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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Napolitano Appointment and the Regents' Rejection of the University

Despite calls from students, faculty, the LAT and the Sacramento Bee to allow greater public discussion and debate over the appointment of Janet Napolitano as President of UC, the Regents moved ahead and quickly named her to the position.  In so doing, they have forfeited what little moral and ethical authority they retained as leaders of the University of California.  They retain, of course, the legal power to act as they please and as they have done.  But we should be clear that they have rejected the idea of a University and have declared that they see UC as simply another bureaucracy to be managed from the top.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

I should make clear that I, like basically everyone else, have no idea what sort of President Janet Napolitano will make in the end.  But that is precisely the problem.  President-elect Napolitano has no experience within higher education, has demonstrated no deep engagement with questions of education or scholarship, was shielded--with the apparent consent of the Academic Senate Leadership--from widespread contact with, or questioning by, the wider university community, and the public debate over her appointment was ignored or dismissed with boilerplate pablum from the Regents and their allies.  It is possible that she will prove a better advocate for the University than her two immediate predecessors but that is a pretty low bar; as is the fact that as Governor she supported higher education more than did Arnold Schwarzenegger. I do hope she proves an effective President;  it is in all our interests.

But the more fundamental problem is the Regents.  That only Student Regent Cynthia Flores thought that Secretary Napolitano's record at Homeland Security needed to be addressed is a clear sign of the indifference of the Regents to the nature of a University.  That the Regents seem to think of the President as largely a political post demonstrates they don't even understand the nature of the institution they presumably direct (a point reinforced by the Regents confusion over the nature of Shared Governance).  If the rumors are true that Napolitano's two strongest competitors were not distinguished academics but rather scions of the military-industrial complex (Colin Powell and Leon Panetta) then the failure of the Regents to care that they direct an educational institutions becomes even clearer. 

Let's look at some of the symptoms of the Regents' incapacity:

1) As numerous people have pointed out, the Regents' intensely secretive appointment process ran against the very nature of a public university.  To be sure, this secrecy was in keeping with their long-standing resistance to providing full public access to their discussions and proceedings (if you need proof of this just follow Dan Mitchell's heroic efforts to make Regents' public sessions available on audio for listeners who can't stay glued to their computers during the live proceedings.)

But even for the Regents, this process was incredibly secretive.  No possibility was allowed for public discussion or questioning during the search process, the nomination was made in the middle of July one week before the full Board voted on it, at the point of nomination perhaps half of the Board even knew the result, or had ever met the candidate.

Regent Lansing sought to defend the secrecy by claiming that a more open process would have scared off qualified candidates.  But this claim is fatuous.  The University of Texas has an open process as do other universities; every other academic appointment (whether to faculty or administration) that I know of has open campus visits without losing qualified candidates (and most people I know tell their home institutions when they have on-campus interviews even though this is not required); and Lansing doesn't seem to consider whether career aims of the candidate should trump the interests of the institution.  Or for that matter, what it means that someone aiming to lead the leading public university system in the country would only apply if the process was conducted in secret.

2)  Many people have also pointed out that the secrecy of the appointment process mirrors the secrecy of Secretary Napolitano's job as Secretary of Homeland Security.  I won't belabor that point here.

But it is striking that the Regents would consider her background--as an attorney general, governor, and Secretary of Homeland Security--appropriate for directing a University.   The Regents and their defenders all deploy the rhetoric of unconventional choices or thinking "outside of the box." But the idea that because a person has managed one bureaucracy focused on one task s/he can lead a different bureaucracy with a different task is entirely conventional from the perspective of contemporary managerial ideology.

From this perspective it matters not what the purpose of an institution is--since all you need is to replace one manager with another.  But this ignores two points:

First, as Chris already pointed out any notion of "meritocracy" depends on demonstrating your skill and success in a chosen field--otherwise it is simply who you know.

But just as importantly, managerial ideology ignores the reality that different institutions serve different purposes and have different functions. 

In truth things are quite different.  Educational institutions may adopt certain techniques from business but they should not be modeled on businesses: the purpose of a business is to make profit, the purpose of a University is scholarship, that is to say to teach and to do research.  Universities depend on values of openness and debate, and flourish when the community as a whole searches for answers; state bureaucracies are top down and, in the case of Homeland Security or Attorney General Offices, deeply concerned with controlling information.  The Regents simply do not understand the nature of the institution they rule.

3).  If the Regents seem not to understand the nature of Universities in general, they also do not seem to understand the structure of the University of California in particular.  It is only by ignoring their own Standing Orders that they could conceive of the Presidency as primarily a political position whose fundamental role is in Sacramento.  In reality President Napoitano will have tremendous power over the internal life of the University.  Perhaps the Regents  have not read their own description of her power as laid out in Standing Order 100.4.

Here is Standing Order 100.4 (a)

The President shall be the executive head of the University and shall have full authority and responsibility over the administration of all affairs and operations of the University, excluding only those activities which are the responsibility of the Secretary and Chief of Staff, Chief Investment Officer, General Counsel of The Regents, and Senior Vice President - Chief Compliance and Audit Officer. The President may delegate any of the duties of the office except service as an ex officio Regent.  

100.4 (a) is the heart of Presidential power and it grants to the President authority "over the administration of all affairs and operations of the University."  As we have seen under President Yudof, this power extends deeply into the educational life of the University:  from online education, through the privatization of Anderson, onto tuition, the creation of new schools and unfunded mandates on campus and the explosion in the numbers of non-resident students.  The President is also (100.4.(i)) "authorized to make awards of fellowships, scholarships, and prizes" and we are told (100.4(j)) that she "shall present recommendations to the Board concerning the academic plans of the University and of the several campuses."

It is true that the President is charged with negotiating with Sacramento.  It is the 12th section of Presidential powers.  For the Regents, though, it appears that section (a) is an afterthought and section (l) the crucial issue.

Now no one would deny that making the case for the University to the Legislature and the Governor is a crucial task of the President.  The weak cases that have been made under the last two Presidential administrations are proof of that.  But the question is whether or not that case is made most effectively by someone who can represent and explain the fundamental activities of the University or by someone whose expertise lies elsewhere.  The Regents, themselves without effective knowledge of the University community think the latter.  And with that approach they turn their backs on the University itself.

This criticism is not, I think, academic snobbery.  It is instead a recognition that the rule of the professional managers has brought us to the pass we are at: with the value of higher education and of scholarship under attack, with tuition rising, with pressures on students, staff, and faculty increasing, and with bloated administrations.  The truly unconventional choice, one that thought outside of the box, would be a person deeply engaged with the life of scholarship (both teaching and research) and able to make the case to the public and the legislature of the value of a public research university that was more than a patent producer.   It is no surprise that the Regents cannot see this point: they are themselves representatives of the professional managers.  But it is a sign of their lack of competency in leading the University.

It has been just over a year since the University Board of Visitors under the leadership of Rector Dragas tried to purge Teresa Sullivan for over-valuing the importance of undergraduate education and undervaluing the wisdom of Thomas Friedman.   The Virginia Visitors were seeking to remove a President and the UC Regents are putting one into office.  But the similarities are more striking than the differences.  In each case, a Board moved on the conventional wisdom of the chattering classes to trod over the deepest traditions of the Universities they were supposed to protect and in so doing revealed their disregard for the traditions of scholarship and academic life.   In each they proceeded in secret to prevent any successful opposition.  The Virginia Board of Visitors failed in their efforts to remove President Sullivan.  It looks as if the Board of Regents have succeeded in installing President Napolitano.

But like the Virginia Board of Visitors, the UC Board of Regents have failed as stewards of the traditions and values of the Institution they have been appointed to shepherd.  


Mike said...

At least this appointment should make it easier to focus activism where it belongs: the corrupt and incompetent Board of Regents. Reviving the UC starts with cleaning the rot at the top.

Brian Riley said...

What role could economic forces be playing here? This current era of de facto usurpation of the legislative process on the part of lobbyists seems to have begun in the early 1980s when Rep. Tony Coelho started a trend of Democrats using PAC money, as a way of playing catch-up to Republicans ("Democrats Gain in Business PAC Funds" by Adam Clymer, New York Times, November 6, 1984). This has only intensified with the use of "Super PACs" in the wake of the Citizens United ruling of 2010.

As part of this whole scenario, a professional class of administrators has come into being who are, to a large extent, motivated by the higher salaries being offered to them by university board members who obtained their positions boards by playing this political game and donating money to governors' campaign coffers.

Bronwen Rowlands said...

The UC Regents "should be ashamed of themselves." But of course they have no shame when it comes to privatizing the University; they have no moral center. Appealing to them is wasted breath. It's long past time for a faculty strike.

Anonymous said...

What happen if a UC Regent had lied on their financial statement to the UC legal office?

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