Thursday, May 24, 2012

The View from the Top--UCOP and Politics


I just ran across an article written by a UC Irvine professor which describes an e-mail sent by the University of California Office of the President to the university community, warning UC personnel to avoid 1 May events—for their safety.  You can read Professor Jon Wiener’s piece here.  The substance (if it can be dignified as such) of the e-mail was that any members of the UC community who stumbled upon an Occupy Wall Street event were in danger of losing life or limb (Wiener points out that an earlier alert had been issued in conjunction with the Fukushima meltdown, showing just how safely removed from reality UC’s administrative leadership is). 

As quoted by Wiener, the e-mail urged recipients to “Avoid all demonstrations as a precaution”, and to take care around “cities with a large immigrant population and strong labor groups”.  Gee, that’s interesting.  In the world inhabited by UC’s managerial elites, the very sectors of society which bolster our university’s idealism and give some credibility to its claims towards social and economic diversity pose a threat to the safety of our community members.

This, of course, is laughable to anyone at Berkeley or Davis who has been on the receiving end of police rubber bullets, baton charges, or pepper spray.  Breathtakingly idiotic e-mails from UCOP, Yudof, and the campus chancellors (Berkeley’s Robert Birgeneau’s blithering gems take pride of place in this pantheon of pea-brainedness) are nothing new.  But it’s baffling how these people again and again undercut their credibility by missing the point about the political nature of the threat to higher education.  Our cause is, to a very large degree, that of the Occupy movement.  The fact that both could state their case with greater clarity and cohesion should be no obstacle to our finding common cause.

Dated by a month though it is, the UCOP message remains relevant, and is perhaps most insulting inasmuch as it is a further demonstration, if such were needed, of the extent to which UC leadership is impervious to experience and immune to even the most elementary teachings of those two savants, Cause and Effect.  UCOP is effectively declaiming the usefulness of the expression of political dissatisfaction.  In so doing it is asking us to content ourselves with its own pathetic efforts at advocacy, which have recently been converted into a full-scale effort towards privatisation.  It is a ringing endorsement of apathy and a clarion call to unconscionable silence. 

Wiener’s final quote from the e-mail is illuminating: “Maintain a low profile by avoiding demonstration areas [...and avoid] discussions of the issues at hand”.  What a truly wretched injunction to our beleaguered community.  At a time when we need inspired leadership and activism alongside impassioned commitment and discussion, UC leadership is doing its best to neuter the system’s approach to its plight.  This is just one more example of how the head-in-the-sand, apolitical approach to the threat posed by massive state disinvestment isn’t only not working, but actively seeks to hamstring more thoughtful, realistic and committed efforts to address the problems facing the University of California.

The cadre of administrators who have wormed their way into system wide and campus administrations are either reprehensibly out of touch or else actively working to stymie efforts to preserve UC’s public character.  The future of UC depends not on the political passivity that they endorse, but rather on critically engaging those interests and forces which are eroding our ability to fund and care for the public institutions which are engines of political change, social innovation, and economic equity in our state.

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