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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Celebrity Trumps Substance

By Joe Kiskis, (Professor of Physics, UC Davis)

Less than one week before the Regents confirmation vote scheduled for Thursday, we were presented with a surprise nomination for the next President of the University of California. Regent Lansing, chair of the search committee and with a background in the movie industry, has characterized the choice as "unconventional," indeed. For the first time since 1888, the nominee is a person who has neither experience as an academic nor experience in the University. What Ms Napolitano does have is name recognition at a national level and a record as a successful politician and competent Secretary of Homeland Security.

As an introduction to this nomination, we have been presented with an uncharacteristically well orchestrated PR campaign of short blurbs from prominent individuals and a summary of her experience as a politician and government administrator. It is disappointing that neither the Regents search committee nor our academic leaders who were advisory to the search have presented a cogent, substantive explanation of their rationale for this selection. So what can we make of this on our own and what questions should be addressed before the Regent vote?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) includes includes customs and border patrol, immigration, coast guard, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Secret Service, and has responsibility for cybersecurity. Its record on civil liberties and civil rights is controversial. For example, DHS continues to assert and exercise power to confiscate the computers and phones of US citizens at the border without a warrant, probable cause, or suspicion of a crime. They claim and exercise power to search the information content of these devices. They can exercise these extra-constitutional powers within 100 miles of an actual border. When asked to do a Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Impact Assessment, they produced a report that is well summarized by this quote from the executive summary:

"We conclude that CBP’s and ICE’s current border search policies comply with the Fourth Amendment. We also conclude that imposing a requirement that officers have reasonable suspicion in order to conduct a border search of an electronic device would be operationally harmful without concomitant civil rights/civil liberties benefits."

The Obama administration in which the nominee has served since its beginning has an extremely controversial record on surveillance, drone strikes on US citizens, civil liberties, and privacy.

We must ask how a record of deep connections to federal law enforcement and national security and a questionable commitment to civil liberties matches the values of the university, which privilege the free exchange of ideas, open and public expressions of dissent, the first amendment, the fourth amendment, and the privacy rights of faculty, students, and staff.

Since we have not been provided with the thinking behind this nomination and the strategic shift that it represents, we are left to speculations based on the record of the nominee.

Does this represent a new strategy to justify support for the University by the prioritization of political connections rather than the academic mission?

Does it represent a shift in emphasis from serving the people of California through the Master Plan to serving the needs of the federal government including especially its national security sector with its vast array of industry partners?

What does it say about future tolerance for dissent on campus and about the law enforcement responses to campus protest?

The University community and the people of California deserve a substantive justification for this nomination and an opportunity for dialog before a Regental vote.

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