By Jorge Mariscal
My pessimistic intellect agrees with our colleague Rei Terada who recently wrote in this space: “A professor who agrees to be on a [Senate] committee thinking that from that position she’ll be able to limit damage and fearing that if she is not on it things will be even worse is not negating the legitimacy of the administration, so that should not be done.”
And yet my optimistic spirit tells me we must continue to fight in the belly of the beast if for no other reason than to force transparency where and when we can, to redirect the wheels of the contemporary version of the odious machine Mario Savio described so long ago, and to support those students who will undoubtedly rise up from January through June to protect their future.
But let’s be clear about what can and cannot be accomplished in the Academic Senate. Whenever I visit local high schools to talk to students about the realities of military service, I run into the occasional young soul who explains to me that his plan is to enlist in order to change the military from within. Although the analogy is not perfect, we might chalk up to the same misguided fantasy the belief that we can change the administrative culture of the University of California from the inside.
To say so is a bitter pill to swallow for many of us who have wandered too long through the labyrinthine corridors of our campus bureaucracies. “University service,” as they call it, often means spending long hours of uncompensated labor retooling on issues far removed from one’s professional expertise or interests. Learning the intricacies of local campus admissions policies or unraveling complex budgetary matters or reading up on student development theory in order to fend off the enemies of “diversity” will eat up more of your time than the total hours you spent in the archives for your last two books.
What this produces is a situation where most faculty members show up to their monthly committee meeting having devoted minimal energy to understanding the issues about to be decided. An administrator presents a proposal, there are polite disagreements about what the data mean, the chairperson calls for a vote, and voilà official policy has just been made.
Add to this the fact that most campus Senates are the domains of a small group of professors who show up repeatedly on key committees. It may be harder for the 1% to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, but it may be even more difficult for a progressive faculty member, a woman, or person of color to get appointed to CEP, Committee on Committees, CAP or Planning and Budget. Between 2006 and 2010 at UC San Diego, for example, only 17% of CAP members were women and 0% was African American.
If the Academic Senate at most campuses always already functioned as an old boy network of Privy Counsellors, the explosion of the managerial class on each campus has shifted policy-making to an even more select few—a Star Chamber of mostly non-teaching administrators with an unquenchable enthusiasm for new revenue streams, “consolidation,” and the “entrepreneurial spirit.”
The old saw that those looking to make institutional change must work both the inside and the outside rings hollow once you understand that the “inside” in which some of us find ourselves (i.e., Senate committees) is only an outer husk of the real “inside” where the technocrats, in their “Working Groups” or “Tiger Teams” or even on the upper floors of that grayish high-rise in downtown Oakland, have their hands on the policy-making levers. Think the famous pulling-the-curtain-back finale of the Wizard of Oz.
Oh, but there is always a Senate member or two on the Tiger Team, you will be told, and the local Senates have their system-wide representatives to look out for them. But a few token professors are in no position to overturn decisions already made elsewhere. Even Clark Kerr would be astonished to learn that what he called the managerial revolution has produced a top heavy hierarchy loaded with well-compensated insiders at the top who have almost nothing to do with education.
Over the last twenty years while most of us went about our business, a democratic and transparent governance structure maintained by an informed and engaged faculty was slowly slipping over the horizon. Let me offer three brief examples from the San Diego campus:
1) In the wake of the so-called Compton Cookout and other racist incidents on campus, the managers in Oakland put a full court press on San Diego to adopt holistic admissions. Only with holistic admissions, UCSD was told, will the numbers of underrepresented minority (URM) students rise. The local Committee on Admissions eventually rubberstamped the holistic system but it was clear that the decision had been made elsewhere, especially after President Yudof and the Regents “urged” all campuses to adopt holistic. The first trial run of the new system yielded fewer URM students at UCSD.
2) The Committee on Admissions (COA) was presented with a projection of desired increases in the numbers of non-resident students through the 2018-19 academic year. The COA played no role in discussing the consequences of such increases, especially the potential for diminished access for California students, or in setting targets/quotas for non-residents (except insofar as the chair of the committee participated in the deliberations of the Enrollment Planning Committee, a separate group made up primarily of administrators).
3) The Committee on Admissions (COA) was informed that UCSD was receiving too many transfer applications and that it would have to pull out of the Transfer Admission Guarantee program. The matter was urgent COA was told so without careful discussion of alternative ways to deal with the rise in transfer applications, a majority of the committee voted to rubberstamp the move. Clearly the decision to drop TAG, a program designed to facilitate continuation for working-class and first-generation students, had been made elsewhere. Once again, the claim that the Senate committee controlled all admissions decisions was a half-truth at best.
What binds my three examples together is the elaboration of a malleable admissions policy that seems to complement the drive for more out-of-state and international students. Already in early 2008, UCOP officials warned: “Failure on the part of campuses to generate sufficient nonresident tuition revenue means that the University must cut budgets… Campuses can reduce nonresident enrollment, although any such campus would need to adjust its budget to address any decline in nonresident tuition revenue.”
Most faculty members think they are too smart to be outwitted by mere paper pushing, bean-counting, managerial types or even former colleagues turned administrators. Yet as the privatization of the UC system proceeds anon, it is becoming clearer that the managers and administrators have the means, the motive, and the opportunity to implement their Michigan-inspired vision. At the risk of sounding paranoid, one might suggest that this “need to know” system of cut outs, back room deals, and caste-specific information hoarding looks remarkably like Wells’ White Council from When the Sleeper Wakes.
Rudy Acuña, the founder of Chicano studies as a research and curricular area, once hit me with a passing but profound one-liner. He told me that in his four decades of struggling to change the institution the institution had changed him more than he had changed it. As they say in the barrio, this is la neta—the unvarnished truth—that must be borne in mind every time we agree to volunteer hours of our time and psychic energy to committee work at the new neoliberal university.
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