Entomology Professor Walter Leal’s letter, signed by over 206 other professors, backed Chancellor Katehi in the face of strong public and student sentiment that she ought to resign, sentiment bolstered by those such as English Professor Nathan Brown, the English and Physics Departments and the board of the Davis Faculty Association.
That move sets up an interesting confrontation and tension between the more mainstream research elements of the university and the more activist segments.
However, any call for calm was likely drowned out by the omnipresent Board of Regents and President Mark Yudof’s ill-timed decision to further raise selected administrative salaries.
That move earned a strong rebuke by Senator Leland Yee, a frequent critic of the University of California and strong proponent of free speech rights of students, as well as fiscal responsibility in the running of the public university system.
“It is no wonder that protests are happening throughout the UC system,” said Senator Leland Yee, who has pushed legislation to stop the egregious executive pay practices at UC and the California State University. “The Regents and Trustees are completely out of touch.”
“It is disingenuous for the UC President and the Regents to claim that the last thing they want to do is raise tuition on students,” the Senator added. “Certainly executive compensation should be on the chopping block before a heavier burden is put on students. This latest action by the Regents is just appalling.”
Senator Yee, who voted against the state budget cuts to education, has long fought the executive compensation decisions by UC and CSU. In 2007, according to a release from his office, Senator Yee passed SB 190 to ensure compensation decisions were made during a public session of the regents and trustees. Prior to the law, UC and CSU often made such decisions behind closed doors without public input.
The release adds, “It is still not entirely clear how much money UC and CSU executives may be receiving from their campus foundations and auxiliaries. Another bill authored by Yee, SB 8, will subject such entities to the California Public Records Act starting January 1.”
Meanwhile, an editorial emerged on Tuesday that issued a scathing rebuke for the efforts of the regents to avoid and stifle dissent at their meeting on Monday.
It is unclear who wrote this editorial, which has been reprinted in a number of papers.
“In these troubled times for the University of California, with fees soaring and campus police abusing free speech rights, system leaders are scrambling to avoid more showdowns with demonstrators,” the editorial begins.
“But Monday’s four-campus, voice-from-behind-the-curtain regents’ meeting was not the answer,” it continues. “The phone-it-in session conducted in four locations was an abuse of the spirit, if not the letter, of state open-meeting laws. And for the premier public university system of the state that leads the world in technology, it was a logistical embarrassment.”
The editorial noted that, while the call-in meeting from the campuses of Davis, San Francisco, Merced, and Los Angeles “was touted as an attempt to reach out across the state; it also divided the protesters so they didn’t concentrate at one location.”
“Public comments were heard in rotation from each site – but heard only. There was an audio connection but no video. Students couldn’t see most of the people they were addressing – indeed, had no way of knowing if anyone outside the immediate room was seriously listening to them and not rolling their eyes, checking email or whispering among themselves,” it continued.
“It was a recipe for frustration, and predictably, it all boiled over,” they write. “Angry students shut down the meeting. In the attempt to calm things, the regents had managed to increase the tensions.”
They continue: “After a break, it got worse. At three of the venues, the session was moved to smaller rooms.”
“We cannot recall another state agency holding a public meeting by teleconference. It’s within the letter of the open-meeting law that governs the regents’ meetings; the Bagley-Keene Act allows for teleconferencing – but this is not how it was intended to be used. The provision was included to accommodate a board member who could not physically attend a meeting. That wasn’t the issue here.”
They write pointedly: “While staff can efficiently conduct business by voice and video conferences, policymakers like the regents need to meet openly in front of the people they govern.”
And they conclude: “Monday’s experiment turned into a farce. Participants at the four venues could not see each other, any more than residents across the state monitoring the disembodied voices on the Internet could see any of them. It was no way to do the public’s business, and it should not happen again.”
This is what we are dealing with.
Yesterday we noted that people were suggesting that the students were focusing on the wrong target in their implication of the Board of Regents and administrators. What becomes clear now is that, while the legislature is certainly to blame, particularly in its structure, the real problems far exceed budgetary concerns.
There is a palpable arrogance of power to the Board of Regents. They are unaccountable to public opinion and the voters and even the legislature, and we join Senator Yee and other critics in voicing our opinion that change needs to occur and needs to begin with the structure of the Board of Regents.
The administrative raises were small and focused, but tone deaf to the concerns of students and the public.
The arrogance of trying to stifle dissent is appalling. One would think the board would have learned by the response to the police crackdown. But the problem goes far beyond the UC Police, far beyond merely Chancellor Katehi, far beyond the dealing with protesters.
The problem is that the Board of Regents does not want to play by the same rules as the rest of society. They believe they have the right to stifle speech and dissent and open government process. That is why laws such as the Bagley-Keene act were first implemented.
What has happened this week is that a giant can of gasoline has been poured on the fire. The professors can rally behind Katehi. The students will go home for a month after next week’s finals. But come January, something is going to have to give – unfortunately we do not know what it will be, but this situation is a set for a blowup that may make the pepper spraying incident and the baton incident at Berkeley look like a Sunday School Picnic.
There is anger and frustration among the protesters. Most have focused on non-violent means to achieve a new end. But as that anger and frustration grows to a feeling of powerlessness and it spreads behind the core group, the danger for less constructive and more destructive actions grows.
Wise public servants recognize that the first amendment is not merely a technicality that binds our actions, it is the outlet that avoids the kind of explosions of violence that we see in other societies. When you use process to stifle speech, it rarely ends well.
Those who call for Chancellor Katehi to resign – a call that we have joined – need to remember that the UC Regents hired her in the first place, she is their agent, and without changes to the UC Regents, the new boss will be the same as the old boss.
—David M. Greenwald reporting