As Regents Put Off Affirmative Action Vote, Many Say They Should
by Fernando Quintero
Although a vote on two measures that would have reinstated affirmative action polices at UC were postponed by the UC Board of Regents Jan. 18, faculty who support the measures on the grounds that the elimination of affirmative action violated the principles of shared governance saw a partial victory nonetheless.
"Today was a step forward because it brought about a recognition of the seriousness of shared governance," said sociology professor Jerome Karabel following the regents' meeting in San Francisco.
Support by an overwhelming number of faculty systemwide as well as many staff, administrators and students for the rescission proposals was in response to their assertion that the regents violated the long-standing principles of shared governance when they voted July 20 to eliminate race and gender considerations in hiring, contracting and admissions policies.
"When the Board of Regents passed resolutions (eliminating affirmative action policies) over the forcefully expressed objections of the president of the university, the Council of Chancellors and the systemwide Academic Council, it constituted the worst breach of prevailing norms of governance at a major American university in over a quarter of a century," said anthropology professor Margaret Conkey, one of several Berkeley faculty present at Thursday's meeting.
Conkey, who read from a collaborative statement representing the views of a number of Berkeley faculty, said the regents violated another principle, that the university, as a public trust, should be protected by its governing board from the "vagaries of partisan party politics.
"The governor of this state pressed a divisive issue onto the nation's greatest public university in an attempt to invigorate his presidential campaign," she said.
"From the perspective of the faculty, the evident fact that (elimination of affirmative action) was forced upon the university despite the utter absence of any urgency on educational grounds constituted disturbing evidence that the board had turned into a transmission belt for the very political pressures from which it was supposed to protect the university."
Gov. Wilson, who was criticized by faculty and alumna Regent Judith Levin for showing up briefly after faculty provided two hours' worth of testimony, has publicly denied using the repeal of affirmative action policies for his own political gain, and he said it was the responsibility of the regents to make decisions regarding university policy.
"We must comply with the law of the land. Our state constitution places the responsibility on members of the board to administer this public trust. It is a matter of fundamental policy," he said.
Several faculty members from other campuses spoke out against the elimination of affirmative action policies, warning that such changes could have several adverse effects.
"It damages our reputation nationally and internationally as other universities embrace diversity while we abolish it," said Dana Takagi, a sociology professor at UC Santa Cruz.
Sociology professor Troy Duster said the July 20 decision has already caused tangible damage, including the withholding of at least one foundation grant for minority outreach worth more than $1 million.
Michael Peter Smith, a professor of behavioral science at UC Davis, said the economic consequences of eliminating affirmative action policies could be similar to those experienced by Arizona when it voted not to observe Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday as a holiday, prompting several boycotts.
Karabel said some faculty are considering sponsoring a vote of no confidence in the regents, establishing a commission to consider alternative forms of university governance and even a lawsuit against the university.
UCLA Chancellor Charles Young urged the board to call a special meeting on shared governance to continue dialogue.
"In the overwhelming amount of issues I've had to deal with in my 27 years as chancellor, shared governance has prevailed as the most important issue," he said. "Something is obviously wrong when you have such strong opposition from faculty to a regental decision."