There has been some discussion this week about a divide within national politics itself, and among the left on populist economic issues. I bring that up as a backdrop to a much more local discussion, not only about the future of our community, but also the future of UC Davis.
In their message against Chancellor Katehi, the message rang from 2011 and the Occupy Movement which pushed back on the privatization of the university. Protestors would say, “Whose university? Our university!” Underlying that was a notion of “people over profits” and a belief that Chancellor Katehi represented the corporatization of the university.
There is no doubt that is true, although the transformation was clearly occurring long before Chancellor Katehi arrived on the scene. In September 2006, for example, there was a major announcement that Chevron Corporation would fund up to $25 million in research over five years “to develop affordable, renewable transportation fuels from farm and forest residues, urban wastes and crops grown specifically for energy.”
Two years ago it was the announcement that Mars, Incorporated, would dedicate $40 million to the UC Davis World Food Center. That money, UC Davis spokesperson Andy Fell said at the time, would be matched by $20 million by UC Davis itself “to develop and fund innovations from preliminary research all the way to commercialization.”
It is easy to take the cynical view here that the future of education lies in a private-public partnership where research is increasingly funded either directly or indirectly by corporate interests.
Perhaps as much as anything else, the common thread between the 2011 protests on the UCD Quad and the 2016 occupation of Mrak Hall by the student protesters was the frustration and concern about this future.
When asked at his initial press conference, Acting Chancellor Ralph Hexter said, “I certainly attend to their message – I think the issue of the privatization of the university is a real issue that we need to examine and consider.”
He said that, as public support for the university diminishes, we have to look for other funding sources.
That is the problem that the university faces. If tuition and state support do not fund the university’s mission, they will look to other funding sources. Who can drop tens of millions? Corporate America.
In a real sense, the divide over the mission of the university also drives the land use debate that has been hashed out over the Vanguard this spring and over the past week.
The drive of Chancellor Katehi, for example, focused on the strength of top programs like Agriculture and Veterinary Sciences. She focused on the expansive growth of the Office of Research and fundraising.
In a January speech on the State of the Campus she trumpeted new facilities like the Museum of Art, the Pitzer Center Recital Hall, the International Center, Walker Hall Renovation, a new net-zero energy Large Lecture Hall, a new building housing the UC Davis Office of Veterans Affairs, a VetMed Administration building, and, finally, Tercero Student Housing Phase 4.
Of all the projects opening this fall or in 2017, Tercero 4 is the only one that provides housing and it only provides 506 beds at a cost of $59 million, more expensive than any of the other projects.
UC Davis is building a new empire, so to speak, and you don’t build greatness by building new dorms.
There are those that see UC Davis as an outside force, putting growth pressures on the community, and causing harm. These people argue that UC Davis is responsible for the growth pressures, and therefore is responsible for solving the problem it causes.
There are others who argue that “Davis should view the growing student population as an opportunity, not a burden. By constructing more student housing in and around Davis, we enhance tax revenues, provide construction jobs and most importantly, provide enhanced business opportunities for our retail, service and restaurant owners, all of whom pay sales taxes to the city, salaries to workers, all while earning their own and income and building wealth. If Davis doesn’t provide the living space for students, then enterprising real estate developers will build in Dixon Woodland and West Sacramento, and Davis will lose the revenue opportunity.”
Others argue that, without UC Davis, Davis would more resemble Dixon than the community we love. UC Davis is the largest employer and therefore is a huge benefit to our community.
But that is but one view.
Jim Leonard last night offered a different view, arguing, “City Hall should demand higher education moneys go to State Colleges over Universities–especially ones that abuse their neighboring jurisdictions. Universities are overly expensive for the State to support given the value they contribute to society. The basic value of a higher education is reading, writing, and critical thinking, which the State Colleges supply at a lesser cost than the Universities.
“Davis needs to decide what it is and move forward based upon that identity; I think the definition should remain the historical one of Davis being a small, rural based, agriculturally centered town. Others, unfortunately including our traitorous City Council, seem to think of Davis as only future profits in real estate. Unfortunately that ‘future’ vision ignores the fact that eventually the real estate gravy train runs out while the associated costs continue forever. It is true more money is associated with real estate at first and that, for many, appears to be a positive. Sad this viewpoint is a myopic one associated with much suffering once real estate money runs out. Agriculture, in contrast, continues on as a source of income and, seemingly in this world of ever increasing population, produces more and more income sustainable income than real estate ever can.
“U.C.D. is a growth generator and the main beneficiary is real estate. We don’t need that. What we need is what U.C.D. used to support: basic services for the agricultural community, particularly the local agricultural community. That way the historical Davis identity is supported rather than undermined and U.C.D. has a purpose that it can uniquely fill. If U.C.D. continues to bloat, grow fat, and impose its will on Davis, we would really be much better off without it. And the State would be better off directing its support to State Universities instead.”
A critical look at this discussion suggests that our community is just as divided as the rest of the nation. The student activists rail against the privatization of the university, as academic elites argue that the chancellor’s status is a real setback to UC Davis – which has seen huge growth under the leadership of Linda Katehi for Hispanics in the university, who benefit from increased access and resource, and women who are leading the way in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.
It is this place where we see the battleground that extends before this community and into national politics. It is this debate that will be watched not only this year but for years to come.
—David M. Greenwald reporting