Monday, October 4, 2010

Open Letter for a Shadow University (October, 2010)

Open Letter for a Shadow University

As instructors, staff members and librarians in the University of California system, we are watching with dismay as access to the university is being further restricted for working class, minority and in-state students, and as once-meaningful structures for shared governance are being dismantled.  Since 2000, undergraduate student fees have more than tripled.  In the past year, the average family income for incoming students rose sharply, and enrollment rates for black, filipina/o, and latina/o students remained disproportionately low.  Too many Californians are being priced out of higher education, a public good that should be accessible to all.

UC President Mark Yudof has said that tuition increases, staff layoffs and pension reductions are necessary in order to balance the university's budget, and he blames the state government for defunding public higher education.  Yet the UC Regents have not made public the university's budget.  According to professor emeritus Charles Schwartz, there is reason to believe that the cost of instruction is significantly lower than the President has acknowledged, and that ballooning upper administrative salaries, pensions and waste are responsible for much of the budget shortfall.

Furthermore, President Yudof has refused to support Assembly Bill 656, which would better fund higher education by taxing the extraction of oil in California.  This bill is facing opposition from the California Chamber of Commerce, whose Board of Directors counts Mark Yudof and UC Regent Russell Gould as active members. A number of other regents, including Richard Blum, Sherry Lansing and Paul Wachter, have benefited financially from risky investments made with the UC pension fund.

We are facing a severe crisis of governance.  The University of California is being mismanaged by individuals who have demonstrated a tepid commitment to public education, and whose tenure in power has been tainted by conflicts of interest and the irresponsible squandering of public funds.

Those of us who work, study and teach in the University of California system are not only being let down by our President and Board of Regents, we are also being shut out of any role in the governance of the University.  However, we need not stand aside and watch as public higher education is eviscerated.  We have the power to open our classrooms and libraries to students who have been barred from enrolling at the University of California, and we are capable of collectively governing our university in such a way as to maintain its public mission.

Last year we organized and carried out a number of actions and projects that began to realize these aims. Throughout the Fall of 2009 students remained inside libraries across campus after their scheduled closing times to challenge the shortening of library hours. These direct actions, which involved collaborations between students, staff and faculty, were partially successful in re-opening the libraries.  Similar collaborations took place in the Spring when students were facing possible suspension for protest actions against fee increases and staff layoffs.  As the administration began prosecuting student protesters, union locals, professors and student groups called for the suspension of the Student Conduct Code rather than student protesters.
Over the last year, the administration has increasingly imposed and enforced regulations dictating how buildings and open spaces on campus can be used by members of the community, while those of us who work and study on campus have opposed such regulations and have affirmed that campus spaces are sites for critical debate, education, and protest.
Unfortunately though, hikes in tuition and fees have made it impossible for many Californians to attend our public university and to participate in the critical discussions taking place on campus. Additionally, students who have protested these tuition hikes face possible suspension. The administration is shutting the university's doors to the students it is charged with serving.
We, the undersigned are committed to providing instruction and student services to un-enrolled students and to students unable to afford rising fees. As instructors we see our classrooms as public spaces, are committed to maintaining their public character, and intend to work against disciplinary, financial, and admissions policies that bar students from accessing the university.  We see the opening of our classrooms as the first stage in a larger project to democratize and reclaim as a public good the University of California.
If you would like to sign this letter, please send an email with your name and departmental affiliation to universityofshadows@gmail.com.


1 comment:

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