Column: A “conversation” with Yudof

Yes folks, Mr. Hierarchical, His Top-Down-Dude-ness, the Incredible Man on His Flying Budget Trapeze, the Pontifex Maximus Capitalismi, seer, sage, soothsayer, Lord of the Regents, the man whose housing rental costs exceed the combined tuition of more than a dozen students, the President of the University of California … (drum roll) … Mark Yudof … (thump) … was here on campus last Thursday.

Yes folks, Mr. Hierarchical, His Top-Down-Dude-ness, the Incredible Man on His Flying Budget Trapeze, the Pontifex Maximus Capitalismi, seer, sage, soothsayer, Lord of the Regents, the man whose housing rental costs exceed the combined tuition of more than a dozen students, the President of the University of California … (drum roll) … Mark Yudof … (thump) … was here on campus last Thursday.

(Announcer’s voice:) We interrupt the satirical introduction to this column to bring you the actual introduction …

O.K., start over.

UC President Mark Yudof, who functions as a kind of “chancellor of chancellors,” was here on the UC Davis campus last week. He invited a group of us student leaders to meet with him to, as it turned out, “have a conversation.”

The atmosphere at the meeting was a bit icy, in view of the events of last year.

First, in the spring of 2009, he seemed to have been following the principles of shared faculty governance when making contingency plans for the possibility of upcoming furloughs of faculty members. But then he committed a serious breach of shared-governance standards by ignoring the faculty senates of the 10 UC campuses when they all voted that furlough days should include instructional days.

Later, when large student protests ensued, partly because of his treatment of faculty members, Yudof allowed us protesters to feel that sit-ins were being temporarily tolerated, but then gave the go-ahead for what turned out to be a violent police crackdown on protesters who staged a peaceful sit-in inside Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley.

It will be up to historians to decide whether he was perpetrating deliberate acts of deception or had simply committed a series of managerial blunders, unless the state legislature or some other investigative body with subpoena powers looks into the issue sooner. Regardless, Yudof’s double political ambush created a university governance debacle that threatened the existence of the UC system as a public institution.

Unfortunately, there’s not much to report about the content of Thursday’s meeting. It wasn’t really designed to accomplish any degree of substantive give and take. It’s difficult to feel at ease and be able to have a candid dialogue with the president when he comes accompanied by three burly plainclothes police body guards. He apologized for the very short notice given for the meeting, saying he normally gives more advanced notice, but that “sometimes there are riots and insurrections” when he gives “too much” notice.

He told us that the percentage of undergraduate students receiving federal Pell Grants has increased to 39 percent systemwide, Cal Grants are protected and that students whose parents earn a combined income of less than $70,000 are able to attend without paying a dime in tuition fees. He said that the upcoming fee hike is likely to be less than what many might fear it will be, but that the reality is that the state is allocating 54 percent less money per student today than in 1990.

Also, efforts are being made at the system level to address the issue of the hate incidents that occurred on different campuses, and efforts are also being made to increase the enrollment and retention levels of under-represented groups.

At one point during the meeting Yudof started off answering a question by saying: “If you look at the economics of it…” then looked at me and added: “You’ll probably get on me for saying that.” It was almost as if he was admitting that he shouldn’t be attempting to run the University as if it were a regular corporation. But it seems to be too late to be waving a white flag of truce after all that has happened, while occasionally throwing in the phrase: “We’ll still be a public university.”

Actions speak louder than words, and we’re all still waiting to see concrete actions being made to restore the integrity and effectiveness of the UC’s shared-governance system. If the faculty is not allowed to collectively govern the academic aspects of their work, then we run the risk of devolving into a glorified University of Phoenix, something that none of us should wish to happen.

BRIAN RILEY wants to know, should we give Yudof a second chance? Let him know what you think at bkriley@ucdavis.edu.