When Fred Ruiz was appointed to the University of California Board of Regents in 2004, one of his biggest tasks was educating fellow regents about the San Joaquin Valley experience and our region’s economic and educational challenges.
Ruiz, co-founder of Dinuba-based Ruiz Foods, was up to the task. He knew Valley prosperity hinged on persuading more Valley families to realize the importance of education and encouraging more youngsters to shoot for the stars: a college education and, for the most qualified, a degree from the internationally renowned UC system.
Ruiz could speak with authority to fellow board members, the governor and lawmakers. He had helped build the El Monterey lineup of frozen foods into a powerhouse brand. And, as a Valley resident, he could testify to the hardships that immigrant families often have to overcome to realize the American Dream.
Ruiz’s 12-year term ended March 1 and he didn’t seek reappointment by Gov. Jerry Brown. The reason? The 73-year-old Ruiz told The Bee’s John Ellis, “Realistically, it would be difficult for me to maintain the same kind of commitment that I had in my first term.”
But Ruiz did make a request of Brown: There should be someone from the Valley “to be a voice to the regents.”
We concur 100 percent.
Now, more than ever, Valley viewpoints need representation on UC’s decision-making board. Just this week, WalletHub released an analysis of data that ranked Fresno, Modesto and Visalia among the nation’s least-educated metro areas.
In case you missed it, WalletHub compared the top 150 metropolitan statistical areas based on the percentage of adults with a college education and other factors such as the quality of the area’s public schools and universities. Fresno ranked No. 145, just ahead of Modesto (146), Bakersfield (147) and Visalia/Porterville (148).
California’s most educated metro region? The high-tech hub of San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, which was ranked the third-most educated in the U.S.
Education, when combined with hard work, is the springboard to success. That is why, after decades of being ignored by Sacramento’s power brokers, Valley residents finally were able to land their own University of California campus in Merced.
Under a partnership with a private developer approved by the regents Thursday, UC Merced, which is bursting at the seams with 6,700 students, will increase its enrollment to 10,000 students by 2021 or 2022. And, as UC Merced Chancellor Dorothy Leland has noted, at that size, UC Merced would be financially self-sustaining.
Much has been written about the “two Californias” – the economically vibrant, highly educated coast and the economically struggling, less educated interior.
As Brown has spent much of his third and fourth terms trying to close the wide income and education gaps within our state, we are confident that he recognizes the importance of having a Valley voice on the UC Board of Regents.
Shame on him, if he doesn’t.