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Davis, California

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Column: Democratize UC Davis

During public comment at Monday’s Regents meeting, we learned exactly how much say we are allowed at this university: one minute’s worth per student. And, as students spoke, we saw how carefully the administration listens. While one student condemned police brutality on campus, Chancellor Linda Katehi stared intently at her lap, looking as if she were texting someone.

As the meeting showed, students have little real input into decision-making at our university. This is in part because the vast majority of members of the Board of Regents and top-tier administrators, including the chancellor, are appointed rather than elected. They don’t listen because they owe their places to the governor or the UC president –– not the university. Under these conditions, public forums become meaningless photo opportunities.

We can change that. UC Davis is a public institution receiving state funds. As positions which serve the common good, the office of chancellor and the regents should be democratically elected by students, faculty and staff.

If the chancellor were elected by popular vote, he or she would be forced to consider the opinions of stakeholders at this university before initiating punitive actions against protesters. We would not only see a decrease in the number of arrests on this campus, but we would also see more active involvement on the part of the chancellor. The threat of recall would encourage the chancellor to come, in person, and speak to protesters instead of sending out perfunctory e-mails after students have been jailed.

Democratic elections would also eliminate the pervasive sense of estrangement students have from the chancellor. Chancellor Katehi has little experience at this university compared to those she leads and, by her own admission, she needs to “get to know” us better. If elected from among the faculty, the chancellor would have a long history with his or her constituents.

An elected chancellor would have first-hand knowledge of working at this university. Now, we are governed by someone who has never taught a class here. We would not hire a department chair without experience at this school — why is it any different for a chancellor?

Indeed, the administrators of this university have few interests in common with the faculty, students and staff they manage. Chancellor Katehi will never have to worry about what happens when her class size or tuition doubles or when staff positions are cut in half. Without shared, material interests with the rest of the university, the chancellor remains aloof and abstracted from our struggles.

We already know what Chancellor Katehi thinks of this. Katehi took part in an international committee to assess Greek higher education and give recommendations for its reform. As Panagiotis Sotiris, a professor at the University of the Aegean, reports, Chancellor Katehi and the other committee members called for an “authoritarian form of Higher Education without democratic procedure and without strong and politicized student and faculty movements.”

The report Katehi signed onto argued that Greek universities should be “managed and overseen by an appointed, independent board of overseers.” Furthermore, the report advocated for a system in which administrators are chosen by “dedicated search committees” rather than the democratic decisions of the university.

Chancellor Katehi’s aversion to democratic self-determination gives us greater insight into why she felt threatened enough by the occupations to call the police. The occupations represent a form of direct democracy in which students, faculty, staff and citizens decide their futures outside of unelected oversight and control. These organizations are dangerous to the administration because they show us that, while the university authorities may need our money and labor, we do not need the administration to organize and manage ourselves.

Knowing this, we must demand a more democratic university system, beginning with the election of a new chancellor.

Contrary to what the administration may think, those most affected by decisions should have the most control over them. Unless we achieve that autonomy, meaningful dialogue is impossible.

JORDAN S. CARROLL is a graduate student in the English department. He can be reached at jscarroll@ucdavis.edu.


  1. Finally, someone else espousing what I’ve been advocating for years – get rid of the Regents, and replace them with the Academic Council of the Academic Senate. This requires an amendment to the state constitution. I have proposed a ballot initiative to this effect. Anyone interested on working toward placing it on the ballot, contact me on Facebook.

    Howard Zochlinski


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