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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Students for a Democratic Society meets with chancellor to address food, housing insecurity, budget mismanagement, tuition hike


Meeting opened to students, public

On Jan. 26, UC Davis students and Students for a Democratic Society held a public meeting with Chancellor Gary May and other UC Davis administrators in the Student Community Center. While the meeting was spurred by proposed UC tuition hikes, SDS also demanded that UC Davis address housing and food insecurity, the removal of lethal weapons from the campus police department, the Noah Benham case, student protest referrals, May’s severance from outside boards and other issues.

Students also advocated for the reallocation of the UC’s $175 million in funds that the the state auditor said the UC Office of the President had hidden. Since the findings from the state auditor’s office were released, the proposed tuition increase the regents will vote on in May would raise $143 million for the school. SDS seeks to hold the UC administration and regents responsible and is calling for increased student input over budgetary decisions and democratizing administrative decisions.

According to The Sacramento Bee, May profits from Leidos and Charles Stark Draper Laboratory by serving on the boards of the companies. In 2015, May earned $288,280 in salary and stocks from Leidos, a defense company that has partnered with Lockheed Martin. May acknowledges his positions on these boards, but says he has a right to do whatever he wishes if it does not impact his duties as chancellor.

“The focus should be on how we improve the experience of UC Davis students and the overall quality of the university,” May said at the meeting on Jan. 26. “My board service doesn’t detract from my service as chancellor.”

There were similar concerns with Chancellor Emerita Linda Katehi, who ‘moonlighted’ by taking board positions at outside companies — online education and textbook companies Devry Education Group and John Wiley and Sons.

B.B. Buchanan, a sociology graduate student worker and leader of the Jan. 26 SDS meeting, agreed that May’s time may be his own, “but being on boards of defense businesses is not just something that affects” his time, but also “affects the people right here campus.” Buchanan also laid out a goal of collective bargaining between students and administration for budgetary allocations.

“When we say we want to have meetings, we aren’t just [interested] in what you have to say,” Buchanan said. “We know what you need to do and we need to be part of the process.”

After May stated that he does not set his salary which is “determined by university president and regents,” SDS member Shira Briskin, a fourth-year entomology major, responded.

“You still have the option to commit those funds [toward students],” Briskin said. “There’s no reason for a large mansion — how can you sit in your mansion when students don’t have a place to sleep or food to eat?”

According to an article published by The Sacramento Bee, the chancellor’s residence is 7,779 square feet, and stocked with a large staff and household allowance. SDS members at the meeting asked that his residence be sectioned off for student-dedicated areas, such as a mental health building.

May responded that “the residence is actually a university property and its use [is] determined by the Office of the President and regents.”

May agreed to look into food and housing insecurity issues as well as setting up means of transporting students to Board of Regents budget meetings. He told students that their other demands were controlled by the regents or UCOP. One of SDS’ demands responded to this point — asking for administration to advocate for these needs to their higher-ups, like legislators and regents.

May then took a moment to reply to student comments regarding the UC upholding institutional white supremacy.

“My staff and my wife have counseled me not to take this personally,” May said. “I mean this with all due respect and love, but I will not be lectured to about white supremacy by people [who] haven’t been called a n***** to their face. I will not be lectured to about white supremacy by people who don’t have two daughters that other parents said they couldn’t play with because they’re brown.”

In response, SDS members said that the point they made to the UC upholding institutional racism and white supremacy was not directed specifically at May, but instead toward the institutional umbrella of UC administration.

Amara Miller, a graduate student worker within the department of sociology, spoke about the university cost trajectory since the UC was started in 1868. Until 1956 — nearly the first 100 years — tuition for in-state students did not exist, and the student and incidental fees were only $84 per year. In 1970, a shift away from free tuition began in the form of an additional student educational fee. Miller posited that this change was enacted for political reasons and has been continued to price out marginalized students, student activists and students of color.

SDS members placed posters on the wall of the conference room that read “I still can’t  believe we still have to protest this shit” and “Why are UC athletics coaches being paid millions a year while students starve?” Another sign listed May’s base chancellor salary — $495,000 — as well as the salaries of other UC Davis administrative figures.

SDS members asked the administration and Student Judicial Affairs to be transparent about the Noah Benham case. Benham is a UC Davis student who was allegedly arrested and charged with felonies for non-violent protests at Milo Yiannopoulos’ UC Davis appearance last year. Sheri Atkinson, an interim associate vice chancellor, spoke about the criminalization of student protesters such as those who received referrals for protesting in Mrak Hall and Noah Benham’s situation.

“There will be an opportunity for those folks to provide their defense and go through the proper channels to express your disagreement, but we will not be dropping those at this time,” Atkinson said. “There will be a due process for those.”

Miller rejected some of these answers as dismissive.

“I wanted to note that the two things you did not say you would help us with or respond to were the SJA referrals being dropped and the Noah Benham case,” Miller said. “You are targeting student activists.”

According to Miller, de-escalating the militarism of campus police is imperative to democratizing the UC.

“The Picnic Day 5 are a wonderful example of […] police regularly targeting people of color on our campus,” Miller said. “Most of us have seen the little, fancy, god-knows-how-much vehicle the police drive around in on Picnic Day. That shit should be going to tuition, housing and food. The police do not need a fancy car. I also want to point out when police pepper sprayed students in 2011, they were doing so with military grade pepper spray. Socio-psych research shows that the very nature of having a [gun] on their person makes them more likely to use it. You have to make sure that they do not have lethal weapons that they are able to use in high-intensity situations. Why give them this?”

Buchanan again asked if the administration is “against using lethal force on students.”

“That has been something that you’ve skirted around quite significantly,” Buchanan said.

The administration did not directly answer this and did not agree to remove lethal weapons from the UC Davis police.

One student spoke about how administration could be incorporating cheaper on-campus housing, as it claimed it was in the beginning of the meeting. They pointed out that students who are priced out of expensive university housing become de-incentivized from going to class and work due to lack of proximity, Unitrans hours and expensive campus parking permits. According to this student, the university is helping out the people who don’t need help by giving better access to education to people who can already afford it.

May responded to student remarks that his answers were not solidified in his response to SDS’ demands.

“One comment about the wishy-washy language, every time I said we’re happy to consider something, consider that a ‘yes,’” May said.

By the end of the meeting, May and other administration agreed to meet with SDS regularly and publicly. Concrete agreements revolved around addressing food insecurity through campus projects, providing transportation and access to UC Regents’ budget meetings, advocating for the Cross Cultural Center and accessing the lost $175 million.

The student organization said it wants to hold UC Davis to the agreements made at the meeting.  


Written by: Aaron Liss — campus@theaggie.org


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