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Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Undercover Chancellor

By Pat Morton, UC Riverside

Timothy White, Chancellor of UC Riverside, announced yesterday that he will become Chancellor of the California State University system at the end of this year.  The surprise announcement was greeted with unalloyed delight by activists on campus.  This response might seem strange to those who know little about Tim White, whose public persona is relatively untarnished by scandal or controversy.  He has never been publicly vilified like UCD’s Chancellor Katehi, nor has he ever faced calls for his resignation or a vote of no confidence from the Academic Senate. In fact, White’s positive public image is probably one of the chief reasons he was chosen by CSU.  By carefully managing this image as an affable, nice guy despite presiding over a period of budget cuts, student protests and declining educational quality at UCR, Tim White has been able to keep his real agenda undercover.

In spring 2011, Tim White disguised himself as “Pete” and posed as an assistant chemistry professor, a track coach, a library worker and a campus tour guide for the reality TV show “Undercover Boss.”  The stunt attracted enormous press attention for White and UCR, and prompted an outpouring of uncritical affection for this Chancellor who proved he was capable of being just like us.  To see the episode in this light, however, you had to ignore the condescension that permeated his interactions with staff and students, and the fundamentally corrupt premise of the show, which allowed White to dole out money and special favors to his unsuspecting interlocutors.  Leaving aside the propriety of a Chancellor appearing on a reality show in the first place, the display of his selective largesse was particularly distasteful at a moment when UCR faced a $50 million budget gap resulting in staff layoffs, work time reductions, huge class size increases, decreases in student and academic support, reductions in faculty by attrition, mergers of academic units, and other draconian measures that eroded educational quality.  

The bread-and-circuses approach worked to distract attention from White’s policy decisions, such as the pursuit of a new Medical School that has taken millions of dollars and more than a dozen FTE out of the campus budget.
 The Medical School was not White’s initiative, however; it was the pet project of previous Chancellors Ray Orbach and France Cordova, who left him with the unlucky task of starting the School during the collapse of state funding.  The Legislature has never committed a steady stream of funding for the Medical School, on the advice of the Legislative Analyst.  After a humiliating rejection by the national accreditation committee, which last year refused to grant a temporary accreditation without a clear and permanent funding stream, White and his team did manage to cobble together private donations, grants from local government, and other funds sufficient to get preliminary accreditation right before he announced his departure.  While the Medical School should be a positive benefit to the Inland region, the price paid, measured in opportunity cost and the ongoing drain on UCR’s budget, raises questions about its sustainability and its negative effect on instruction and research elsewhere on campus.

White touts the diversity of UCR at every opportunity, and his ability to “reach out to minority and low-income students” was cited as one reason for his appointment at CSU, yet the paucity of ethnic and gender diversity among UCR’s upper administrators reveals a different agenda.  Under his leadership, almost all upper administrative positions have been given to white men, with the exception of one woman of color.  Under former Chancellor Cordova, women held the majority of upper administrative posts, including EVC/Provost.  She also created programs that made diversity a genuine priority in faculty and staff hiring.  White has gutted those programs, failed to replace a diversity officer who left UCR, and created a singularly male and pale administration.  The search for a new EVC/Provost revealed the hollowness of this administration’s commitment to diversity when Republican politician Tom Campbell became a candidate for the position in 2009.  Campbell is a public supporter of AB 1070, Arizona’s infamous anti-immigrant legislation, and has taken several anti-immigrant positions, such as proposing, while a US Congressman, legislation to make English the official language of the US.  Campbell’s brief candidacy provoked an enormous outcry, including a petition that gained coverage in the local press, and he withdrew from consideration.  White’s administration seemed oblivious to the hypocrisy of hyping UCR as a Hispanic-Serving institution while proposing Campbell as a candidate for its second most powerful administrative position.

The most embarrassing publicity disaster of White’s time at UCR occurred last December when his administration attempted to regulate dissent on campus by issuing the notorious “Protest Guidelines.”  A laughable list of paternalistic rules that included a checklist of approvals required for protests and prohibitions against signs with rigid sticks, camping or the disruption of normal activity on campus, the Guidelines prompted a petition that was signed by close to thousand people and attracted national press coverage.  White’s initial response was to establish a Task Force on free speech and assembly, rather than remove the Guidelines as the petition demanded, but continued negative publicity forced him to remove them from the campus web site.

White proved himself an adept master of spin, however, in the aftermath of the January 19, 2012 Regents’ meeting at UCR and the police violence, which he authorized, against peaceful protestors.  On January 19, hundreds of students, faculty and community members gathered at UCR to demonstrate against further tuition increases and to demand a more transparent form of decision-making by the Regents.  In response, UC Police and Riverside County Sheriffs in full riot gear marched provocatively through the protesters, taunted and made sexually suggestive noises at them.  The police shot pepper-spray paint bullets at peaceful protesters, hit them with batons, shoved them to the ground and dragged them across pavement, tore their clothing and used other forms of excessive force.  In the following days, a petition expressing outrage at these events was signed by over 400 members of UCR’s community, and White launched a public relations campaign that demonized the protestors as violent agitators who had no agenda except disrupting the Regents’ business. He justified his authorization of police violence by claiming it was provoked by the protestors (claims that have been refuted by eyewitnesses and by video footage from that day). At a Town Hall meeting in March, he displayed photographs which he claimed showed the protestors attacking the police and dismissed those who questioned his decision to authorize force.  While the repercussions from January 19 continue to resonate on campus, White has been able to leave this shameful incident behind.  To demonstrate how successful he has been at the spin game, the LA Times article on his appointment as CSU Chancellor describes White handing out bottles of water to student protestors on January 19 and telling “campus police not to take any measures that would turn into a confrontation.”  The stunning unreality of this account makes me wonder if that might have been “Pete” with the water bottles, playing the scripted role of Chancellor White.


Anonymous said...

Total superminor sidenote: I am not sure that LInda Katehi has ever been "vilified," which has a clear implication (according both to my sense, and to the dictionary) of being made into a villain by some external sentiment. I think she has earned it all on her own.

Stephanie Barbe Hammer said...

thank you for this substantive, clear, and very dispassionate account of White's tenure at UCR.

Anonymous said...

Given everything you say, as a CSU professor it's a little disappointing to hear that UC Riverside activists felt "unalloyed delight" that Chancellor White will be responsible for over ten times as many students as before. Thanks guys! :) Aside from that, thank you very much for the info. It's been difficult to find out much of anything about our new chancellor.

Bryce Mason ('01) said...

The "selective largesse" from the reality show was paid for by private donors. Here is a link, but I also recall something else about the extra financial aid being private. Private money can do what it wants--even if for ratings, bread or circus. http://ucrtoday.ucr.edu/6581

With respect to the medical school, it's a chancellor's/provost's right to allocate faculty FTE. Just because the resources were given to a school other than an existing one doesn't make it nefarious. Kudos to UCR for raising the funds to get it done---most of it private. As a taxpayer and alumnus, I find such an allocation reasonable and entrepreneurial activity laudable.

Anonymous said...

I would hardly describe it as dispassionate, but don't see it as unfair in any way at all; it's quality first-person reporting from a professor who has worked under White and other chancellors giving her take on the CSU appointment. I don't like that White's hiring of all white guys is classified as terribly different than Cordova's hiring of all women. A white dude hires all white dudes and that's bad. A woman hires all women and that's a triumph. Not really.

As a graduate student, I heard the Medical School was opening and said (in my head, to no one), "With what money?" Prof. Morton is completely right to question the wisdom of that money being spent on new stuff (vs. existing stuff), even if White did supplement with a bunch of donated funds. Thanks for the albatross, Tim!

Anonymous said...

Chancellor Tim White has shown dedication, passion, and love towards all of the UCR students on campus. These claims are absolutely absurd. As an undergraduate student, I have worked with Chancellor White for three years to create a Middle Eastern Student Center on campus which he indeed approved. When the rest of his staff was against us, he fought for us. Tim White is not another actor in Hollywood playing various roles for kudos, money, or fame. He is a genuine soul who has help UC Riverside grow and prosper throughout the years he has served us. It is not his fault that America's economy has failed at the hands of unequipped and unskilled Presidents.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for Prof Morton's candid accounts and analyses to reveal what White really is all about (and would be). Just to add, White ordered the police to shoot the protestors. He called in the county sheriffs and city police. He supervised an administration that apparently set up campus-wide policies (the protest guidelines) without his attention. White has successfully deceived many students. The appointment of White as the CSU chancellor once again reaffirms the agendas of the 1% and their associates. Another wake-up call for the people!

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you all were actually AT the "peaceful" protest on January 19, but it was almost anything but. I attended because I was all for the cause, but as for the big, bad police abusing peaceful protesters, that just isn't true. The students were yelling violently at the police who were trying to keep the mob of students from rushing the HUB, and 1 of the only 2 incidents was when the crowd surged forward and things got out of hand for about 1 minute.

Anonymous said...

White is scum and a tool. What he allowed to happen on January 19th 2012 I will never forget. His stupid taskforce for free speech is and was an utter joke.

Anonymous said...

idk if it's just you guys who are all mad about him having police in riot gear but i honestly don't care. haha. a lot of those people who claimed to be "peaceful protesters" weren't even peaceful. they were verbally insulting police and the regents people after they came out. how is that peaceful...be responsible for your own actions. you get what you give. and this is old news get over it and move on. i'm so annoyed by people bringing up the same shit over and over again. find other ways to fight the rising cost of tuition. there's plenty of other ways to get the message out and try to make a change.

Anonymous said...

This account of Tim White is quite unfair and misrepresents a number of things going on at UCR. It does however fit into a larger narrative that a number of faculty like to put forward and it's a shame to see this constantly advanced at the expense of facts and reasonableness. The medical school is controversial and opposed by many faculty in humanities and soc sci-- but there is real need in the inland empire for a medical school, and getting the funding and accreditation together shows larger regional commitments. At the very least one should be fair to White and admit that many faculty and community members want the medical school, that supporting it does not make one a villain.
It's not true that the Jan demo was completely peaceful and that all agree this is seen on video clips-- on the contrary. Once again making White out to be a draconian villain is a useless exercise, though unfortunately it plays well with some faculty and students who rely on villains and heroes.
To whom are we to compare this chancellor, any chancellor? He writes weekly Friday letters to the whole campus, which run the range from informative to incredibly moving, often very personal. How many Chancellors take the time to connect with their campus in so many ways? I don't know the answer to that but I assume not many.
He's the chancellor, he's presiding over massive state budget cuts, and he seems to be working extremely hard for UCR's benefit. Portraying him as a cardboard villain is very hard to take seriously, making the larger claims of this piece and this blog, hard to take seriously, unfortunately.

Chris Newfield said...

The sad fact about this blog is that it has offered the first and yet completely post facto discussion of Timothy White's qualifications to run arguably the most important state university system in the country.

CSU is charged with the largest step-function upward mobility project (among others) in California if not the United States. Mr. White has just become the academic equivalent of the CEO of Oracle - not as glamorous as UC-Apple but gigantic, very good, and utter indispensable to the overall higher ed ecosystem and to the future of the state.

Cal State has 427,000 students, 22,000 faculty, another 22,000 staff. All of the sudden, their future is in the hands of someone whose candidacy was unknown, about whom virtually no one was consulted, and of whom most of them have never heard. So we offer one of the few views (I hope not the only view) of Mr. White that is not a press release or a news article based on a press release.

I have no doubt that Mr. White is a well-intentioned, intelligent person with a great work ethic who cares deeply about higher education and about students. Are these sufficient qualifications to run an organization of this size and importance? What else can he use to succeed at this extremely difficult job?

I would like to hear defenders answer questions like these:
- Will Mr. White fight tooth and nail for restored public funding for CSU? Can you cite speeches and incidents in which he went out on a limb to oppose the status quo for either system?
- Will he define 21st century educational quality for the CSU students he no doubt cares about, putting new money into high-end instruction? What was his special educational vision for UC and UCR?
- Will he oppose the stratification of CSU campuses, refusing to protect flagships as UC protected its flagships in part at the expense of UCR?
- Will he be open and upfront with the CSU community about the budget? Was he upfront with UCR about the real costs to the campus of a new medical school that the state will clearly not pay for as it did for the 5 existing UC medical schools and centers in their early years?
-Can he work with unionized faculty and other unionized employees? How did he do with them at UCR?
-Can he press for the general good rather than for prestige showcase projects, and bring people together rather than set one category against another?

You get the idea: faculty, staff, and students have every right to have answers to ordinary questions like these about appointed senior managers, particularly when one of them has just become among the most powerful public university figures in the United States.

Anonymous said...

As a UCR science faculty, I find the above account biased at the very least. Let me begin by saying that France Cordova should hardly be used as a poster girl for diversity: both her predecessor, Ray Orbach, and her replacement, Tim White, appear to have been more competent and engaged. Even more importantly, their appointees were/are more competent. The two appointees of Chancellor Cordova, the EVC and the VC for Research (those I have most familiarity with) have been both quite problematic, and many in the Sciences breathed a collective sigh of relief when they were gone. I *really* don't care what their sexes/skin colors are (a white woman and a white man for those sufficiently racist/sexist among you who believe these are their essential qualities). I do, however, care what climate they had instilled, and I am, for one, happy they are gone. And no, they were not my personal enemies - I had not had much personal interactions with them; it's their policies and priorities that I find highly questionable.
So please treat Dr. Morton's piece as her personal opinion not shared by many of us on this campus.

Anonymous said...

Chris's questions are reasonable and important. They're not what the "Undercover Chancellor" piece is interested in-- instead we get a strange conspiracy theory about "undercover agendas" and "draconian" measures, a distortion of complex events and policies that are often misrepresenting what happened (eg in case of the terrible protest memo that was in fact retracted). The piece is not representative of UCR faculty views and impossible to take seriously, and so I don't see the value of such a post facto "analysis" when it lacks rigor-- Chris's questions are different in this respect. I think UCR will miss White in the difficult years to come and CSU is lucky to have him.

Unknown said...

Over $1M dollars in administrative, legal expenses etc incurred by University of California senior management to pay the $1M pepper spray settlement. University of California senior management shell out millions for their clueless decisions. Hapless UC senior management wastes millions.
Prop 30, 32, 38 funding will be spent by incompetent UC senior management. It is up to the public to vote no on Prop 30, 32, 38 to keep taxpayer funds from the eminently unwise University of California senior management.

reclaim UC said...

The students were yelling violently at the police


Anonymous said...

I call this violently laughing, or at the least, obnoxious.Grow up.

Anonymous said...

What little did happen during that protest, was provoked by off-campus thugs, not local students. UCR is in the Eastside of Riverside, not exactly the best of neighborhoods. It showed.

Anonymous said...

Poor baby! What happened during that protest other than some pushing and shoving on both sides? I was there, it was boring.

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