Saturday, November 21, 2009

UCSB Prof Letter to Senate Leadership on Senate-Faculty Relations

 Dear Harry (if I may),

Thank you again for meeting with us, the UCSB faculty, yesterday afternoon.  The discussion was productive.  I would like to clarify a couple of points that I think are particularly important.

The first has to do with our mistrust, not only of the Regents and UCOP, but of the Senate leadership.  As was said, many of us realize that UCOP and the Regents are trying to push through an agenda of their own devising, with little regard for the opinions of the faculty (or staff, or students).  It is up to the Senate to resist any aspects of that agenda that work against the interests of the faculty and the institution as a whole.  The leadership must maintain a sustainedly and vigorously skeptical attitude toward the claims of UCOP, and it must proactively mobilize the entire faculty to help it do so.  Such a critical posture may not be something you are used to and may not be comfortable for you, but it is what your position at this crucial moment in the history of the UC system requires of you.

I was touched by your sincere belief that Yudof is a man with leadership qualities who has the potential to be a strong and effective advocate for the University.  Given some of his public statements, you can understand our skepticism.  If you are correct, it is up to you to educate him and exert such pressure on him as will turn him from being a destructive to a productive force.  Most of us believe that Yudof himself is not the real problem, that the Regents are the much bigger problem.  If Yudof can be turned from being a creature of the Regents, whose crassly business-oriented mentality has been so disastrous, into a champion of the faculty, staff, and students and the values that we share, then he will indeed be showing the kind of leadership we need, but his past performance does not bode well, and it will demand continual effort on your part to bring him around to the right course and to keep him on it.  That is how many of us see your most important responsibility as Chair of the AC.

I also want to caution you about your own utterances. After saying that you believe it is wrong to “demonize” individuals, you then singled out Bob Meister and Charles Schwartz in such a way as to imply that their criticisms of the University are deeply objectionable to you.  You are offended by people who demonize Yudof, but you seem unaware of your own tendency to demonize the people with whom you disagree.  Many of us happen to think that Meister and Schwartz, together with others such as Chris Newfield and Stan Glantz, perform heroic service in trying to keep the University leadership accountable for its actions.  Their criticism is valuable even if they may sometimes be wrong.  You should be able to recognize that and to acknowledge, gratefully, their willingness to question the policies we are being force-fed from above.  You should be able to recognize that an institution the size of the UC, with a mandate of such crucial public importance, requires critics.  If you would put an end to the mistrust they seem to exacerbate, then use your position to demand greater transparency from UCOP and the Regents.

Even after I asked you not to demonize Meister and Schwartz, you went on to say that the San Francisco Chronicle “hates the University” and that it is “manipulated by the unions.” You made a dismissive reference to Leland Yee. Such statements also smack of a tendency to demonize your adversaries, and bespeak a disturbing inability on your part to see the contradictions in your own behavior.   Given such comments, it is not surprising that you think Yudof’s remarks about the shine having gone off education and the UC being a cemetery are actually attempts to make some kind of positive case on our behalf, but they are terribly inappropriate and unbecoming to someone in your position.  You should be able to recognize that the press, too, has a role to perform in the critique of an institution as important as the UC, and that the UC’s history of labor relations is one of its most glaring shortcomings.

Finally, I would endorse the recommendation of my colleague, Bill Warner, who urged you to think “outside the box” in addressing the challenges we now face.  Current circumstances may require the Senate to do things it has never done before, indeed, to reconceive its entire purpose and mode of operation.  Not only do we need leadership, we need leadership of an especially astute, proactive, and courageous kind, capable of being sharply critical of the administration and openly adversarial when necessary.  The more you show that kind of leadership, and the more publicly you show it, the more you will win back the trust of the faculty.


Robert Williams, Professor
Dept. of the History of Art & Architecture

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