Sunday, July 12, 2009

Continuation: UCSB Town Hall

First, Elizabeth Robinson, Director of KCSB radio:
The town hall meeting that [Chancellor Henry] Yang had invited all employees to yesterday was an amazing event. Faculty, staff, union and non, lecturers and a sprinkling of students insisted that he and [Executive Vice Chancellor] Gene [Lucas] call for a moratorium on cuts, for establishing a public campaign to save public education and the like. We broke out our buttons, the seal of the UC with prison bars gripped by hands superimposed and a red banner across the whole reading 'I'm for Option 4'. It's catching on. We've called for a planning meeting in front of Cheadle on Monday to which we're inviting other educators, state employees and the general public. I have never seen anything like it in my many years here. We spanked 'em good! More later. Oh, and Monica set up an 'ning', which is Anyone can join and add things to it. Check it out.
The Option 4 Ning has posted a video clip of a statement by UCSB History Professor Nelson Lichtenstein. He calls for, among other things, a moratorium on cuts pending a read investigation and dialog, and NO emergency powers for President Yudof. This line got huge applause. Nelson is right to suggest that these powers, even as currently scaled back, mark a fundamental shift in shared governance, an increase in the executive powers of the presidency at the expense of everyone else.

We also received this vivid description of the town hall:
Well, we had the usual blah blah blah powerpoint presentations, which some attempted to interrupt. Specifically, A. was to stand up after the admin. team had spoken for 30 minutes or so and we were to take over the mike. S.'s job was to start out shouting "change the story" and then "let her speak" as she approached. S. did it. The audience divided--some for letting her speak while others shouting S. down with "let us listen." Our friend J. delivered the coup de grace by yelling "Sit down" at A. --sounding like Clint Eastwood in one of his recent righteous old man roles. Then the meeting went forward, the administrators very speedily (some gratification) finishing their inevitability spiel. Q and A was mixed. Some excellent remarks: Nelson Lichtenstein, Lisa Parks (excellent, thoughtful set of rhetorical questions), Laurie Monahan, Jon Snyder (substantive), Bill Warner (also substantive, with some rhetorical flourish). Aranye went first and was also quite eloquent. Reaction? [Chancellor] Henry [Yang] refused to agree to setting up a fac-staff-administrative task force to look at the situation, nor would he confirm, when pressed, that he'd bring our complaints to the Regents' meeting next week. There appeared to be no admin support for postponement of the Regents' meeting [ed: decision on cuts?]. [Executive Vice Chancellor] Lucas told us that the real problem was Sacramento and that it wasn't important for the administrators to speak to the press--rather, the job is ours; we are to "write to our legislators," if we want to see real change. The admin is "hamstrung" by Sacramento. Incredible patronizing deflection. J. sat fat and happy, once the insurrection was down, and failed to answer a question about exactly how much of the u.'s funding comes from the state. Truly, they seemed a ship of fools. Faculty, staff, and student response was more promising, but also a little cowed, scared, and at times out and out butt kissing. (Two men got up to say that "we"--whoever that is--"ought" not to shirk "our" responsibilities by asking the Chancellor to speak to the press, speak to the Regents, and take on the university. That kind of media blitz is "our" job. Were these guys plants? I swear they had bodyguards in Campbell. One sat next to Bill and Aranye). That said, some important issues were aired, some good stuff got put on the table (even if it was shot down or ignored), and a few people realized "dissent" isn't a short-form for dysentery.
Alice O'Connor provided some context:
I see you still have your senses about you, which is a far cry from the more than usual lunacy that is gripping the state, the university, the whole of officialdom for that matter, as they drag us into the vortex of the great unraveling--and actually ask us to help it along!! Mark Sanford, Michael Jackson, Sarah Palin: these are the great avatars of our political culture, each of them caught up in, and caught short by, their own artifice, each slowly, painfully and then suddenly unraveling before our very eyes, even as they remain immunized against the far great damage they wreak upon others. Sarah, of course, will make a pile of dough on the deal.

I'm sure you've been hearing about the "town hall" the other day, which was notably polite and respectful in that Santa Barbara way BUT also really heartening, because in that polite and respectful way the packed hall told Henry et al in no uncertain terms that caving in to the logic of ever more and ever deeper cuts, accepting the "options" put before us, enabling this extraordinary assumption of power, and doing nothing whatsoever to fight back is simply unacceptable. Now, what Henry is going to do at the Regents' meeting next week is anybody's guess. Anyway, there is momentum and when I've got more time I'll talk to you about a couple of ideas I've been kicking around.
Bill Warner sent a comment on the Power of the Town Meeting

Yesterday's town-hall style meeting was remarkable for large attendance (at least 800), for breadth of participation, and for the cogency of the analysis and particular proposals from the floor. Evidently, the specter of a tax upon our salary, imposed without due process and with no promise that it will not be the first of many, concentrates the attention of us all. (as Samuel Johnson famously said of those awaiting hanging).

Post-mortem skepticism: in brief talks and email exchanges after the meeting yesturday most of us strongly suspect that nothing will change with the administration or the faculty senate; that they have fumbled the ball on the budget crisis and that they refused to take the ball we tried to hand them.

So for example, we suspect that there will be no press conference led by Henry Yang, there will be no joint statement by Chancellors as Stephanie Lemenager and Ann Adams recommended, there will be no getting gumption and fight or getting 'pissed' as Lisa Hajjar and Laurie Monahan urged, and there will be no appointment of a broad-based UCSB budget crisis as Jon Snyder and I suggested, and there will be no real transparency of process as Edward
Woolfold and Cindy Cortez and others suggested. As Nelson Lichtenstein suggested after the meeting, Henry and Gene and Joel will get their administrative 'gold stars' if they can get us to accept these salary taxes as our natural fate.

If this skeptical prognosis comes true, what should we do? Reduced to its simplest form, I suggest we do ourselves what we spent 90 minutes asking our administrators to do. This would require harnessing the power of yesterday's town meeting. I think we should hold not a faux town meeting but a real town meeting, in the style of the eighteenth century town meetings of Boston that are part of my current book project. Here is one version of what it would/
could look like.

Triggering crisis: the Regents vote on July 14th to use our salaries (and the household budgets they sustain) as the state's budget crisis cash box.

Schedule a UCSB Town-Meeting for Thursday July 23rd in Campbell Hall at Noon or 3:00PM (when we know that it is probably available). More here.

Option 4 has a letter to Chancellor Yang from Digital Imaging Specialist Maura M. Jess that reads in part:
I am myself a UCSB alumnus, acquiring undergrad and graduate degrees in Biological Science in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. I returned as a staff member in 1991 and have been employed here ever since, 17 years in the Neuroscience Research Institute and most recently 2 ½ years in Instructional Development. I feel fortunate and enriched to work here and to have experienced UCSB through so many perspectives. As a result I am particularly dismayed as it becoming apparent that this campus and the amazing and noble resources and opportunities it provides will be seriously and irrevocably compromised should the decision be made to go forth with any of the budget solutions currently on the table. The system itself has become unmanageable and if we continue to compensate for what isn’t working we are digging our own hole.

What are the real solutions? I think they will emerge when we begin an honest appraisal of what is actually going on. Follow the dollar. Is it a budget crisis or a distribution crisis? Over the years co-workers and I have had to resolve in our minds the many inequities that manifest in the “trenches”; questionable pay scales. “revolving-door” retirement practices, heavy handed and wasteful management styles. Should not the waste and inequity in our system be addressed before applying direct cuts (taxes) to people’s income? The damage to morale would have an incalculable cost. It is one thing to take a hit knowing you are valued and represented. It is quite another to feel disposable. To imagine that this would not have the most negative of impacts on our day-to-day operations would be naïve.

The larger impact of bandaging our own wound without regard for the condition of California education in general is in my opinion also short sighted. I agree with the many speakers yesterday who have encouraged UCSB to go public with our current situation and do so in solidarity with all of California’s public education systems.
What is Option 4? UCSB's Defend the University lists 4 demands. At a minimum it is the defeat of J1 and J2, the new emergency powers and the cuts tied to the declaring of a fiscal emergency. Stay tuned.

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