Rich Leib bombed SAT, now leads UC board of regents

Rich Leib leads the powerful Board of Regents at the University of California. He has built companies, worked for top politicians and now runs a business consultancy.

But when he talks about his UC board’s priorities, he begins with a confession: As a Hamilton High School student in 1974, he bombed the SAT achievement tests, earning in the bottom 2% in math and English. He scored in the bottom 50% on the overall SAT exam. With his high school GPA of 3.4, UC Berkeley rejected his application.

He managed to get into UC Santa Barbara and later earned a master’s degree in public policy analysis from Claremont Graduate University and a law degree from Loyola Law School.

This all leads to his message for today’s students: don’t give up on your college plans because you think other people are smarter than you. Persevere.

“I feel like so many people are excited. They don’t even enroll in a university because the whole question of self-confidence is really difficult,” he said during a recent interview about his priorities. “But I still went to college. There were a lot of people who were super smart. I didn’t do well, but I did well.”

Leib, 66, has been a public education cheerleader for more than two decades, serving on the board of trustees for California Community Colleges and the Solana Beach School District before joining the UC Regents in 2018 in as a representative of the Governor at the time. Jerry Brown.

Now, as Chairman of UC’s Board of Trustees, his top priority is to open the doors of higher education to more students from diverse backgrounds to reflect the vast racial, ethnic, economic and geography of California.

Expand Access

When UC Santa Barbara chancellor Henry Yang gave a report on his campus at last month’s regents meeting, Leib was struck by some statistics. UC Santa Barbara’s admission rate fell to 27 percent last year from 83 percent in 1993, and the average high school GPA fell from 3.48 to 4.28 during the same period.

“It wasn’t a plus…it’s a minus,” Leib said. “Our goal is not to be exclusive; it is to be inclusive.

UC was inundated with a record number of applications last year, attracting nearly 132,000 California residents for freshman seats. About 85,000 state residents have been admitted. But Leib says that’s too little and admissions rates are too low, especially at the most selective campuses in the system.

To make room for more students, Leib said, UC should consider creating a new campus, possibly in the Bakersfield or San Bernardino area. It supports the continued expansion of satellite campuses – as UCLA does with its recent acquisition of California’s Marymount University. UC Davis is developing a downtown, and UC Merced and UC San Diego have opened ones. UC Berkeley is considering a satellite program at NASA-owned Moffett Field that would focus on aerospace science and engineering and also has land in Richmond for potential expansion.

Leib said Chula Vista city officials wanted a satellite campus of UC San Diego and had considered providing land for it. He doesn’t think more online courses are the complete answer; research shows that many students do better with on-campus experiences.

Leib said parents in his San Diego area came to him almost in tears about their children who worked hard to achieve stellar academic results but were always shut out of every UC campus they attended. they applied.

“There’s something wrong,” Leib said. “They feel very helpless. We must do better.

Develop diversity

Leib said UC needs to work harder to attract more black, Latino, rural and other underrepresented students. Over the past decade, the 10-campus system has slipped in enrollment of disadvantaged undergraduates, with the proportion of federal Pell grant recipients falling to 33% last year from 42% in 2012 and first-generation students rising to 37% from 41% during this same period.

UC also needs to make campuses more welcoming to everyone, he added. More black student resource centers are needed for a group that makes up just 4.4% of undergraduate students systemwide. Leib would like to see more support for Jewish students against rising anti-Semitism – adding that the decision last year by some UC Berkeley law students to pass regulations banning Zionist speakers from attending meetings has exacerbated their feelings of discomfort.

In addition, Leib said, more funding for the university system’s portfolio of 13 programs to improve college readiness, increase academic performance, and close achievement gaps for underserved students in high school and in college could help more of them gain admission to UC and graduate.

Leib himself is trying to create a more welcoming climate within the Board of Regents, which he says has long been “very stuffy and formal”.

Promoting UC Research Prowess

UC Berkeley’s Jennifer Doudna has won a Nobel Prize for co-pioneering a gene-editing method that has been used to help fight the COVID-19 virus. UC San Diego’s Neal Driscoll helped develop and deploy infrared cameras that allowed firefighters to respond to the first signs of smoke statewide to control wildfires. UC Davis structural engineer Michele Barbato is developing new ways to build homes — with a form of artificial mud — that can withstand powerful earthquakes, hurricanes and fires.

And in a feat that could change the world, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory hit the elusive goal in December of producing more energy from a fusion reaction than they put in – an achievement hailed as progress towards a clean energy future. The Federal Research Center was first established by UC, which continues to help run it.

“It all happens at UC,” Leib said. “We have an opportunity … to help solve some of California’s biggest problems.”

UC’s new Sacramento center — a center for public policy education and research — can help promote system research to lawmakers and apply for financial support, Leib said. He advocates for state funding to provide small grants to researchers to test early ideas that can, if promising, lead to larger federal grants.

Leib, along with Regent Lark Park, also led the Regents to find ways to reduce bureaucracy so researchers could more quickly file patents and license agreements involving their innovations. This will help launch more new businesses rooted in UC research and bring new sources of funding to the system – another priority for Leib. He asked Regent Ana Matosantos, one of the top tax experts in the last three gubernatorial administrations, to lead those efforts.

Leib, raised in West Los Angeles by a single mother who taught high school in Venice, keeps a business consulting firm after co-founding companies that developed intersection cameras and recycled grease and food waste. His real job—unpaid except for a UC parking permit—is his full-time job as chairman of the board. He sees his service in part as an act of gratitude for the UC education he received.

“I’ve always loved the university for what it does,” Leib said. “It can really help people from all walks of life build our future. It’s the great equalizer.

Los Angeles Times

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