the UC History Digital Archives
the UC History Digital Archives

Home > General History > Overview and Timelines > UC Regents >
Historical Overview

This is a static website, it is no longer being updated

:: Historical Overview
:: Timeline of Regents
:: Biographies

Regents of the University of California

Historical Overview

The first Board of Regents of the University of California was organized in accordance with provisions of the Organic Act that created the University in 1868. There were 22 members. Six were ex officio: the governor (Henry H. Haight), the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the assembly, the state superintendent of public instruction, the president of the State Agricultural Society, and the president of the Mechanics Institute of the city and county of San Francisco. Eight members were appointed by the governor. The law provided that these first appointments could be made by the governor's "sole act" in the event the state senate had adjourned--as it did--before the appointments were made. Thereafter, until 1918, the governor's appointments of Regents would require the advice and consent of the senate. The ex officio and "appointed" Regents were required to elect eight "honorary" members to the Board. These Regents enjoyed full regental powers and privileges; the term "honorary" simply indicated the manner of their selection.

The terms of the first appointed and honorary Regents ranged from two to 16 years, as determined by lot. This established a pattern whereby two Regents, one in each category, completed their terms each even-numbered year. Thereafter, all but ex officio Regents served 16-year terms (unless appointed to serve out unexpired terms vacated by a death or resignation).

Among the first Regents were John W. Dwinelle, who introduced before the state assembly the act creating the University; Horatio Stebbins, pastor of the Unitarian Church of San Francisco and president of the Board of Trustees of the College of California; Frederick F. Low, former governor and former president of the board of directors of the Agricultural, Mining, and Mechanical Arts College; Andrew J. Moulder, former state superintendent of public instruction; Edward Tompkins, who would endow one of the University's first chairs of learning; and 32-year-old Andrew S. Hallidie, president of the Mechanics Institute and inventor of the cable car. Hallidie died in office in 1900 after 32 active years as a Regent (25 years as chairman of the powerful Finance Committee). Stebbins served as a Regent for 26 years. Moulder resigned soon after the first Board was organized to become secretary of the Regents.

In 1872, the legislature enacted California's first Political Code, incorporating therein many provisions of the Organic Act. In the process, some changes were made that affected the composition of the Board. The "honorary" regency was abolished and all 16 of the non-ex officio Regents were made appointees of the governor with the advice and consent of the senate. The code was amended in 1873 to make the President of the University an ex officio Regent. Daniel Coit Gilman was the first President to serve in this capacity, effective July 1, 1874.

California's second constitution (1879) provided that the University's "organization and government shall be perpetually continued in the form and character prescribed by the Organic Act creating the same, passed March twenty-third, eighteen hundred and sixty-eight (and the several Acts amendatory thereof), subject only to such legislative control as may be necessary to insure compliance with the terms of its endowments, and the proper investment and security of its funds." One effect of this provision, which was warmly debated in the Constitutional Convention of 1878, was to "freeze" the composition of the Board of Regents. Thus, when an attempt was made through legislation in 1909 to add an alumni representative as an ex officio member of the Board, the representative was not seated on grounds that the legislature had no authority to make the addition. A more far-reaching effect of the 1879 constitution was to recognize the University as a constitutional entity and to confer upon the Board of Regents status as a constitutional corporation.

This new status is even more explicit in the present constitutional provision which was approved in 1918. Article IX, Section 9 of the constitution now makes no reference to earlier legislation. It begins: "The University of California shall constitute a public trust, to be administered by the existing corporation known as 'The Regents of the University of California,' with full powers of organization and government, subject only to such legislative control as may be necessary to insure compliance with the terms of the endowments of the University and the security of its funds." The 1918 provision also added two ex officio Regents to the Board: the President of the University (whose status as a Regent was not explicit in the Constitution of 1879), and the "president of the alumni association of the university."

The first alumni president to serve as a Regent was Wiggington E. Creed, president of the California Alumni Association (Berkeley). In 1948, Paul R. Hutchinson, president of the UCLA Alumni Association, became the first alumnus of a campus other than Berkeley to serve as a Regent. Since that date, the alumni representative on the Board has been the president of the UCLA Alumni Association in even years, and the president of the California Alumni Association in odd years. This system is provided for in the by-laws of an organization called "The Alumni Association of the University of California," formed in 1947 to represent the two largest University alumni associations.

Another change brought about by the 1918 amendment to the constitution eliminated the requirement that appointed Regents be confirmed by the state senate.

The system devised in 1868 to assure the staggering of Regents' terms of office worked out so that two Regents always completed their terms in even-numbered years. These years were often election years. They were also years during which the senate was not in regular session (the only time it could confirm governor's appointments). This situation caused no difficulties in the confirmation of Regents' appointments until 1883. In that year, however, the Democratic party assumed control of the governorship and both houses of the legislature. Even before the senate convened, a majority party caucus was held and announced that appointments made in previous months by the defeated Republican Governor George C. Perkins would not be confirmed. The appointments of N. Greene Curtis, Isaias W. Hellmann, and Leland Stanford as Regents of the University were thus challenged. As the ensuing debate on the matter grew more heated, Curtis and Hellman resigned from the Board. The new Democratic governor, George Stoneman, withdrew the nomination of Stanford from consideration. The senate subsequently confirmed Stoneman's reappointment of Hellman, but the services of Curtis and Stanford as Regents were lost to the University. After changes of party control in Sacramento between 1883 and 1918, other Regents lost their positions when newly elected governors would withdraw unconfirmed nominations made by their predecessors from senate consideration. After 1918, this was no longer possible and every appointed Regent was assured of his position until he completed his term, resigned, or died.

The constitutional provision of 1918 gave the Regents "full powers of organization and government..." of the University. More specifically, it vested with them "the legal title and the management and disposition of the property of the University and of property held for its benefit" and provided that they "shall have the power to take and hold, either by purchase or by donation, or gift, testamentary or otherwise, or in any other manner, without restriction, all real and personal property for the benefit of the University or incidentally to its conduct." The Regents also have "all the powers necessary or convenient for the effective administration of its trust, including the power to sue and to be sued, to use a seal, and to delegate to its committees or to the faculty of the University, or to others, such authority or functions as it may deem wise. . . ."

When the Regents first organized in 1868, they created ten standing committees on: finance and accounts; grounds and buildings; library; building; supplies; instruction; agricultural college lands; endowments; degrees; and annual reports. In addition, there was a special Advisory Committee with "standing committee" status. Its members were elected by the Board and it advised the President of the University. It was superseded by a Committee on Instruction and Visitation in 1880 and absorbed in a Committee on Internal Administration created in January, 1890. The latter committee was created "to consider and report on questions affecting appointments, promotions, transfers, and the compensation of professors and others on the educational staff of the University, and to confer with the President of the University on matters affecting the government of the various departments of the University." This committee was abolished on September 21, 1897 by a vote which found President Kellogg voting with the minority.

The roster of standing committees changed from time to as the University grew and became involved in new endeavors. Committees were sometimes established to deliberate on matters related to new installations or programs, such as the Lick Observatory or the United States Agricultural Experiment Stations. At other times, committees were created with responsibilities for the University's work and interests in certain geographic areas of the state. During the 1950's, committees of the Regents were concerned with such broad assignments as research, faculty-staff relations, University relations, and student affairs. Now (1965) there are six standing committees. The Finance Committee, the Grounds and Buildings Committee, and the, Agriculture Committee all have very early origins (though their responsibilities have been redefined from time to time). The Audit and Investment Committees are off-shoots of the original Finance Committee. The sixth committee, on educational policy, was first included on the roster of standing committees in 1929-30, did not exist between 1944 and 1953, but was reestablished in the latter year.

The first officers of the corporation designated as The Regents of the University of California were a president, treasurer, and secretary. The president was and continues to be the governor of the state. When he is present, he presides over the meetings of the Board. For many years, his signature was required on all legal documents executed on behalf of the Regents. This procedure became so burdensome for the governor of a growing state that all of his paperwork concerning the University is now delegated to other officers of the Board and to administrative officers of the University.

For the first 52 years, the Board selected one of its number to preside at meetings. By tradition, this honor usually fell to the senior member. In 1920, the by-laws of the Regents were amended to make the chairman a permanent officer of the Board and Guy C. Earl was the first Regent elected to the new position. Under the provision of the amended by-laws, the chairman, elected for a one-year term, is empowered to act in all matters with authority equivalent to that of the president of the Regents. The first elected chairmen were residents of the Bay Area. In 1948, Regent Edward Dickson, who had led efforts to establish the Los Angeles campus, became the first southern Californian elected chairman of the Board. He held the office for eight years (Dickson also holds the record of total length of service on the Board--43 years). Since 1956, the number of succeeding terms a chairman may be elected to has been set at two.

The treasurer was, until 1933, always a banker and on three occasions was a banker who was also a Regent (William C. Ralston [1868-751]; Darius O. Mills [1875-83]; and Mortimer Fleishhacker, Sr. [1916-30]). In 1933, Robert M. Underhill became the first treasurer permanently employed by the Regents. Within the first year of Underhill's service, the Regents embarked upon new investment programs that have resulted in greatly increased earnings. (See Endowment Funds.) After his retirement in 1964, he was succeeded by Owsley B. Hammond.

The Organic Act gave the secretary of the Regents heavy responsibilities. He not only was responsible for keeping the records of the Regents' transactions, but also was the official University correspondent with learned, professional, and technical societies; a one-man agricultural extension division, responsible for collecting, from all parts of the world, plants and seeds that might be tested in California climate and soil; and the chief accounting officer and business manager of the University.

The Secretary of the Regents acquired still further influence in University affairs by assuming additional titles and responsibilities. Thus the second secretary, Robert E. C. Stearns (1874-81), was also superintendent of the grounds. His successor, J. Harmon C. Bonté (1881-96), held the same two titles and the additional one of secretary of the Academic Senate. Ralph P. Merritt (1918-20), Robert G. Sproul (1920-30), and Luther Nichols (July, 1930-Nov., 1930) all held the combined titles of secretary and comptroller and land agent. Robert M. Underhill (Dec., 1930-June, 1960) served not only as secretary, but also (after 1933) as treasurer and land agent. Over the years, the secretary's responsibilities changed considerably. His responsibility for collecting seeds and dispensing information on agricultural matters to farmers was soon assumed by the College of Agriculture faculty and, later, by Agricultural Extension. He was no longer secretary of the Academic Senate after 1904, and no longer superintendent of grounds and buildings after 1909. In 1911, the accounting and business affairs of the University were made the responsibility of a new officer. In 1960, the positions of treasurer and secretary were again divided. Miss Marjorie Woolman became the secretary of the Regents and Underhill continued to serve as treasurer and as a vice-president of the University (so appointed in 1959).

The state delegated to the University the responsibility for locating and disposing of the lands provided for the support of the University by the Morrill Land Grant Act. The office of land agent was created in 1869 to handle these matters. By 1918, all but a few parcels of the original 150,000 acres had been located and patented, and the office was combined with that of the comptroller. In 1931, the responsibilities of the land agent were assigned to the treasurer.

A counsel of the Regents was employed in March, 1877, the first incumbent being the same Henry H. Haight who, as governor, signed the bill creating the University in 1868. The 1966 incumbent is Thomas J. Cunningham.

In 1911, the office of comptroller was established, but was discontinued in 1949 and its accounting and controller duties were assigned to a chief accounting officer of the Regents. in July, 1950, the title was changed to controller. In 1959, administrative reorganization of the University placed the office of controller under the jurisdiction of a newly established office of vice-president--finance.

It was not until the 1880's that the Regents began to delegate authority to the President of the University and the faculty. Special amendments to the Regents' By-Laws were passed in 1890 and 1891 to authorize the President of the University to dismiss and regulate the duties of the watchman, and to employ, dismiss, and regulate the duties of janitors. Even in the exercise of this authority, however, the President was required to report his actions promptly to the Board. The President of the University was given a contingency fund of $200 a year in 1886, but it could be disbursed only under the directions of the Regents' Finance Committee. Until 1901, the Regents gave individual attention to each request from alumni for replacement of a defective, lost, stolen, or burned diploma. Although the President was designated head of the faculty in the Organic Act, it was not until the 1880's that the Regents declared that communications from the faculty to the Board must be presented by the President. The first significant delegation of authority to the President of the University was made in 1899 as a condition of Benjamin Ide Wheeler's acceptance of the Presidency. Wheeler demanded and was granted authority to initiate all appointments, promotions, and dismissals of faculty members. He was also given further assurances that earlier policies controlling faculty communication with the Regents would not be violated. Beginning in the 1930's, more responsibility for the business and accounting procedures within the University was delegated to the President and other administrative officers.

Between 1920 and 1923, the Regents gave the faculty a stronger role in the organization of the Academic Senate; in the budget-making processes of the University; in academic personnel matters; and in the formulation of educational policy, including initiation and modification of academic programs.

As the University's activities became more diverse, as new campuses were opened, and as enrollment increased, it became less feasible for the Regents to attend to the considerable detail that engrossed them in earlier years. A series of studies, begun in 1948 and intensified after 1958, have streamlined the University's administrative procedures and have led to further delegation of authority by the Regents to the President, the chancellors, and other officers.

The Regents originally agreed to hold four regular meetings a year with special meetings as might be required. In practice, they met no less than ten times a year before 1885-86, when a fifth regular meeting was officially added. In addition to the meetings of the full Board, there were frequent committee meetings. In 1881-82, the secretary reported, "About 80 committee meetings have been held, all of them occupying at least the greater part of an afternoon, and some of them an entire day."

In May, 1890, the Regents voted to hold regular meetings "each and every month." They now meet regularly at least 11 times a year.

Until the 1950's, most of the Regents' meetings were held in San Francisco---in the Mechanics Institute, at the Hopkins Institute of Art, in the governor's office, or in offices maintained for the attorney for the Regents. At least once a year, the Regents would meet at Berkeley. In 1920, the Regents met on the Los Angeles campus for the first time, and met there at least once a year thereafter. After World War II, the Regents began to meet on each of the several campuses at least once during the year.

The Regents now meet regularly on the third or fourth Friday of the month. On the Friday preceding a meeting, each Regent receives thick packets of documents and reports concerning matters on the forthcoming agenda. Committee meetings begin on Thursday morning and continue until after lunch on Friday when the full Board meets. All meetings of the Board and its committees, except for executive sessions, are open to the public. Executive sessions are convened only for discussions involving national security; the conferring of honorary degrees and other honors and commemorations; gifts, devises, and bequests; the purchase or sale of real property prior to final decision thereon by the Board in open session; litigation when discussion in open session concerning such matters might adversely affect or be detrimental to the public interest; personnel matters relating to the appointment, employment, compensation, or dismissal of officers and employees of the University; or matters relating to complaints or charges brought against officers or employees of the University unless such officer or employee requests a public hearing.

The Regents of the University were instrumental in the development of the Master Plan for Higher Education in California in 1960 and are now represented on the Coordinating Council for Higher Education.

The Board of Regents is entrusted with formidable responsibilities. Its members form the most direct link between the University and the people of the state. They receive no compensation as Regents and, except for the President of the University, no Regent may accept a paying position at the University during his term of office. All Regents may attend all committee meetings and most of them do. Since 1952, the average attendance has been 17 for the two full days of monthly meetings. Despite the demanding workload and absence of financial reward, some of California's most distinguished citizens have served as Regents of the University.--VAS

REFERENCES: "The Organic Act," Stats., 1867-68, 248; Newmarker vs. Regents, Dist. Ct. of Appeal, California, 1st Dist., Div. 2; Respondent's Brief, Appendix. Secretary's Reports to the Regents, 1868-1964; By-Laws of the Board of Regents of the University of California, June 19, 1868, UC Archives; Regents' Manual, Berkeley, 1884; Regents' Manual of the University of California, 1938, UC Archives; By-Laws and Standing Orders of the Regents of the University of California, including amendments to 1965; Calif. Constitution, Art. IX, Sec. 9, 1879; Calif. Constitution, Art. IX, See. 9, 1918; San Francisco Evening Bulletin, February 24, 1883, 4; "Regents Muddle Settled," San Francisco Evening Bulletin, February 27, 1883, 1; Senate Journal, 1869-1917.


the UC History Digital Archives

Copyright © 1999-2005
The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
Last updated 05/28/04.