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Submission: Napolitano must give UC community real, not symbolic power

By Daily Bruin

Oct. 23, 2013 12:25 a.m.

By Jason Ball
The appointment of Janet Napolitano as University of California president has rightfully evoked protests and criticism.

The hiring process for the UC president is a secretive process designed to exclude students and UC community members, offering only symbolic participation in the process. Students are afforded the opportunity to submit “input” on what they would want from a president, in the abstract, while being kept out of every aspect of the actual hiring process.

The input process serves only to obscure the reality that one of the most important decisions made about the future of the UC, and our lives within it, is made without substantive community participation.

We should not make ourselves complicit in the management’s efforts to shift power away from UC community members. We should not set the precedent that calculated maneuvers of exclusion go unanswered.

While the secrecy surrounding the appointment would be enough of a problem to justify protests, it is not the only major problem.

A common defense of Napolitano perversely twists her lack of experience into a positive, arguing that because Napolitano has not done anything wrong in higher education, she should be afforded the benefit of the doubt. This obscures from view Napolitano’s track record as the highest administrator in the Department of Homeland Security.

It would be irresponsible for us not to examine the real damage done by this person, and the implications her record has on overseeing the UC and heavily armed UCPD.

As the administrator of the Department of Homeland Security, Napolitano oversaw the largest round of deportations in U.S. history. In human terms, this means more families raided in the middle of the night and separated indefinitely, more financial ruin, more violence and more people in miserable “detention centers” for misdemeanors than ever before. It would be naive to think that her record was inconsequential to those who decided to hire her.

As a student activist who has been defending public education against the UC Board of Regents since 2009, both witnessing and experiencing police violence in those efforts, I find this choice viscerally disturbing in the wake of system-wide police assaults on student activists over the last few years.

Both the process through which the choice was made, and the choice itself, are evidence that the UC Regents intend to escalate suppression of democratic opposition to their agenda. Moreover, defenses of the appointment, framing it as a strong move to fund the UC via Napolitano’s political connections, are laughable. The UC Regents are on a clear path away from public funding and even refused to sign a pledge to support increasing public funding to the UC in the lead up to Proposition 30.

Despite all of this, Napolitano is in. But whether we accept this appointment must be based on tangible and measurable action rather than publicity statements or a “wait-and-see” attitude. I suggest four clear demands.

First, Napolitano must actively work to reprioritize the finances of the UC system so that an accessible, affordable and quality UC is the top priority. Everything from managerial salary bloat to the development of risky and unnecessary business projects to apparent corruption – such as recent abuses in travel expenses by UCLA administrators – has been paid for with tuition hikes, increases in class sizes, cuts to academic programs as well as cuts to the salaries and benefits of teachers and campus workers.

Second, Napolitano must actively work to make the UC system a safe learning and working environment for undocumented members of our community. Napolitano has so far not lifted a finger to help ongoing efforts by campus Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors, or DREAM, groups and the student-worker’s union, United Auto Workers Local 2865, to make the UC a safer and more supportive university system.

Third, Napolitano must end austerity for the UC’s frontline educators and campus workers.

According to the Academic Council Task Force’s 2012 report on competitiveness in academic graduate student support, wages for teaching assistants are now at crisis levels threatening the overall quality of the UC, forcing teachers to struggle to survive while deterring more graduate students than ever from accepting admission. Campus workers who maintain our beautiful learning environment and hospitals are being pushed into poverty through cuts to their benefits.

And even though these workers have been instrumental in helping to restore money to the UC budget by lobbying and action, management continues to sell them short.

Finally, Napolitano must pledge to oppose secretive hiring practices and expand not only the symbolic input process for students, teachers and campus workers in major UC decisions, but also actively work so that community members have real power to make these decisions.

We deserve at least this much, and so do the people who will come after us. We should not settle for less from Janet Napolitano or anybody else.

Ball is a graduate student in political science and the chair of the United Auto Workers Local 2865 at UCLA.


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