bought property, put up buildings — students could take classes there and in La Jolla. Chula Vista could be a component of UCSD.
Q: UCSD expects to have about 44,000 students this fall. Chancellor Pradeep Khosla says the number will grow to about 50,000 within 10 years. Could you see, say, an additional 10,000 students being added in Chula Vista over time?
A: Yes, I could. I think that Pradeep would look very carefully at that. It would be a matter of getting the resources.
Q: Political leaders in Chula Vista are hungry to attract a four-year school like UCSD to an innovation district they want to create on 400 acres of city land. Would you consider asking fellow Regents to take a closer look at that idea?
A: I know in the past UC San Diego and the chancellor have had substantive conversations with leadership in Chula Vista. We would be open to all suggestions that maintain the quality of the UC and expand access.
Q: What about Southwestern College? Is it worth talking to that community college about some kind of partnership at its campus in Chula Vista?
A: Yes, that’s worth discussing. Sacramento City College, a community college, has a branch at UC Davis. That’s been working very well.
Q: And what about creating some type of partnership with San Diego State University at the satellite campus it is developing in Mission Valley?
A: I haven’t discussed that idea with anyone, but it is worth having a discussion. At this point everything’s on the table.
Q: I know that some UCSD professors aren’t keen on the idea of expanding the university south. Could this be made more palatable by adding special graduate programs in Chula Vista, such as in the areas of law or architecture?
A: I think this is a premature question because I don’t have any evidence that UCSD professors are not supportive of expanding access. A lot of progress has been made under Chancellor Khosla’s leadership and I am hoping that more progress will be made in the years ahead. I honestly think that expansion in Chula Vista would be better if it was primarily an increase in undergraduates. I think that is what we need to focus on when expanding South of 8.
Q: This is the kind of expansion that Michael Crow, the president of Arizona State University, has done with his school. There’s the main campus in Tempe, a newer campus in downtown Phoenix, and campuses in other spots, along with a large online component. Is this the kind of mindset you’re talking about?
A: I don’t know Michael Crow personally. I know a lot of people talk very highly about him and I like the idea that he has an aggressive strategy. I think that’s something we should value in higher education.
During the past decade all UC campuses have responded positively to this need but UCSD has responded with probably the most growth in a system that has been undergoing change.
If you look at our nearly 300,000 students you’ll find that about 35 percent are first generation students, and about 35-percent are Pell Grant recipients. To qualify for a Pell grant your family income has to be below $50,000.
There is a perception that the UC is elitist. The reality is that most of that has melted away. The value of a UC degree is so important, and its availability needs to be expanded to so many more people.
Education is the great equalizer. While we have improved over the last several years we still need to do more.
Q: You mentioned online classes earlier, but said you’d like to add them on a supplemental basis. Why do you prefer to do it that way? Most of your undergraduates are members of Generation Z, people who’ve always had the internet and cell phones. Do you think of online as being less rigorous than in-person classes?
A: No, I think online can be just as rigorous as in-person classes. But I do believe that the socialization process at school is something that is as important as taking classes.
When I went to school, the ability to be with other people and discuss the class material was just as important as the material itself. I get that some students don’t have the ability to go to brick and mortar building and need to do much of their work at home. But the interaction and socialization process is so important I think it still needs to be the main path to getting a degree.
BIO BOX: RICH LEIB
Titles: Chairman, University of California Board of Regents; president and CEO of Dunleer Strategies, a San Diego-based consulting firm that helps emerging companies develop business strategies.
Residence: Solana Beach
Family: Married to Sharon Rosen Leib, a journalist. They have three children, Hannah, Joelle and Lily.
Public service: Served on the California Community College Board of Governors for 6 years, and on the Solana Beach School District Board for nearly 12 years.
Education: Law degree, Loyola University; master’s degree, Claremont Graduate School; bachelor’s degree, UC Santa Barbara.
HOW UC REGENTS ARE APPOINTED
The UC Board of Regents is composed of 26 members, all of whom have a vote. Eighteen regents are appointed by California’s governor for 12-year terms. One is a student appointed by the regents to a one-year term.
The board also has seven ex-officio members — the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the Assembly, Superintendent of Public Instruction, president and vice president of the Alumni Associations of UC and the UC president.
Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Leib to the board in 2018. He is filling out the term of a Regent who stepped down. Leib will serve until 2026.
The Regents are responsible for governing virtually every aspect of the UC system, from approving budgets and hiring chancellors to setting tuition rates and and determining how many students will be accepted from year to year.
Source: UC Board of Regents