|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Monday, July 19, 2004
Modesto Bee 7-18-04
UC board appointee finds shared values with governor
As a new member of the University of California Board of Regents, Dinuba entrepreneur Fred Ruiz carries his belief that education and business are keys to quality of life.
Gov. Schwarzenegger announced the appointment July 2 and Ruiz was considered a voting member immediately, university officials said, though confirmation by the state Senate is required.
In meeting with the governor before being appointed, Ruiz said he was very impressed. It was, after all, a meeting between two successful business operators: Ruiz, a founder of the largest producer of prepared frozen Mexican food in the country; and Schwarzenegger, a major real estate and business success outside his Hollywood career.
A few things in common
Ruiz, the 60-year-old chairman of Ruiz Foods, said his talk with Schwarzenegger convinced him that the two share values, including their attitudes toward immigration.
He found the governor, an immigrant, sensitive to the issue.
"The biggest concern I had was affirmative action," Ruiz said. "It means different things to different people."
He cited his experience looking for a loan to expand Ruiz Foods: "I hit a wall with all local banks. I was turned down by seven. In desperation, I went to the Small Business Administration, which guaranteed our loan."
Ruiz said he sees that governmental help as a kind of affirmative action for one Hispanic business. And he sees the issue as central to his desire to increase the number of San Joaquin Valley students enrolled at UC campuses.
"My youngest son graduated from Reedley High School and has worked to qualify for the UC system," Ruiz said. Many valley students suffer in competition for admission to UC campuses because "I think many Hispanic students don't have the parental or economic support" that would put them on equal footing with others, he says.
Students might attend certain valley schools that don't point them toward college, "yet they have qualifications," Ruiz said.
In some rural schools, Ruiz said, students might not be counseled about the courses they need to qualify for UC admission. Many, such as Ruiz, grew up in families lacking college experience.
"Hence, they may not qualify," Ruiz said, "but I know they could perform."
Ruiz gave this example: One student might come from a family that assumes university education as part of growing up. That student might thrive on the high school debating and swim teams, play violin in the orchestra and volunteer with hospital candy stripers. Another might harvest melons through every summer in fields near Mendota, where temperatures approach 110 degrees.
Which student shows greater persistence and strength of character, and which is more likely to translate a university education into success and contributions to society? Ruiz did not answer the question, but he recognizes it as important for the UC system.
So does Chancellor Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, who rarely misses an opportunity to say that UC Merced intends to bring a UC education to valley students who have no family experience with higher education. She is enthusiastic about Ruiz's appointment for another reason -- his ability to give an accurate and encouraging view of the valley to potential students and employees of UC Merced.
Uniqueness of the valley
The chancellor said she and other UC officials "have spent a lot of time trying to educate people about UC Merced. It is always a hard job because they often are not from the valley and don't know anything about it."
Ruiz knows all about the valley, of course, and has served on the UC Merced Foundation's board. Since 1993 he has been a board member for The McClatchy Co., parent of The Fresno, Modesto and Sacramento Bees, and other newspapers.
"He brings a deep understanding of the valley and makes sure that people don't make decisions based on inaccurate information or no information at all," Tomlinson-Keasey said. "He represents well the kind of student the University of California needs to pay a great deal of attention to in coming years. In the past decade and in the next two, this will be the growth center of the state."
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