Letter to the Merced Sun-Star
I am a lecturer teaching at UC Merced who will complete the Doctorate of Philosophy in literature this fall. My graduate work was completed at UCSD where I studied for 8 years, where I am still affiliated, where I earned my Master’s and C. Phil degrees, and where I taught summer session last year. I remain involved with the literature department at UCSD, which probably accounts for my visceral response to Professor Scull’s letter. I chose to accept the offer to teach at UC Merced as the central valley is where I grew up and was the best of possible options for me; as First Lady Michelle Obama pointed out in her landmark graduation speech, the best use of a UC education is to stay local and utilize the myriad benefits to the community afforded by a UC education. The claims and contentions put forth by Professor Scull et al must not go unanswered, notwithstanding the fact that his proposals will most certainly not be enacted. The hubris in Scull’s tone, to say nothing of his conclusions is outrageous. Scull laments that recent cuts “deprive the excellent along with the less so.” Scull uses the term “excellence” throughout his proposal, which strikingly proves the argument in Bill Reading’s The University in Ruins wherein Reading logically designates the term as “empty,” or vacuous, and states that the university has come “"to understand itself solely in terms of the structure of corporate administration," and so it seems in the minds of Scull and his cohorts. It is well known that much of UCSDs “excellence” by Scull’s definition is derived from the multi-million dollar contracts it has historically won from government and corporate entities. As noted scholar David Harvey states, “difficulties attach to applying corporate logic when the "product" is something as undefined as "an educated student" and when there's a modicum of significance to the distinctions between getting an education and getting a qualification, between thinking and mere information processing, between producing knowledge and consuming it. Higher education for what and for whom?” For whom indeed? Scull suggests that the “pretence” be dropped that “all campuses are equal.” I would be very interested to know his definition of equal, though apparently “equal” in his optic is predicated on “excellence” as government and corporate funding. Indeed, and tellingly, he evidences his argument by likening the current university crisis to the solutions arrived at by automobile corporations. I find it particularly odd that Scull would make such determinations regarding equality and excellence as a Distinguished Professor of Sociology, given his web site message that sociology is “The study of the organization, culture, and development of collectivities… This includes the causes and consequences of collective action by groups, movements, and organizations.” UC Merced is nothing if not an exciting, dynamic, albeit embryonic, example of the consequences of organizational action. Scull has done a great disservice to the students of UC Merced by designating their campus as “less equal.” Apparently he has not done his homework. For instance in the last year UC Merced students of the National Society of Black Engineers took first place at the Conference of Black Engineers held in Redmond, Washington – incidentally besting teams from Stanford, USC and Cal Poly. Also, a team of UC Merced engineering students won Austria’s International Robotics Rescue Simulation competition which develops technology for disaster rescue, and included teams from Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Iran, China, and Austria. How dare Scull and his signatories deem this campus “less than equal?” Having taught both campuses, I beg to differ. I have had the privilege here of teaching students who show brilliant promise in each of my classes. Not one of them have told me they are attending the university “because my parents want me to” as I heard repeatedly at UCSD, but many have voiced their desire to contribute in the fields of science, engineering, politics, and yes, the humanities. Some specifically chose UC Merced with the foresight to see that they would receive a more individual educational experience and have the opportunity to emerge as leaders in such a new school They include brilliant students who might otherwise have not had the opportunity to attend a UC, not because they didn’t “measure up” but because many of their parents could not afford to finance living expenses in such locales as La Jolla, and who work incredibly hard in their studies and outside jobs to foot the bill. Given the discrepancy in parent economic status between UCSD and UC Merced, one can’t help but wonder if the attendance demographics figure into Scull’s thinking; after all, UC Riverside has an enrollment of 25.3% Chicano/Hispanic students to 19.3%, “white” while UC Merced, while not posting ethnic breakdowns, would appear to be at least 40%. Many UC Merced students hail from the central valley, are first generation scholars and they will and have, despite Scull’s cursory dismissal of their “equality,” excel. While UC Merced contracts may not approach the income generation afforded a school that is 45 years established and strategically placed in a part of the state that thrives on the military and industry, UC Merced graduates will contribute greatly to society, not in the least to the underserved central valley, a society that Professor Scull so easily dismisses using corporate standards as judgment.