Saturday, July 20, 2013

Open Letter to California's Legislators

Dear California Assembly members and Senators,

I write as a UC Irvine alum, a UC Berkeley graduate student, a constituent, and as a Californian who will always treasure my time at UC and the opportunities and experiences that our wonderful university system gave to me.  As you are aware, the
Board of Regents of the University of California voted last week to approve the nomination of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to serve as the next President of the University of California system.

In newspapers, on facebook, in conversations, and in campus organisations, Napolitano’s merits as a candidate will be endlessly debated.  People will question whether her experiences as Governor of Arizona or cabinet secretary are relevant to the task of managing our University system.  People will wonder whether the deportation policies she implemented in the latest iteration of her career should disqualify her from leading a University system committed to equality, justice, and free speech. 

The problem with all of these debates, of course, is that they will occur after Naplitano’s nomination has already been approved.  They will occur without the University community—or California’s public, which began to recommit itself to UC after passing Prop 30 in November—knowing which other individuals were candidates to head our community.  They will occur without UC’s leadership taking the views they represent into account.

Therein is the serious problem, not only with Naplitano’s appointment, but with the general conduct of University business by the Regents.

UC remains a public institution, although the public plays a diminished role in maintaining its excellence in research and teaching.  Public institutions, by their nature, should be open and transparent.  The processes by which they make decisions and appointments should be subject to public scrutiny.  The basis for those decisions should be made public, and ought to be articulated in good time to allow for public comment and input.

And yet Napolitano’s nomination was announced just a week before the vote on her confirmation after secretive deliberations by the Regents to which UC’s student, faculty, and staff community were not privy.  Not only was the community denied the opportunity to engage candidates during the selection process, which made a mockery of UC’s public character, there was no opportunity between nomination and confirmation for that community to make its views heard in a systematic fashion.

As you know, the University community has been fractured in recent years: by the steep rise in tuition and the concomitant rise in administrative salaries; by the brutal police response on the Berkeley and Davis campuses in particular to peaceful protest; by the inaccessibility of the Regents; and by the sense that a place of learning that we treasure as our home is increasingly being subjected to market forces which work at cross purposes to our core missions of teaching, research, and public service. 

I write to request that you and your colleagues take action to determine how the character and actions of the UC Board of Regents can be made more democratic, transparent, and accountable to the UC community and to California’s public.  Their behaviour in the appointment of Secretary Napolitano has been arrogant and insulting, and merely confirms the view of many Californians that it is a body insulated not only from public opinion and practises of good governance, but equally walled off from common sense.

I look forward to hearing how you and your colleagues believe you can contribute to improving relations between UC’s administration and their constituents, and thereby strengthening the public character and work of our state’s preeminent public institution. 

Sincerely,

Jeff Schauer
UC Irvine 2004-2008
UC Berkeley 2008-present

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